April 26th, 2012

The “Burner” Button

I am very curious to see what, if anything, happens with the Gawker “Burner” button that was announced today. While part of me is incredibly curious and excited – I am a huge supporter of anonymity and identity control within online communities – I also wonder what sort of dark stories and rumors and libel will be set free as a result.

And that’s just the thing – I think there’s this hesitation to really embrace anonymity as a crucial part of our growing digital community. There’s a time and a place for “the real you”, and it’s not everywhere, all the time.

But there’s a dark side to free speech that is really hard to defend. People can be assholes sometimes and even more so when hiding behind a computer screen and armed with a keyboard and a “Burner Button”. The Gawker crew has far more experience with the nuances of asshole-on-the-internet and this particularly bold move could result in a new type of insightful and useful commentary. Or there will be a surge in profanity, or probably both.

What we forget when we experience these trollish, disgusting, hurtful, dark-side-of-humanity moments is that they too represent a core societal value that we at least in theory all believe in. But it’s important to remember that while it sucks that people are mean, that is a problem with people, not the internet.

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