Transcription – Identity and Civility on the Internet (7.1)

TRANSCRIPT by Heather Harlow

0:00 – 0:18 [music]

0:19 – 0:22

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

0:23 – 0:42 [music]

0:43 – 0:53

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

0:53 – 1:03 [music]

1:04 – 1:20

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.

1:21 – 1:25 [music]

1:26 – 1:56

Meet Rushkoff, Douglas Rushkoff. Offline, Rushkoff writes, teaches, creates documentaries and theorizes about media. Online, Rushkoff is an author, teacher, documentarian, and media theorist. Unlike Maggie, Rushkoff has chosen to be himself online.

1:57 – 2:02 [music]

2:03 – 2:28

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.

2:29 – 2:35 [music]

2:36 – 3:07

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.

3:08 – 4:32

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. 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.

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.

4:33 – 4:38 [music]

4:39 – 5:10

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.

5:11 – 5:15 [music]

5:16 – 5:59

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.

6:00 – 6:46

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.”

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.

6:47 – 7:59 [music]