Internet Society

I am, perhaps, one of the few people of my generation to have never touched Reddit. And I do mean never. I've found my way there from the occasional link, but only in the context of another story, and I've not spent any time looking around Reddit, itself. Nor do I have an account there. So perhaps I'm not the best person to be commenting on this story, seeing how the vast majority of it took place on Reddit.

But, it is a story about someone's online identity. Or rather, it's a story connecting someone's online identity to someone's offline identity, attaching a real name and face to what was formerly nothing more than a line of text, a pseudonym. And given what this particular online persona (Reddit's Violentacrez) has been responsible for, there can be very little doubt that this particular revelation is intended in large part for its value as intimidation or punishment. That's what's known as "doxing" (a word I had not known until I read that article), and to Internet society, it is a severe crime.

It's not something I, personally, have worried too much about. By and large, I go by two pseudonyms on the Internet - older accounts as Counterpower, newer ones as Zankou. I don't go to any great lengths to hide connections between those names and my real one, or between those names and my appearance; if Gawker wanted to do an expose of me (highly unlikely at best!) the necessary research would probably take about ten minutes. I haven't (yet?) openly revealed my real name here on this blog, but that's really the only concession I've ever made to "hiding" my real identity.

By and large, that's because of one simple reason. It's because I try to conduct myself, in any public space, in a way that I would not be ashamed of, were it to become widely known. As far as my online persona is concerned, that mostly means this blog - when I post here, I think about what I'm posting, and why. More than that, I think about how it will be understood, how those whose opinions I respect would react to what I write. And whether or not I would like those reactions.

That doesn't mean I haven't made my mistakes. We all have. That's what apologies and changes in the way I act are for.

Nor does it mean that I don't do things that some people might find questionable. I don't talk about them online. Or, you know, at all. Mostly I examine myself (internally) and what I'm doing, comparing my actions to my principles and determining whether or not they're in conflict. Sometimes they are, at which point I've determined that I've made a mistake in the way that I act... and then, well, see above. (Or, more rarely, that I've made a mistake in formulating or holding a given principle.) Sometimes, I decide that they aren't, despite the disapproval of those whose opinions I would otherwise respect.

But you know... if the day ever comes when I am called to account in public, I'm not going to complain about how I should be allowed to carry on without censure. That isn't how society as a whole works. I am accountable to the people around me for the way I act, and as long as their responses are in and of themselves legal, they may react as they desire.

Apparently the rules change on the Internet. As the Daily Dot puts it, "At Web communities like Reddit, which thrive because users are free to say and do anything they want, doxing is a severe crime, both to users and the site’s staff." (Emphasis mine.)

I don't agree. As it happens, I think Reddit can thrive perfectly fine without its jailbait subreddits. I don't think that the freedom to do anything you want is an integral part of Internet society. And I'm going to go out on a limb and say this: if Reddit in specific or Internet society in general does actually rely on its users' ability to say whatever they want without being called to account for it, it should not exist.