Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Mutiple Personalities

How many email addresses have you had? How many are still active?

If you're like most people I know, the answer is "several." It's not just email either - in the electronic world, people are willing to create new identities at the drop of a hat. Personally, I can count a minimum of seven distinct nicknames that I've used registering for forums, getting email addresses, or otherwise proclaiming my identity digitally. And my only real reason for having accumulated this many is that I've been using the internet for about 14 years, as opposed to (say) trying to appear to be multiple people.

It's a question of effort. Most forums are "soft" when it comes to verifying identity - they only require an email address distinct from all others previously registered. But with free email accounts being easy to open, anyone who can be bothered to spend a few minutes filling out online forms can get themselves a new address.

This didn't use to matter. Time was, the worst a person could do with an alternate identity was troll for flames (a persistant and juvenile problem we will forever be plagued with). Now, however, is the Time of Blogs. Sure, they've existed for a long time, but it's only in the last two or three years that a name has existed for them, and that they are being taken seriously as a medium. So I could, in principle, create some drone accounts for this here blog, and start posting under multiple names. If I were interested in spreading opinions and wanted to appear to be a plurality, it would be effortless to do so - and I could reserve my really nasty posts for "disposable" personalities.

Fortunately, I have no particular desire to sway the masses.

My point remains - it's no longer a method for 14-year olds to converse with themselves in a chat room. Take today's freshly jailed New York Times reporter, so-jailed for refusing to reveal the source that leaked the name of a CIA operative. If journalism feels threatened by legal action, what's to keep them from publishing under pseudonyms, sending prosecutors off on wild goose chases. It wouldn't be difficult to create a skeletal identity who publishes scandalous (or illegal) reporting, then defer the blame to someone who doesn't exist.

With information being so easily spread, and current events blogs being so ideologically diverse, it's only a matter of time before this sort of face-changing results in immoral activity, such a slander or libel. People should demand forthright honesty from those who scrawl words into the internet's yielding carapase.

But then again, I never did say what my other aliases were, did I?


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