Should People Be Allowed to Obscure Their Identities Online?


Often times the digital world may seem like the wild west, an untamed land of equal parts potential and iniquitous. In an attempt to keep from authorities, outlaws would change their names or hide behind masks. In the present, these outlaws have made a return as the harassers and spammers of the internet, deploying similar techniques of faux names and masks. At first they may seem like honest troublemakers looking for a reaction, but as the internet grows more widely accepted and used, the potential for danger grows. Should people be allowed to obscure their identities online? The ability to hide  yourself is needed for the equal and fair use of the internet.

The web provides a platform for unpopular ideas and opinions to be shared globally. The need for identification may limit the flow of these ideas. It is difficult to remember that freedom of speech is not globally available, the internet gives a safe and anonymous space for criticism, if identification is absolutely needed, individuals may think twice about what they are saying. Whistleblowers, or people who alert the public of unjust or incorrect behavior, would be impossible on an internet where identification is needed. Most whistleblowers whose identities are found out end up stripped of their livelihood and isolated from other possible employment opportunities. If not for the ability to mask one’s identity, political and corporate corruption may go on unchecked.  

Obscuring yourself online helps in protection of sensitive information. Accounts kept by websites may contain information such as, an email address, a home address, and financial data. Information like this, especially when tied to your identity, may be used against you in the future. Things like blackmail are only possible when you are known to the blackmailer. Someone who is famous may find this to be especially important. Often times, they are flocked by news stations or paparazzi and if information on their locations are leaked it could be problematic. Political figures may find this an issue as well, the difference here is the safety of these often influential people are at a higher risk due to their status.

Opponents often reference the danger that this presents. If identity is not necessary then it is easy for criminals to plan on this with police unable perform at all. In addition, forums are often a breeding ground for racism, homophobia, and sexism, with many spreading these ideals through volatile content. Cyberbullying is another thing that is often cited as being problematic due to the fact that cyberbullies can not be tracked. In response, it must be said that the decisions made for the safety of the people can be problematic. How much of your privacy and freedom are you willing to give up in pursuit of safety? Once the first step is taken to force internet identity, we lose an important and useful tool. Nothing can stop governments from pushing their boundaries further to keep the general populace “safe”. It must be understood that to keep our rights as free people for the foreseeable future, we must decide now that our privacy and speech are more important to us than our “complete” safety.

People must keep their right to obstruct identity online, it enables freedom of expression, keeps us safe from possible cyber attacks and threats, and keeps our information private. A submissive race of people who willingly give up their own power of speech for safety is one doomed to fail.

Finally, if identities are forced on the internet, the tracking and spying of individuals will become easier for large corporations or governments. Privacy is important, but without anonymity on the internet it will be virtually impossible. Messages,transactions, and internet history can be saved and linked to you without any way of obstructing who you are. At any moment, you or those you know can be targeted or harassed for something you posted on the web. The privacy of the general population is important as it is needed for democracy to function. Pressure from government, family, or friends call all unbalance the democratic process and ruin it for all. Either everything is private or nothing is. Once again what could one day be your private information could eventually spread and linked to you without the ability to obstruct your identity online.