Wednesday, August 17, 2011

An Internet with Real Names

There are people who would like to blame online anonymity as the root of the problem… any problem.

When someone is being bullied in cyber space, it’s because facebook allows the bullies to create hate pages under fake names. When there’s a volley of dumb comments, there is a 92.4% chance that it came from someone who logged in under the name LittleMissWittie. When JustineBieberxSelenaGomez trends almost every day, bumping London riots and Tsunami off the list, well… it’s because countless and nameless fans love them. But still the most common illustration is this: cyber trolls. The mere existence of cybertrolls is being blamed on the internet’s capacity to protect its netizens from being exposed but still allowing enough breathing room for the trolls to go forth and multiply.

The most common solution to that last problem is self-regulation. Sites started having mods in order to make the cyber experience more congenial. But some governments wanted more.

The Republic of Korea for example has been implementing a real name registration system for websites with over a 100,000 visitors per day, even forcing cybergods like Google to bow to their policy in order to make it there. Users are required to verify their identities by submitting their Resident Registration Numbers (RRNs) when they wish to join and contribute to web portals and other major sites. As RRNs are assigned only to Korean citizens at birth, foreign nationals must individually contact webmasters to confirm their identities. And then of course there’s China, the tendency of which to regulate needs no further discussion.

Now with the recent cyber terrors in our own local scene, our own dog poop girl scenarios so to speak, the issue of online anonymity and its evils are once again brought into light. Do we need the same state regulation? I don’t know how this would fare in Congress. Probably not well enough to get out of the committee alive. But for the purpose of pure speculative thought (and complying with the weekly blog requirement too, yay!), please indulge me with a few arguments.

First and most glaring counter-argument to a real name registration system is this: we don’t even have resident registration numbers. Is that the number in our cedula? But I got mine for 50 pesos in a barangay where I don’t even live. Is that our T.I.N? But to require every taxpayer to memorize that loooong string of numbers is a bit too much. Is that any government id number? Maybe. Unless and until a national ID system is implemented (which is highly unlikely now), we will never know.

Past the non-existent registration numbers point, what is the likelihood that this system will be accepted in one of the most democratic countries in the world? For a country like ours which lives and breathes and thrives (and dies for) free speech, online anonymity is an unwritten constitutional right. Netizens of all ages would wage an e-DSA 4 if a system like this gets implemented. While pro-regulation would argue that a real-name system would increase the quality of free speech rather than curb it, very expressive Filipinos in the net would argue otherwise. Free speech for most netizens meant absolute freedom or absolute lack of prohibition. In the internet, you can shout Fire! even without an actual fire in the real world. At most, the penalty you’ll get is a few shushes from fellow netizens. And this is just the way the world likes it.

And then of course there is the privacy issue. South Korea itself who believed in tough cyber regulation for a better society recently decided to abandon its RRN system after a breach in two major websites with about 35 million users leading to valuable data stolen. “Forcing websites to collect more identifying information about their users doesn't make sites more vulnerable to security breaches, but it increases the damage that such breaches can do (and makes the sites more attractive targets).”

After reading this entry to spell check and to avoid a repeat of my entry # 2 (and maybe 3, 4, and so on…) grammar fiasco, I realized how futile the whole entry has become. Online anonymity might have been an issue beyond the Philippine seas, but it is not here. There is no question about it: we like it. I think the argument ends right there. Argue otherwise and you risk becoming the troll.

Source of inspiration right here: South Korea’s real names debacle and the virtues of online anonymity


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