Description – Identity and Civility on the Internet (7.1)

Description of Visuals by Heather Harlow

Image: The video opens with a piece of white paper on a wood table. A hand draws a basic stick figure with black marker. The stick figure has a triangular body, blue rectangular feet, and five curls of red hair. The stick figure stretches and yawns.

Sound: Hello everyone, meet Maggie. Say “hi” Maggie.

Image: A bubble with the word “Hi” appears next to stick figure Maggie. The scene fades into a new piece of paper and a hand draws a line representing a street, two houses with brown picket fences, a tree stump, and a few clumps of grass. The hand draws a bicycle with stick-figure Maggie on it. A stick-figure person is drawn in the window of the house on the right. The person waves at Maggie. Maggie waves back. A cat is drawn in the window of the house on the left.

Sound: Offline, Maggie bikes to work, greets her neighbor every morning, and always returns home in time to feed her cat.

Image: The scene fades into a new piece of paper and a hand draws the upper half of Maggie sitting at a desk. The hand draws a computer mouse and keyboard. Lines are drawn from Maggie to the edge of the paper in a counter-clockwise order, and the following piece of clipart cutout from another paper are added at the end of each line: a blue donkey, a red elephant, a tall deciduous tree with green leaves, and a Victorian-style dress. The hand draws a picture of a stick figure superhero in the upper right hand of the paper. The superhero has red curly hair like Maggie.

Sound: Maggie is embarrassed to admit that, online, she anonymously posts nasty criticism of politicians, curses her neighbor for cutting down a shade tree, tweets maliciously about celebrity attire, and secretly bullies her ex-boyfriend on a Comic Book Fan Club forum.

Image: The scene fades into a hand setting a color photograph of a man on the bottom center of a piece of white paper; and then placing four smaller color photographs of the same man around the center photo in a counterclockwise order. In the last photo placed, the man is holding a robot, possibly a toy. The same scene repeats a second time.

Sound: Meet Rushkoff, Douglas Rushkoff. Offline, Rushkoff writes, teaches, creates documentaries and theorizes about media. Online, Rushkoff is an author, teacher, documentarian, and media theorist.

Image: The scene fades into an image of Maggie sitting in front of a computer mouse and keyboard. The hand writes the following text around her head in a counterclockwise order: “”; “@fashionista”; and “”. The scene changes back to the photo of the man, verbally identified as Douglas Rushkoff, in the center of the piece of paper. A hand draws lines and writes the following text around the picture of Rushkoff: “”; “”; and “follow @rushkoff on twitter”.

Sound: Unlike Maggie, Rushkoff has chosen to be himself online.

Image: The scene fades into piece of blank white paper on a table. A hand sets a book on the piece of paper. The book is identified as “Program or Be Programmed” by Douglas Rushkoff. The hand flips through the book, and then opens to the first page of a chapter that is titled “Be Yourself.” Under the title is a black and white drawing of a person wearing a mask over their face and sitting at a laptop, with three people around the person not wearing masks. While holding open the book, the hand picks up the picture of Douglas Rushkoff and cuts out the head with scissors. The hand places the head of Douglas Rushkoff over the head of a person wearing a mask.

Sound: In his book, Program or Be Programmed, Rushkoff dedicates an entire chapter to explaining his decision to be transparent online. He admits that it’s easy, maybe even feels safer, to be anonymous online. But he believes it is better to be human, and the only way to do this, the only way to drop the false sense of security of anonymity, is to be yourself.

Image: The scene fades into the next scene of a lined notebook open on the table. The hand writes the following text on the notebook: “You Own Your Own Words”. The hand flips to the next page in the notebook and writes the following text: “You OWN your OWN words”. The hand flips over to the next page in the notebook and prints the following text: “YOU own YOUR own WORDS”.

Sound: These are the words that greeted online visitors to the well–An early digital bulletin board system. Most people read this as a statement of copyright. But to Rushkoff, this served as an ethical guide. You are accountable. You are responsible. You must take ownership for your own words, whether spoken written or typed.

Image: The scene fades into a piece of blank white paper on the table. A hand draws six stick figures without faces. The scene fades into a white piece of paper with the text “VIEWS” printed in black marker. A hand writes the number “27” underneath the word “VIEWS” with a pencil, then adds a “1” to the front to make the number “127”. The hand erases the “1” and changes it to a “2” to make “227”; then ads a “1” in from of “227” to make “1,227”; then erases the “1” and writes a “3” to make “3,227”; then adds a “2” in front to make “23,227”.

Sound: Did Rushkoff suffer any negative consequences from being himself online? It turned out, he did, ironically, from a group called “Anonymous.” These are nameless and faceless pranksters who have taken it upon themselves to disrupt the online presence of companies and organizations who appear to be hindering free speech online.

Rushkoff wrote a story for an online magazine about this group, defending this group. Well, this story got a lot of attention, which attracted more attention by other journalists, and even the authorities, who sought to shut down Anonymous.

Image: The scene fades back to the scene of the six stick figures. A hand draws smoking torches, a pitchfork, a baseball bat, and a broom at the end of one arm of each stick figure.

Sound: This made Anonymous angry, and they attacked Rushkoff, their defender, where he was vulnerable. They crashed his website, posted his personal information, even photos of his home, online.

So, what allowed this group — that supposedly protects free speech — to act like an angry mob when others exercise free speech? They were, like their name, anonymous. They couldn’t be held accountable for their actions, they were fearless because they were hidden.

Image: The hand draws faces on the stick figure heads. The hand draws red curls on the last stick figure to make stick-figure Maggie. A hand writes the following text over three different stick figures: “But I would never hurt a puppy.”; “You’ll have to speak to my lawyer”; “Wait Mom…I can explain…”

Sound: What if they hadn’t been anonymous? What if their employers, friends and grandmothers could see what they did? Suddenly, there are ramifications. According to Rushkoff, being anonymous brings out the worst in others, and in us.

Image: The scene fades into a hand drawing the outline of a t-shirt on a piece of white paper. The image of a skull is drawn on the t-shirt with small x’s. A hand writes the following text next to the t-shirt: “X Marks The Spot Tees”. And then, a hand places four and a half gold star stickers next to the name. The hand draws stick-figure Maggie’s head above the neck of the t-shirt.

Sound: Website moderators know this; and often require people to register and develop an online identity. Maggie, for example, doesn’t want her boss to know — at least not yet — that she has begun her own business. So, Maggie sells her custom cross-stitch tee shirts under a seller name. Having an identity, and a responsibility for the reputation of that identity, improves the civility of our interactions online. There is power in identity.

Image: The scene fades into a hand using a lid as a template to draw a circle on a piece of blank paper. A line is drawn vertically through the circle, with the left-hand slightly larger than the right-hand portion of the circle. The hand colors in the left-hand side of the circle with a yellow pencil. A hand writes the text “55%” in the left side of the circle. A dash points to the left-hand side of the circle and the hand writes the text: “gestures” and “facial expressions”. The hand splits the right side of the circle into two portions, the top portion is larger than the bottom portion. The hand colors the top portion orange with a colored pencil, and then writes the text “38%” in that portion. A dash is drawn pointing to that portion, and the hand writes the following text: “pitch”, “volume” and “tone”. The hand colors in the third and smallest portion of the circle with green pencil, writes the text “7%” in the circle, and then adds a dash pointing to that part of the circle and adds the text “words”.

Sound: Avoiding the consequences of illegal actions doesn’t alone explain the behavior of those who hide their identity online. So, why are people more likely to behave badly online? Quite possibly, this is rooted in how we communicate offline. According to Rushkoff’s research, a huge part of our communication is expressed through gestures and facial expressions. Another large portion, 38 percent, of our communication is through pitch, volume and tone. And this tiny piece of the pie, only seven percent…is the words we use. Essentially, we are communicating online with only seven percent of the tools we use offline.

Image: The scene fades to a new piece of blank paper. The hand draws three stick figures, and then the following scene. Two of the stick figures are holding a banner above their heads. The banner contains the text: “We are the 7%”. The third stick figure holds a sign. The text “sorry” is written on the sign. The hand draws a red circle around the word “sorry” and then draws a diagonal red line through the across the circle and through the word.

Sound: Limiting ourselves to only seven percent of the tools that we use to communicate offline, means that we are less likely to show empathy online, or even use simple expressions, such as “I’m sorry.”

Image: The scene fades to a new piece of blank paper. The hand draws five stick figures on the paper, and then colors in the five heads with various colored pencils in shades representing five different skin tones. The hand places a photograph of the head of Douglass Rushkoff on the stick figure on the left side of the paper. Faces are drawn on the remaining stick figures along with the following text over two of the stick figures: “me too” and “and me”.

Sound: We are desensitized by these communication restraints. And, because of this bias towards depersonalization, Rushkoff believes it is even more important for us to interact as ourselves online. Of course, sometimes, anonymity is crucial, such as for an activist who would face execution for speaking against a government authority. But for most of us, interacting as ourselves makes us more human. Besides, there is great power in openly speaking out about our beliefs. This encourages others to speak up as well.

Image: The scene fades into a piece of paper with a stick figure. The hand places the photograph of the head of Douglass Rushkoff onto the stick figure, and then draws a large word bubble next to the head. The hand writes the following text in the word bubble: “Maintaining a strict sense of identity online is liberating… [We]…learn not to say anything that we are not proud to see quoted, shared, or linked to.” (Rushkoff,2011)”

Sound: [music]

Image: The scene fades into a hand writing the word “REFERENCES” on the top of a piece of lined notebook paper. The following text is written underneath:

“Rushkoff, D. (2011). Program or Be Programmed: Ten Commands for a Digital Age. Berkeley, CA: Soft Skull Press.

Tom, G. (2013, October 14). Love At First Sigh, [Recorded by GingerTom]. Retrieved from”

Sound: [music]

Image: The scene faces and the notebook page is flipped to another piece of lined notebook paper. The following text is written on the page:

“Unknown. (1855). [Image of children’s party dress]. Gudey’s Ladies Book. Retrieved from

Unknown. (1875). [Image of tree from encyclopedia]. Retrieved from

Unknown. (1850). [Drawing of mean elephant]. Retrieved from

Unknown. (1880). [Image of girl and donkey]. Our Pets. Retrieved from http://www.reusable”

Sound: [music]

Image: The screen fades to black.