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Anonymous Online Publication - Fad or Trend? 222

Posted by Cliff
from the freely-speak-your-mind dept.
An anonymous reader asks: "Across the web, stories abound regarding censorship and persecution of those who publish content online that may be offensive or conflicting toward certain governments or ideals. It almost seems that you can't attach your name to anything without being heavily scrutinized for the opinions you express. Lately though, I've begun to see several communities that promote an atmosphere of anonymity to protect their users and facilitate open communication on tough subjects. PostSecret is one of the most popular of these sites, allowing a one-way publication medium for visitors to vent their frustrations, similar to Group Hug. However, both of these sites are one-way mediums, and do not provide for anonymous interaction of users. Is anonymous blogging and publication a brief fad, or a serious, growing trend?"
"One rare example I've found that allows a truly open anonymous mode of communication (dissimilar to Slashdot's own automatic demotion of 'Anonymous Cowards'), is the Teen Angst Central, or Tangst. Operated by a group of high schoolers and hosted by Google's Blogger service, its editors publish posts made anonymously by visitors, with comments and discussion made to the site sprouting from a community bonded by anonymity. I think this concept can easily be applied to other aspects of online society, though I have yet to see many examples beyond the simple angst-driven outpouring of feelings."
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Anonymous Online Publication - Fad or Trend?

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  • Pseudonymous (Score:4, Insightful)

    by tverbeek (457094) on Saturday July 01, 2006 @08:55PM (#15644083) Homepage
    Who needs anonymity? Pseudonymity ought to be enough for most people.

    In the past I've been spanked over "controversial" things I've published online, so I use a pseudonym for that sort of thing.
    • by `Sean (15328) <sean@ubuntu.com> on Saturday July 01, 2006 @08:57PM (#15644088) Homepage Journal
      On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog [google.com]...
    • Pseudonymity is no fad, and IMO the practice hasn't seen even a fraction of the popularity it will eventually garner.

      This is a no-brainer; governments rarely become less restrictive with the passage of time, since governments are expected to, you know, "do things" and "solve problems." Regardless what political philosophy they adhere to, governments just aren't prone to seeing their duty as one of removing interference from citizens' lives. So all else being equal, a nation's code of justice will tend to be
      • governments rarely become less restrictive with the passage of time, since governments are expected to, you know, "do things" and "solve problems." Regardless what political philosophy they adhere to, governments just aren't prone to seeing their duty as one of removing interference from citizens' lives. So all else being equal, a nation's code of justice will tend to become more complex and intrusive with time, increasing its citizens' need to ensure their own privacy.

        As somebody wise once observed about w

    • Ah hah! I knew you were the Goatse man!
    • by rsilvergun (571051) on Saturday July 01, 2006 @11:30PM (#15644425)
      but if I could go to jail for 14 years just calling George Bush a fsckin' asshat, I wouldn't be willing to settle for a pen name. I mean, how much effort does it take in that kind of gov't to track you down by ip?
      • .....how much effort does it take in that kind of gov't to track you down by ip?......

        Anyone can use somebody else's IP, such as an unsecured wireless router. Of course such a government could make it a crime to have an unsecured wireless router that could be accessed by some unknown user with a laptop computer.
    • I know numerous people who have either been reprimanded at work or in fact dismissed over things they had posted in what they felt was a personal forum (blogs, generally LJ) about people they work with. Over the course of sevral years there was enough bits of information to identify who they were and who they were referring to in specific.

      I know personally I posted hundreds, if not thousands, of times to usenet over the years with varying degrees of pseudonimity. Most posts were from a position of naiveity

  • Erm ok? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by OverlordQ (264228) on Saturday July 01, 2006 @08:55PM (#15644084) Journal
    And why do the vast majority of these use Blogger where the 'owners' of the 'site' have no real control over the actual anonymity of the submissions?

    Yes you can submit it as 'anonymous' but oops, cant do anything about server logs.

    • Re:Erm ok? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by `Sean (15328) <sean@ubuntu.com> on Saturday July 01, 2006 @09:02PM (#15644106) Homepage Journal
      Yes you can submit it as 'anonymous' but oops, cant do anything about server logs.
      Shhh...you're giving away all of Big Brother's best secrets!
    • Yes you can submit it as 'anonymous' but oops, cant do anything about server logs.

      With AT&T (and most likely many other telcos) giving the NSA access to backbones for an all-you-can-eat snoopfest, server logs are irrelevant- and ultimately less useful; they can't be used by "law enforcement" as fast as a keyword hit on a sniffer on a major backbone.

      I laughed when Freenet came around- I played with it, found it uselessly slow and difficult to navigate. I hope it has improved, because it may be the o

  • by Caspian (99221) on Saturday July 01, 2006 @09:01PM (#15644100)
    ...soon to be crushed beneath the jackboots of the Department of Homeland Security.
    • as long as those jackboots continue to march, the market for anonymous mass communication will continue to grow. there are at least some people in america who care about expressing their ideas. if necessary, through things like tor [eff.org].

      (incidentally, my word for this post is idealism)
  • How anonymous is it (Score:4, Informative)

    by rolfwind (528248) on Saturday July 01, 2006 @09:03PM (#15644109)
    when you ISP disclose your browsing habits to the government anyway? Depending on open-wifis and the kindness of some public computers connected to the net (like in community colleges or local libraries) is sketchy at best, assuming they don't record your presence their through some other means.
    • http://www.invisiblog.com/ [invisiblog.com]

      You submit content via the Mixmaster remailer system so that your ISP's records don't show what you were saying or even who you were saying it to. No visible feature for adding comments.

      Dunno if they're really alive -- the last activity mentioned on their front page was last October.
  • but now the destination of choice for all those who can't be paranoid enough about Area 51, little green men, or the conspiracy-de-jour bent on the overthrow of every legitimate government in the world. They will grow and prosper because there are too many people out there who are totally, absolutly and utterly incapable of looking at a crack in a sidewalk without seeing a slippery slope leading straight to hell.
    • Sure, they're all just harmless cracks in the sidewalk to you, aren't they?
    • It's a good thing that every government in the world is legitimate, then!
    • Well to be fair... The end of the world almost happened because a single bullet shot a man who started a war which lead to an even bigger war 20 years later and then which lead to atomic bombs which almost caused the end of the world a few times. (the last being in 1984.

      Slippery slopes do exist, but they aren't as common as the conspirators would like you to believe, but they have happened.
      • Well to be fair... The end of the world almost happened because a single bullet shot a man who started a war which lead to an even bigger war 20 years later and then which lead to atomic bombs which almost caused the end of the world a few times. (the last being in 1984. Oh, my god ..... you have GOT to be kidding, right? RIGHT? You ARE kidding, aren't you?

        Why don't you just trace it all the way back to the REAL beginning and blame it on Adam and Eve? Or God for makeing them in the first place?

        Geeze
  • There were comments in the /. post "On Software Patent Lawsuits Against OSS" that suggested a possibility of an underground (anonymous) OSS development model emerging if patent lawsuits made (a lot of) OSS illegal. While responses to that comment claimed it is highly unlikely to happen (lots of OSS development done by big companies or just people unwilling to do it if they migh be sued) it is an interesting idea of a trend, which has some similarities with anonymous publishing mentioned here.
    • I agree that this is an interesting idea; perhaps specific projects will organize around anonymity / pseudonymity. De5C, or LinuxHDCP for example?

      As I said previously above, civic rights will tend to erode, and the DMCA is a prime example of this erosion. This raises a bevy of ethical issues, but if attempts to keep speech free fail at the civic & political levels, the OSS community could conceivably be the one to lead a charge towards securing them at the technological level in spite of laws to the con
    • I recall suggesting anonymous OSS development here something like 5 years ago - didn't get much of a response. I still think it will happen (I suspect it's already happening in some areas) given the pressure from IP companies wielding ridiculous software patents as well as government actions against various types of OSS. Even if you can show plenty of prior art in a patent suit, if you can't afford thousands of $$ for lawers you're still going to end up bankrupt. If your code in any way competes with a c
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 01, 2006 @09:10PM (#15644130)
    Oh, wait...
  • anonymity (Score:2, Insightful)

    by pontifier (601767)
    If something is worth saying, it's worth putting your name on it.
    Anyway, that's how I feel.
    If you think you are right then say so. And if someone disagrees then you can find out why.

    John Fenley
    • Re:anonymity (Score:5, Insightful)

      by vux984 (928602) on Saturday July 01, 2006 @10:01PM (#15644242)
      If something is worth saying, it's worth putting your name on it.

      Even if it will cost you your job? your freedom? or your life?
      • Tell that to John Hancock. He signed the Declaration of Independence very large, knowing that it would likely cost him his life, and yet wanting everyone to know that he was willing to run that risk.
      • Even if it will cost you your job? your freedom? or your life?

        This is what gives your words meaning and currency in the larger world. Burma blocking Gmail, Gtalk [seapabkk.org]

      • ...and if you say yes to that, how about the lives, liberties or freedom of your loved ones?
    • You are a bit of a hypocrite John. You use an anonymous handle on slashdot, and by looking at your past posts it seems clear you didn't sign them all. Thus by your own logic you shouldn't have posted them. Maybe you should add your name to your sig.
      • That's a good idea, and perhaps I am a little bit of a hypocrite, though I have been using the name Pontifier for my online ID for years. It's not realy all that anonymous.
    • Let me see...

      Consider that many people wouldn't hire me because I am a gay man. Some parents would have kicked me out of the house for being gay, or would have made my life a living hell at the very least. For writing posts about my deconversion before I had made my announcement to the world, I might have caused problems for friends who I mentioned were going through the same thing.

      Because of the psuedononymous nature of the Internet, all of these things are possible. I've counseled gay men who were married
  • Federalist Papers? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by headkase (533448) on Saturday July 01, 2006 @09:20PM (#15644161)
    I wish a judge would rule that the "audits" Scientologists sell to their customers were "defective" products and allow people to talk about them among themselves. Right now you mention Xenu and Scientology's lawyers issue you a smackdown.
    And loser pays for court costs (which is the way it is here in Canada) to level the playing field by reducing extortive suit filing.
    There's lots of ways to go about finding subscribers to your views but I believe most of them aren't needed yet in the United States. Places like Saudi Arabia and Iran should be the backdrop to serious discussion of why anonymity matters.
    • by headkase (533448)
      Too bad /. doesn't let you fix your posts. For talking among themselves I meant talking about how the audits were "broken" citing the texts.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 01, 2006 @09:31PM (#15644185)
    ...and you'll find all sorts of interesting stuff there, if you look. It might take a few hours for a new Freenet node to get integrated into the network, at which point response time will improve. Don't ever expect it to have fast interactive-surfing response times, though. Get used to opening a bunch of links in new tabs, and coming back to check them in a few minutes.

    Freenet's currently got four "summer of code" [freenetproject.org] projects under way, plus their full-time coder. I'm not sure I like the network changes in 0.7 but I'm trusting that the developers know the critical points better than I do.

    The stuff you find on Freenet ranges from the obligatory porn and anarchy junk, to weird conspiracy theory stuff, fairly sane political expression, DeCSS and similar technical content, and lots of "flogs", the name of which is yours to absorb.

    Frost [sf.net] is a Usenet-like messaging system that uses Freenet as its back-end message store. It also takes a while to get going; after starting your Frost instance you might want to come back in 20 minutes to get the updated boards list, add a bunch of new boards, and give it another 20 minutes to pull messages in those boards. Once your Frost is up and running, you'll start to appreciate what Freenet's really capable of. Search the available files, or participate in a few discussions. Realize that the message transport latency might be anywhere from a few minutes to many hours, so correspondence will be reminiscent of Fidonet speeds.

    Seriously, you owe it to yourself to check this stuff out. Don't claim to know internet anonymity without giving Freenet a few days' effort.
  • by Rob Carr (780861) on Saturday July 01, 2006 @09:39PM (#15644199) Homepage Journal
    When I first started blogging, I didn't think about being anonymous. I felt, as others have stated, that what I had to say was important enough to me that I was willing to put my name to it.

    Having blogged for several years, I've come to wish I'd started out and remained anonymous. While I might be willing to expose my own mistakes and foibles, the things I say can unintentionally hurt those I love. As someone who is active in my church, there are certain topics I dare not go near, and other topics I wonder if I'm just asking for trouble. The "Deb Series [unspace.net]," while possibly some of my best writing, also caused problems.

    I've watched bloggers get serious grief from families, co-workers and other communities they belong to because of what they write. The lessons are painful to watch.

    In my own case, in the real world, I've trashed my career multiple times for things like accademic integrity and standing up for a co-worker who's being sexually harassed. I've lost friends for saying the truth, and God help me, it's made me a bit of a coward. I've been burned; I don't like it. I'm willing to be burned again, but it's going to have to be a serious fight. On some issues, I've backed down.

    I hate that, but if I don't protect myself, I won't do anyone any good.

    There's a book out right now, "Orbit [amazon.com] by John J. Nance that speaks of a man alone on a doomed and communicationless 3 hour orbital tour. The man is free to write the truth because he believes he is going to die and the laptop will not be recovered for decades. He doesn't have to worry about what people will think. He also doesn't know there's a one-way connection to Earth, and billions of people are reading his every word.

    I wish I could blog like that. I'm not sure why I haven't just scrapped my current blog and started anew, except that I doubt it would stay anonymous very long.

    Anonymity provides a freedom that is both precious and necessary for freedom to flourish. Perhaps anonymity will be crushed beneath an over-reaching government. The loss may not be apparent initially, but in the long term, it will be devastating.

    Freedom of speech often needs the freedom to be anonymous.

    • I hate that, but if I don't protect myself, I won't do anyone any good.

      When you don't do the things you know are right, you help others do thing that you know are wrong.

      Keep standing up for what you believe. Yes, at times it's good to do some things anonymously. Fliers are a good example. That does not keep you from telling others exactly what you think. If the people around you don't want you doing what's right, it's better to say good bye.

  • by Baldur_of_Asgard (854321) on Saturday July 01, 2006 @09:45PM (#15644212)
    Most Americans will think of other countries where anonymous speech is required to prevent retaliation by the government - countries like Iran, for instance, where anonymous speech IS thriving.

    However, there are plenty of countries in the West - including America - where unpopular minorities require anonymous speech to avoid government retribution.

    A friend of mine in Indiana called a conservative radio host (Rick Roberts) in California in April 2005, in order to give a contradicting opinion - and the next day state agents showed up at his house and took away his 2 year old son, causing his son a great deal of anxiety and eventually destroying my friend's marriage. He's still going through the system, trying to recover his son, over a year later.

    There are also the death threats, of which I've received a few myself - from so-called Christians, Hippies, and everything in between. Damn straight it's nice to have some anonymity!

    And we will continue to need that anonymity as long as a corrupt media continues to perpetuate the lie that anyone who is attracted to children must be a predator, despite an abundance of evidence to the contrary.

    In any case, in our community proxies and/or TOR are the norm. We know for a fact that our government IS spying on us and seeking to do us harm.
    • I'm assuming you're referring to TOR [eff.org], not TOR [lethargiclad.com] (though he's pretty cool too).

      I also think Freenet [sourceforge.net] and Darknet [bearcave.com] type networks will play increasingly important roles in the inexorable globalization of free speech. What's needed is a way to create secure, historied pseudonyms that are peer validated, verifiable by signature, but incapable of being route-traced. If done right, such a system could potentially put freedom of speech and trade beyond the reach of government suppression.

  • Dont' Get It (Score:4, Insightful)

    by NilObject (522433) on Saturday July 01, 2006 @10:05PM (#15644252) Homepage
    I'm amazed at how my "generation" (currently in college) still doesn't "get it". They put their full names on their blogs and post the most insane crap. One of my friends, in particular, posts all about her chronic depression, experiments with drugs, and sex escapades. And that blog is the 4th result in Google for her name. The other three are clearly unrelated.

    Why shame yourself in public? It's not like attaching your name to your insipid and boring personal "I had eggs for breakfast" blog is going to bring you fame and fortune. Go anonymous and have some fun. Stop doing everything to get attention.
    • Re:Dont' Get It (Score:3, Insightful)

      by LionKimbro (200000)
      Retrospective surveillance, and statistical identity matching based on text habits: NilObject, it's possible that we'll know who you are, with reasonably good confidence, based on what you've written here and elsewhere.

      At which point I'll wonder: "Who was this person, who recommended that everybody hide their identity, in order to fool employers? Is this somebody that I really want to hire?"
      • At which point I'll wonder: "Who was this person, who recommended that everybody hide their identity, in order to fool employers? Is this somebody that I really want to hire?"

        Can you honestly say that in your youth (or later) you never said or did anything that you now regret. How would you feel years later to realise that it was a matter of public record for anyone to see.

        • I have spoken / written things on the Internet that I now regularly feel pain for having written.

          My hope is that society matures to the point where it:
          • (A) tolerates deviance from popular opinion
          • (B) forgives past deviance from popular opinion

          My fear is that society may:

          • (A) become hyper-sensitive
          • (B) enforce extreme conformity rules on all people in (global) reach
          • (C) exercise retroactive surveillance technology from the future, to find witches to burn

          The present trend seems to me to be towards the "fear

    • Why shame yourself in public?

      Don't believe everything you read. It was true before computers and it will be true when you can't tell the difference between your friends and computers that are much smarter than you.

    • by Quiet_Desperation (858215) on Sunday July 02, 2006 @04:03AM (#15645006)
      One of my friends, in particular, posts all about her chronic depression, experiments with drugs, and sex escapades

      Dude! Give us a link!

  • by Tablizer (95088) on Saturday July 01, 2006 @10:11PM (#15644267) Homepage Journal
    There needs to be a distinction between publicly anonymous and being anonymous to law enforcement. In a democratic society that values free speech, we need the first. However, in case free speech is abused, we need the second, hopefully with a court warrant. ISP's should be required to keep records of who owns/rents a URL and if served a warrant be able to provide that info to officers. However, this gets fuzzy with discussion groups and blogs that may not track every visitor.
  • The first thing I thought of after reading the topic was Vernor Vinge's book, A Deepness in the Sky. In that book, the Emergents publish anonymously in order to direct the subject civilization toward their personal end. This included scientific papers, theories to prompt research and development, and current events and opinions designed to incite a global war and hide their presence.
  • Is anonymous blogging and publication a brief fad, or a serious, growing trend?

    IF people have anything worthwhile to say, and IF our Constitutionally-protected freedom of speech actually means anything to us, then yes, it is here to stay.
    • Freedom of speech is not the same as freedom of responsibility for what you say.

      In some cases, truly anonymous speech has value. In other cases, truly anonymous speech creates victims of its own and leaves them with no means of redress. This issue is not black and white, and never will be.

      • Yes and no. Freedom of speech largely does free us from responsibility, at least in terms of retribution from the Federal Government: that's the whole point of "Freedom of Speech". The Government can't tell you what you can and cannot say, because if they can, then speech isn't free anymore. On the other hand, the Constitution says nothing that I am aware about not being held accountable by other entities, which I guess is why we have laws against libel and slander. You are correct that truly anonymous spee
  • One of the websites I operate is an unofficial website for an organization that is run by control freaks, They do not tolerate any kind of discourse or criticism. If this website did not operate anonymously there would literally be zero discourse or discussion for the members of this organization. This has been proved by the few times members were outed by there often comments or by telling the wrong person there screen name. Any member outed has always suffered some form of consequences. The consequence
  • by Pig Hogger (10379) <pig.hogger@gmai l . c om> on Saturday July 01, 2006 @10:41PM (#15644325) Journal
    I hang on the USENET news.admin.net-abuse.email newsgroup, where we deal with spammers.

    The most effective spam fighting effort [spews.org] is totally anonymous; they have to be, because that's the only way they can avoid being sued into oblivion by deep-pocketed croporations (it's outright ironic that in order to protect their freedom of speech - saying that so-and-so is a spammer, they have to register their domain in Siberia [dnsstuff.com], of all places!!!)

    Spammers are outright criminals and will stop at nothing to damage antispammers.

    Plenty of people had a load of trouble from a spectacularly inept spammer [google.ca].

    For example, the author of this page [216.137.100.175] (a page denouncing the spammer) had the spammer complain to the police which launched a criminal investigation that found nothing. After this failed, he barrages everyone who mirrors the page with complaints to their ISPs (this page [chickenboner.com] get 5 DMCA takedown notices PER DAY).

    When the police complaints did lead nowhere, he simply harassed various police departments [216.137.100.175].

    Finally, seeing that the takedown notice make the mirrorers rotating the hosting of the relevant parts complained about, thus rendering it totally ineffective, he started to try to DDOs the sites hosting the pages.

    Many of the mirrorers would never had been able to denounce that particular spammer if they had been doing so under their real identities; anonymity is particularly vital when dealing with criminals, or lawsuit-happy individuals.

    Another example is this well-known spammer, threatening legal action against antispam fighters [google.ca]. If you follow the thread, you will find a frothing lunatic that demands the identity of several spamfighters who have to work anonymously in order to avoid the hassle of lawsuits from spammers.

    In 2003, the same antispam outfit was sued by spammers [google.ca]. Even though the lawsuit was thrown out of court, it was not without considerable annoyance and expense to the antispammers involved.

    Only absolutely positive anonymity can help protect antispammers against the spammers.

  • But if I don't know who you are, why do I care about what you're writing? It may as well be fiction. Which is fine, if you're fine with that, but then why not just write fiction? Because that's the level at which your writing will be appreciated... If it's not good writing, why would anyone want to read it?
  • by MikeRT (947531) on Saturday July 01, 2006 @11:41PM (#15644456) Homepage
    The only long term solution is depoliticization [blindmindseye.com]. The very reason that people need to actually care about these things is that the government can come after them in the first place. Solution? Strip the government of such power. Unfortunately, the government can exert a wide range of controls today. It can harass you from anything to the tax code to basic traffic violations to willfully misconstruing something you do. The fewer tenticles that the government has into society, the fewer avenues it has to suppress dissent.
  • I think that something published anonymously lacks the gravitas of something a man will put his own name upon. If memory serves, slashdot terms unattributed posts to "anonymous coward." This is fitting.

    If you are to speak with the authority of Socrates, you should make the case against yourself, accept the Athenians' verdict, treat thoughts of escape with contempt, and then manfully deal with the consequences. Centuries ago in England, Hugh Latimer told his friend Nicolas Ridley, "play the man Master Ridley
  • On Usenet. Someone quickly responded, that a bigger monster (emphasys mine) remains alive and well in the White House — an assessment I could not agree with.

    I immediately had my mental faculties and education declared lacking and being "another evidence of Right Wing's neglect of schools" (never mind that amost all of my education happened in USSR). Among the epithets received were: "idiot", "nazi", and "traitor". Someone stated, that I need "deprogramming"...

    Funny as it may sound, the point is, g

  • We've had psuedonomyous communication on the net and BBSes for years. It sounds like a reporter just found out that people don't always use their real names on the internet.

    Consider anon.penet.fi for a simple example.
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samizdat [wikipedia.org]

    The circumstances were obviously quite different, but samizdat and anonymous pamphlets were once the only weapons of an oppressed people.

    It'd be humorously ironic, if it wasn't so sad.

    Granted, I exaggerate - the US is in quite different shape from the USSR of old. But there are some intriguing similarities in the paths you're taking.

    Yup, quite different. You send people to tropical islands instead of Siberia for detention without trial, for example.

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