The Mobs Versus the Rockers
Were they talking about Anonymous versus Scientology? AFP writes that law professors are warning against "online mobs" bent on trashing people's online reputations are emerging in the anonymity of the Internet.
"We are seeing online mobs emerge and launch attacks... with significant consequences, both to the people online and to their reputation offline," University of Maryland law professor Danielle Citron told AFP.
The anonymity afforded by the Internet "gives people a kind of strength to be much harsher than they would be in person," Georgetown University sociology professor, and co-founder of International Reputation Management (IRM) Christine Schiwietz said.
According to some of those interviewed, among the worst offenders are bloggers on anonymous platforms, like those provided by Google. "Five years ago, you had to create a website to get information on the Internet. That site could be traced to an IP address and there was some accountability," Nino Kader of IRM said. "But Google owns blogs created on blogger.com. So there is a lack of accountability and that is one reason why people are getting pretty malicious out there," he said.
Of course, the anonymity provided by blogging on Google is relative. Anyone monitoring inbounds to Blogger will see the IP address of the author. And from there it's just a matter of getting the ISP to tell you who. When Mike McConnell claimed that the Government needed to monitor all Internet traffic to keep the information system safe from terrorists, he sought the cooperation of Google in especial. I doubt that people who post on Blogger are anonymous to the NSA.
On the other side of the position that the Internet provides too much anonymity are those who argue it doesn't provide enough. These range from those who sponsor anonymizers to help shield the bloggers in totalitarian states like Burma, to those who offer peer-to-peer networks to get around the DRM restrictions of the music industry. For their point of view the Internet threatens to become one large surveillance system, not an electronic frontier.
Whichever side they're on, the lawyers are right to be concerned. Many of our current usages never contemplated the existence of the Internet. Issues like the management of online reputation, the maintenance of privacy and resistance to cyber-terrorism interesect in ways that often require trade-offs. We're not in Kansas any more. Trouble is, we don't know where we are.