Revisiting the Four Horsemen of the Infopocalypse: Representations of anonymity and the Internet in Canadian newspapers
First Monday

Revisiting the Four Horsemen of the Infopocalypse: Representations of anonymity and the Internet in Canadian newspapers by Robert F. Carey and Jacquelyn A. Burkell



Abstract
The concept of anonymity is central to much discussion about the Internet. In this paper, we wish to identify the term’s work in the context of more expansive claims about the function, value and consequences of networked information technology in society. We argue that themes and topics in a sample of Canadian print news stories are exemplary of a discourse about the Internet in which anonymity is portrayed as an element that facilitates positive or negative social outcomes of the technology.

Contents

Introduction
A contended theme in technological discourse
Methods
Argumentative topics
Newsworthiness
Themes related to Internet anonymity
Conclusion

 


 

Introduction

The concept of anonymity is central to much discussion about the Internet. Analyses of the political, psychological, economic and legal aspects of the medium are frequently contingent on its capacity to afford some type of anonymity to its users (Kling, et al., 1999). It is probably not an exaggeration to suggest that anonymity is a crucial warrant in most rhetorical constructions of Internet’s social value (Klein, et al., 2003). Positive uses of anonymity include investigative journalism, whistle blowing, law enforcement, self–help, personal privacy protection and avoiding persecution. Negative or harmful uses of anonymity include spamming, deception, hate mail, impersonation and misrepresentation, fraud, and other illegal activities (Kling, et al., 1999). The Web has also provoked a rich vein of commentary about the various ways in which surreptitious and privacy–compromising surveillance is perpetrated on users without their consent. Marketing technologies such as DoubleClick and Bluestreak, for example, have developed software and network technology designed to track individuals online (Campbell and Carlson, 2002). Paradoxically, there is wide concern that anonymity can be used to facilitate illegal or anti–social activities with little risk of apprehension because of the difficulty in tracing the identities of individual Internet users (Mossberg, 1995). Despite the abundance of discourse on this subject, no research has systematically explored the means by which the traditional mass media have treated Internet anonymity. In this paper, we employ a qualitative approach to examine how major English–language Canadian newspapers have portrayed anonymity in relation to the Internet. While we do not claim that the rhetoric of the mass media is the sole determinant of public perceptions about information and communication technologies, we do argue that media images occupy powerful positions in contemporary discourse about information and communication technologies. By exploring the deployment of ‘anonymity’ in media productions — using Canadian news stories as our data — we wish to identify the term’s work in the context of more expansive claims about the function, value and consequences of networked information technology in society.

 

++++++++++

A contended theme in technological discourse

Anonymity — usually cast as some form of non–identifiability — has been a powerful, recurring motif in popular representations of contemporary technoculture. The movie War Games (1983), for example, in which an adolescent hacker breaks into the NORAD computer system and inadvertently triggers a missile launch, introduced a mainstream audience to the potentially catastrophic intersection of identity, deception and networked technology. The perceived ease with which various malign actors, such as hackers, were able to conceal their offline identities and thus escape detection contributed greatly to the mystique of information technologies (Jordan and Taylor, 1998). Concomitant with this fascination was a wide range of writing about the possibilities and consequences — political, social and personal — of anonymous, technologically mediated interaction. In The Crypto Anarchist Manifesto (1988), for example, May envisions anonymity as a catalyst leading to profound and sweeping social change:

Computer technology is on the verge of providing the ability for individuals and groups to communicate and interact with each other in a totally anonymous manner ... These developments will alter completely the nature of government regulation, the ability to tax and control economic interactions, the ability to keep information secret, and will even alter the nature of trust and reputation. [1]

Similarly, in the novel Ender’s game (1977), Card imagines a world in which the anonymity of the Internet provides a new avenue for political participation. Two characters in the novel realize that "with false names, on the right nets, they could be anybody. Old men, middle–aged women, anybody, as long as they were careful about the way they wrote. All that anyone would see were their words, their ideas. Every citizen started equal, on the nets." [2] In the opinion of some commentators, the presumed equality of which Card writes has entirely negative implications for society. The philosopher Hubert Dreyfus, for example, is particularly stern on the subject:

Kierkegaard would surely have seen the Internet, with its Web sites full of anonymous information from all over the world and its interest groups that anyone in the world can join without qualifications and where one can discuss any topic endlessly without consequences, the hi–tech synthesis of the worst features of the newspaper and the coffeehouse. Indeed, thanks to the Internet, Burke’s dream has been realized. In news groups, anyone, anywhere, any time, can have an opinion on anything. All are only too eager to respond to the equally deracinated opinions of other anonymous amateurs who post their views from nowhere. [3]

Conversely, the openness and egalitarianism which excites such disapprobation from Dreyfus has also sparked abundant speculations about the therapeutic uses to which online anonymity can be put; these tend to emphasize the flexible, motile nature of cyber–identities and the supposedly tonic effects of the self’s liberation from the constraints of embodiment (Turkle, 1995). Still another line of thought lauds Internet anonymity as a vehicle of empowerment. In her ethnography of a lesbian chatroom, for example, Poster argues that the anonymity of electronic interactions provides an opportunity "for marginalized groups to finally gain as powerful a voice as the center. [P]eople on the margins have a long history of highlighting, camouflaging, inserting, politicizing, strategizing, cohering, camping, and ironizing their material and linguistic presence." [4] Finally, writings arising from the burgeoning field of cyberethics exhibit a similar divergence on the value of Internet anonymity. Armstrong and Forde (2003), for example, argue that anonymity on the Internet must be limited in order to regulate illegal activities, while Rigby (1995) acknowledges the problems caused by anonymity but argues that protections it provides for free speech are far more important.

Obviously, the foregoing is not intended to be an exhaustive account of cultural productions — popular or otherwise — that consider Internet anonymity. Rather, we simply wish to demonstrate the centrality of anonymity to certain claims made about information and communication technologies; we also wish to suggest that ‘anonymity’ is a phenomenon to which varying and sometimes contradictory qualities are assigned. Interestingly, many commentators who make opposing claims about the nature, effect or value of Internet anonymity bolster their arguments by citing relevant research from psychology and related fields. But despite the fact that anonymity has long been a fundamental concern for researchers interested in computer–mediated communication, researchers have not reached unanimity in predicting anonymity’s effects. In certain situations, for example, anonymity is presumed to reduce fear of social disapproval and to facilitate objective and honest communication (McKenna and Bargh, 2000). Some studies suggest that anonymity has a salutary effect on information–seeking about sensitive topics insofar as people believe their inquiries cannot be linked to their offline identities (Joinson and Banyard, 2002). Conversely, other researchers assert that anonymity in CMC encourages malign or aggressive behavior due to disinhibition and a corresponding reduction of self–awareness – a condition social psychologists call deindividuation (Kiesler, et al., 1984). Still other studies have found that the presumption of anonymity makes little difference in the style or nature of online interactions in contexts such as Group Support Systems (GSS) (Pinsonneault and Heppel, 1998). Although anonymity has been manipulated in various ways to make its effects more amenable to measurement, it remains an elusive concept (Lea, et al., 2001). Indeed, philosophical and sociological speculation suggests that anonymity is a highly nuanced, multifaceted and subjective phenomenon whose effects are likely contingent on a variety of factors (Marx, 2001; Wallace, 1999).

It seems clear, then, that little consensus has been achieved regarding the effect of anonymity on users of information and communication technologies. The social value of anonymity in this context appears to have been similarly underdetermined. Nevertheless, assumptions about the value and effect of anonymity are implicit in certain stories and claims about the Internet. For example, the French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier introduced a 2004 international conference on hate speech by noting that governments have a responsibility "to underline that by its own characteristics — notably, immediacy and anonymity — the Internet has seduced the networks of intolerance." [5] As Barnier’s remark indicates, talk about the Internet sometimes hinges on the assumption that ‘anonymity’ is indeed a variable whose effects are predictable and taken–for–granted. While this is certainly not the only assumption about anonymity evident in public discourse, Barnier’s comment is illustrative of the phenomenon we wish to explore; namely, the uses to which certain assumptions or understandings about anonymity are put in the context of claims about the Internet published in Canadian newspapers.

 

++++++++++

Methods

The methodology used in this study is qualitative content analysis (Altheide, 1996), a technique used to identify and describe patterns in a collection of texts. Qualitative content analysis differs from quantitative content analysis in that the qualitative approach is to a large extent inductive. The goal is to find and verify patterns that occur in a corpus of texts. Like quantitative content analysis, qualitative content analysis may begin with predetermined categories. However, unlike quantitative content analysis, qualitative content analysis constantly tests and revises those categories during and after the data collection process. Furthermore, in a procedure similar to that sometimes used in analyzing ethnographic data, qualitative content analysis may also begin by letting the patterns emerge from the corpus.

Our analysis of the treatment of anonymity and the Internet was conducted from media stories published in major Canadian newspapers between 1994 and 2003. To locate relevant media presentations, we relied on two full–text periodical databases: Canadian Newstand, and Lexis/Nexis. In both databases, we retrieved news stories by using the search string ‘Anonymity w/3 Internet’ (that is, we retrieved all stories in which the term ‘Internet’ appeared within three words or less of ‘anonymity’. This ensured a manageable sample of relevant items). Our final sample of 163 stories was drawn from the following major Canadian newspapers: Globe and Mail; Vancouver Sun; Vancouver Province; Victoria Times Colonist; Calgary Herald; Edmonton Journal; Regina Star–Phoenix; Winnipeg Free Press; Toronto Star; Sudbury Star; Windsor Star; Ottawa Citizen; Kingston Whig Standard; Montreal Gazette; Halifax Chronicle Herald; St. John’s Telegram; Charlottetown Guardian; and, National Post.

Our primary aim was to analyze how Canadian news stories use anonymity to convey specific claims about the meaning, value or implications of the Internet. We use the term ‘claims–making’ in the sense meant by Toulmin (1958) in his model of ordinary arguments. According to Toulmin, all arguments must exhibit certain rhetorical devices if their claims are to appear coherent. These devices include: 1) data (also called grounds or evidence) which shape the interpretation of subsequent claims. Explicit grounds may consist of examples, definitions, or numeric estimates; 2) warrants, which are general statements linking the data to the claim; and, 3) claims, or conclusions, frequently call for specific action to alleviate or eradicate the problem, but they may also take less urgent forms. Many informal arguments conclude by redefining the problem, by stating that more information is required for a solution, or by affirming the status quo (that is, by concluding that the problem is not really a problem after all). In analyzing these news stories, therefore, we typified the main themes and topics related to claims–making exercises about anonymity and the Internet.

 

++++++++++

Argumentative topics

Arguers who advance claims often do so in the context of more specific topics. An expedient illustration of the relationship between argumentative themes and topics in the context of Internet anonymity is May’s notion of "the Four Horsemen of the Infopocalypse" (1998):

The use of encryption by ‘evil’ groups, such as child pornographer, terrorists, abortionists, abortion protestors, etc., is cited by those who wish to limit civilian access to crypto tools. We call these the ‘Four Horsemen of the Infocalypse,’ as they are so often cited as the reason why ordinary citizen–units of the nation–state are not to have access to crypto [graphy]. [6]

As May observes, topics such as child pornography can be used as bases to argue for more thorough surveillance measures. In this sense, certain topics may inform or even constitute the evidentiary grounds which form the basis of some larger claim. Accordingly, we offer below a description of the specific story topics evident in the corpus of stories we studied. Specifically, we identified two elements related to this type of claims–making activity: 1) the broad topics associated with Internet anonymity. These were derived inductively and correspond to the overarching subject of the news story; 2) the relative newsworthiness of these topics, defined here as the extent to which stories were shared among newspapers via wire services. Consistent with the aims of qualitative content analysis (Altheide, 1996), our primary purpose in presenting these topics is to provide a rich description of the sample, rather than quantifying the association between topics and claims.

Through a process of constant comparison, we identified ten broad topics which encompass all stories in the sample: Privacy; Pedophilia; Internet Crime; Internet (General); Sexuality; E(lectronic)–commerce; E–counselling; Fandom; Free Speech/Censorship; and, E–health. As Table 1 shows, stories about privacy and pedophilia were most common overall. (Surprisingly, we identified few stories associating Internet anonymity with terrorism; only 11 stories in our corpus mentioned terrorism, and always in the context of larger debates about privacy or crime. We speculate that one reason for this lacunae is the fact that terrorism was less salient to Canadian media - which was the sole focus of our inquiry — than to U.S. media during the period following the 9/11 attacks).

 

Table 1: Stories by topic.
 Stories
(n=163)
Wire stories
(n=81)
 NPercentage (%)NPercentage (%)
Privacy3420.92024.7
Pedophilia3320.32125.9
Internet Crime2414.71113.6
Internet (General)2112.9911.1
Sexuality2012.31113.6
E–commerce95.544.9
E–counselling74.300
Fandom74.333.7
Free Speech53.122.5
E–health31.900

 

Stories about privacy and pedophilia were also markedly shorter than stories in other categories, primarily because they tended to conform to the inverted pyramid style characteristic of hard– or breaking news stories. In the Pedophilia category, stories commonly focused on timely stories such as impending legislation to control cyberstalkers; accounts of cases involving child pornography or other forms of exploitation; and, pronouncements by police about similar topics. The primary sources for these stories tended to be members of the juridical or criminal justice communities — the Federal Justice Minister, judges, and police. Few privacy advocates were used as sources in these stories. Stories in the Privacy category were similarly brief, and also conformed to the inverted pyramid format. While most tended to deal with breaking stories, many of these weren’t “hard” news stories in the way that stories about pedophilia were. Rather, a substantial portion of the Privacy stories concerned computer or software companies who were about to launch products intended to secure computer users’ privacy while online. The remaining stories focused on court decisions related to privacy, concerns about government surveillance of Internet activity, and other situations or developments seen as compromising to privacy.

Interestingly, stories about Internet crime (here defined as crimes other than pedophilia in which the Internet is somehow implicated) tended to be almost twice the average length of stories about privacy or pedophilia. One reason is that a substantial proportion of stories are feature–type or explanatory pieces whose purpose was to provide context or give background information about timely topics related to Internet crime. Stories about music piracy or file–sharing are characteristic of this. Fairly substantial proportions of stories about general Internet matters, e–commerce, e–counseling and sexuality share this tendency. In some ways, however, this measure is deceptive, since pedophilia is obviously a sub–topic of crime. If we collapse these two categories, we find that substantial proportion of the stories in the sample — slightly less than 35 per cent — are concerned with crime of one sort or another.

Stories in the Sexuality category fall into two groups: those about cybersex — which usually refers to the use of pornography or to explicitly sexual online encounters with a partner or partners — and stories about dating or relationships. Stories in the former category frequently pathologize cybersex as highly addictive and personally destructive. Stories about dating or relationships tend to focus on positive aspects of Internet anonymity as a way of ameliorating social anxiety or inhibitions. Even these stories, however, tend to include warnings about personal security or about being careful who you meet online.

 

++++++++++

Newsworthiness

While various indices of newsworthiness have been developed, most rely on subjective assessments of stories by one or more raters working with predetermined criteria. Our interest in assessing newsworthiness was slightly different, insofar as we were concerned with the perceptions of editors themselves. Initially, we thought to use page or section number as a measure of newsworthiness but decided against this because the variability of section types among newspapers in the sample makes meaningful comparison difficult. For example, a wire story about the 1999 release of Zero Knowledge privacy software appeared in five newspapers in this sample, albeit in different sections (e.g., business, technology, entertainment) and on different pages. We argue that the perceived newsworthiness of the story is demonstrated by its wide use, rather than the prominence of its display in each of the five newspapers. In this study, therefore, a rough measure of the newsworthiness of particular topics is the extent to which stories were shared among the newspapers in the sample (see Table 1). Once again, stories about pedophilia and privacy were shared among newspapers more often than stories about other topics. The most commonly shared stories in the Pedophilia category concerned the Mclellan anti–luring bill, while the most commonly shared story in the Privacy category concerned the impending release of the Zero Knowledge software. Stories about sexuality were also widely shared — most of these concerned items about a Cybersex study released by Alvin Cooper. Stories about relatively positive or benign uses of Internet anonymity, such as counseling or health, were not shared widely. Once again, if the categories Pedophilia and Internet Crime are collapsed, we find that roughly 56 percent were shared among newspapers in the sample.

 

++++++++++

Themes related to Internet anonymity

In the stories comprising our sample, ‘anonymity’ appears most frequently as an element of claims–making related to one of the following four themes: 1) Public discourse; 2) Parity; 3) Social chaos; 4) Surveillance. Depending on the nature of the topic and the number of sources invoked, more than one claim and theme may be evident in each story. For example, claims about free speech and surveillance/order may appear in the same story. Below, we discuss each theme and offer illustrations.

The Public discourse theme
Certain claims celebrate the Internet as a medium that is especially amenable to the dissemination of unfiltered public discourse. Such claims tend to evoke a kind of free speech absolutism that portrays unrestricted discourse as both politically and socially healthful. Claims–making of this sort sometimes appears in relation to competing arguments whose purpose is to advocate restrictions on Internet communication; as such, it sometimes appears in story topics such as Privacy or Pedophilia. The following quotation is illustrative of the public discourse claim:

Anyone with a computer can send information over a system operated by an Internet service provider (ISP) with an anonymity that, Internet champions trumpet, renders the Internet the true vehicle of free speech. [7]

In Toulmin’s typology, the claim here is that the Internet is ‘the true vehicle of free speech’, (at least, in the opinion of the ‘Internet champions’ whose argument the article advances). The data, or evidence, is that anyone can send information over a system anonymously. Anonymity, therefore, functions as a key warrant; the argument implies that anonymous communication is a fundamental component of free speech. In the example above, ‘anonymity’ appears as a warrant and ‘free speech’ as a claim; variations of the argument, however, can reverse the relationship of these concepts such that ‘anonymity’ is a claim — e.g., ‘Anonymity must be protected’ - and ‘free speech’ is a warrant — e.g., ‘because anonymity is a fundamental component of free speech.’ The warrant in this example is that free speech is valuable. Frequently, the latter argument conflates ‘privacy’ and ‘anonymity.’

The Parity theme
This claim encompasses all arguments predicated on the assumption that anonymous Internet communication allows people to interact positively in ways they would not in face–to–face encounters. The chief warrant in such arguments is that anonymity is presumed to effect a condition of parity among communicants either by erasing social differences or by encouraging the unconditional acceptance of shared problems, as the following quotation about an Internet support group suggests:

Part of the reason these self–searching cybersouls sound so articulate is that they’ve had plenty of practice. According to many of the confessionals on alt.support.shyness, hundreds of men have been sent here by their psychotherapists. The anonymity of the Internet allows them to talk about their innermost fears without the male social stigma attached to ‘sharing feelings.’ [8]

Here, the cybersouls’ fluency is attributed to their experience with an electronic support group to which they can post messages anonymously. The therapeutic value of anonymity is only one manifestation of the parity claim; similar claims are found in stories about online consumer behavior, in which anonymity is presumed to reduce buyers’ inhibitions (for example, in a story headlined ‘Skin care hurdles gender boundary: Men more likely to lather up with lotions, moisturizers’, the vendor attributes his success to the fact ‘that the anonymity of the Internet is attractive to his customers.’). The parity argument exhibits one or both of the following ideas: 1) Anonymity reduces or eliminates prejudices or stigmas caused by an individual’s personal traits (e.g., gender, appearance, or race) thereby creating a condition in which the individual is able to communicate more openly and honestly than would be possible otherwise; 2) Anonymity affords people a kind of protection in which they are able to communicate with helpful others about difficult or personally sensitive subjects without fear of sanction. The claim appears in story topics such as cybersex, e–counseling, and e–commerce.

The Social chaos theme
While the parity theme attributes positive effects to Internet anonymity, the social chaos theme offers a contending perspective. Rather than encouraging benign or tonic behavior, the theme states, anonymity’s supposed capacity to free people from social sanctions instead facilitates various forms of toxic behavior, ranging from the mildly anti–social (such as Internet addiction) to the socially monstrous (such as distributing child pornography):

The dark reality of the Internet is that the anonymity it affords users means ‘a pedophile can come right into your house,’ says Ontario Provincial Police Det. Bob Matthews. Matthews heads the force’s pornography crime unit, which concentrates almost exclusively on child porn. Officers in the unit are overwhelmed with the task of trying to control distribution of pornography on the World Wide Web. ‘The Internet is the perfect vehicle for pedophiles to distribute their garbage,’ he said Wednesday at a luncheon in Saskatoon. Computers are anonymous, they can store massive amounts of information and distribute it worldwide in minutes, and the nature of the technology does not respect borders. The anonymity of the computer is especially troubling to Matthews. There is no way to confirm the age or identity of individuals using ‘chat rooms’ on the Net, a point he wants all parents to appreciate. [9]

As the foregoing suggests, the Social chaos theme is evident in stories about pedophilia. Sometimes explicit in the social chaos theme is a motif of dissolved boundaries or borders (‘a pedophile can come right into your house’). The claim may also invoke the insufficiency of current legal or social controls to curb the purported ill effects of Internet anonymity. Law enforcement agencies may be portrayed as ‘overwhelmed’; efforts to identify computer malefactors may be described as ‘futile’, as in a story headlined “Finding cybercriminals ‘almost impossible’.”

The Surveillance theme
Although the Social chaos theme portrays the consequences of anonymity as unfailingly bleak, it stops short of prescribing significant political or juridical actions to rectify the situations it describes. The Surveillance theme, however, is sometimes — but not always — invoked to accomplish this. The basic claim is predicated on the assumption that Internet anonymity is, in fact, illusory; given sufficient technological and/or legal means, all Internet activity can be monitored such that the identity of any particular user can be determined. Implicit in the claim is the assumption that someone — frequently corporate or state interests — is sufficiently motivated to do this:

Times have changed. The Internet is not the haven of anonymity it was once thought to be. Big business has got into get into the game of cyber– snooping. They’re not trying to get your money; they want you to get your hands off theirs. [10]

Jones, a computer science prof and president of Electronic Frontier Canada (www.efc.ca), a watchdog group, knows that Internet anonymity, in its purest form at least, is an illusion. With the right resources, and determination, Internet transmissions can usually be traced. The U.S. Secret Service can demand the logs and records of anyone — and it will. [11]

Speakers may employ the Surveillance theme to advocate or oppose stricter invigilation of the computer–using population. Privacy advocates, for example, may invoke the claim to decry proposed legal measures to allow increasing monitoring. Conversely, proponents of increased monitoring may refer to the insufficiency of current legal or social controls to justify surveillance initiatives.

 

++++++++++

Conclusion

In this paper, our primary purpose was to identify the specific topics and themes that constitute the context for claims–making about anonymity and the Internet, and to identify the relative importance (newsworthiness) accorded these topics. We argue that the foregoing themes and topics are exemplary of a particular type of discourse about the Internet. Essentially, this is rhetoric in which anonymity is portrayed as an element that facilitates beneficial or deleterious outcomes of communication technologies. We emphasize that such discourse is not a species of technological utopianism (or anti–utopianism), insofar as true utopias are predicated on radical and comprehensive schemes to transform social conditions such that an ideal society is realized [12]; in technological utopianism, the rational deployment of structures, machines and technical knowledge is the means to this intended condition of social perfection (Kling, 1996; Corn, 1986). However, the discourse we have examined does share with technological utopianism a belief in the powerful effect or value of a single phenomenon. For technological utopians, this phenomenon is obviously technology. In discourse we studied, anonymity is the crucial and necessary constituent upon which claims about information and communication technologies rest.

As we have seen, the Internet’s capacity to afford its users anonymity informs claims about a wide range of phenomena. This catholicity further distinguishes anonymity–related discourse from true utopianism, which tends to advocate all–encompassing, fixed prescriptions for total change. In the media we studied, this discourse is concerned with a variety of outcomes arising from anonymous mediated communication. For example, we found a clear tendency for stories to associate Internet anonymity with phenomena such as crime or pedophilia. Stories about relatively positive or benign applications of Internet anonymity — privacy, concerns, e–health, counseling, dating/relationships, freedom of speech/censorship — were in the minority. We do not suggest that the relationship between the themes and story topics we have identified is invariably necessary and unidirectional; for example, two sources may make different claims about certain themes in the context of the same topic. Nevertheless, the fact that a preponderance of stories in this sample tend to associate ‘the anonymity of the Internet’ with malign or dangerous phenomenon is not surprising. Nor is it particularly surprising that so many of the stories impinge on the juridical realm or that members of the law enforcement community are used frequently as sources. Themes of deviance and control are perennial frames which journalists employ to structure news events so that they are coherent and understandable to news audiences. To us, however, what is interesting about the newspapers’ treatment of anonymity–related discourse is not their tendency to emphasize the presumed chaotic or malign consequences of Internet anonymity, but rather, the fact that they provide a space for the polyphonic interplay of competing claims; such claims impinge on a panoply of subjects and, in so doing, reflect frequently conflicting positions on highly contended political and ethical matters. The texts we studied tend to exhibit a tension between concerns for social order and concerns for individual freedom. This tension is particularly evident in the most common and the most newsworthy topics associated with Internet anonymity — privacy, pedophilia, and Internet crime — in which warnings about social chaos or the need for surveillance co–exist with calls for measures to preserve or protect privacy. As such, any contention that the newspapers in our sample promote a uniform view of anonymity’s implications is slightly misleading. Ultimately, the rhetorical force of arguments about anonymity – whether by the police, politicians, scientists, technicians, free speech defenders, or privacy advocates (among many others) – depends on speculative assumptions about agents who cannot be held accountable for their actions because they cannot be identified. In our sample, therefore, discourse about anonymity is primarily political insofar as it is concerned with the obligations and prerogatives assumed by members of the polis. End of article

 

About the authors

Robert Carey is a post–doctoral fellow at the Faculty of Information and Media Studies, the University of Western Ontario.

Jacquelyn Burkell is an Associate Professor at the Faculty of Information and Media Studies, the University of Western Ontario.

 

Acknowledgements

The authors are grateful to the Social Sciences and Humanities Research for the funding that made this research possible.

 

Notes

1. May, 1988, no page number.

2. Card, 1985, p. 145.

3. Dreyfus, 2001, pp. 78–79.

4. Poster, 2002, p. 249.

5. Keaten, 2004, p. F. 14.

6. May, 1988, no page number.

7. Ziegler, 1999. p. CS 08.

8. Seeman, 1999, p. B1.

9. Zakreski, 1997, p. A6.

10. Rocha, 2003, p. A.1.

11. Campbell, 1999, p. 1.

12. Segal, 1985, 10.

 

References

David Altheide, 1996. Qualitative media analysis. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage.

H.L. Armstrong and P.J. Forde, 2003. “Internet anonymity practices in computer crime,” Information Management and Computer Security, volume 11, number 5, pp. 209–215. http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/09685220310500117

J.E. Campbell and M. Carslon, 2002. “Panopticon.com: Online surveillance and the commodification of privacy,” Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media, volume 46, number 4, pp. 586–606. http://dx.doi.org/10.1207/s15506878jobem4604_6

K.K. Campbell. 1999. “Online and anonymous: Total anonymity on the Net is an illusion. But is it a must for the Net’s future? Is it even desirable?” Toronto Star (30 September), p. 1.

Orson Scott Card, 1985. Ender’s game. New York: Tor.

Joseph Corn, 1986. Imagining tomorrow: History, technology, and the American future. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

Hubert L. Dreyfus, 2001. On the Internet. London: Routledge.

A. Joinson and P. Banyard, 2002. “Psychological aspects of information seeking on the Internet,” Aslib Proceedings, volume 54, pp. 95–102. http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/00012530210435220

T. Jordan and P. Taylor, 1998. “A sociology of hackers,” Sociological Review, volume 46, number 4, pp. 757–780. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/1467-954X.00139

Jamey Keaten, 2004. “Experts tackle Internet hate sites,” Vancouver Sun (17 June), p. F. 14.

S. Kiesler, J. Siegel, and T. McGuire, 1984. “Social psychological aspects of computer–mediated communication,” American Psychologist, volume 39, pp. 1123–1134. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0003-066X.39.10.1123

E.E. Klein, C.C. Chalmers, and P.J. Herskovitz, 2003. “Philosophical dimensions of anonymity in group support systems: Ethical implications of social psychological systems,” Computers in Human Behavior, volume 19, pp. 355–382. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0747-5632(02)00053-5

Rob Kling, 1996. Hopes and horrors: Technological utopianism and anti–utopianism in narratives of computerization. San Diego: Academic Press.

R. Kling, Y. Lee, A. Teich, and M.S. Frankel, 1999. “Assessing anonymous communication on the Internet: Policy deliberations,” Information Society, volume 15, pp. 79–90. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/019722499128547

M. Lea, R. Spears, and D. DeGroot, 2001. “Knowing me, Knowing you: Anonymity effects of social identity processes within groups,” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, volume 27, pp. 526–537. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0146167201275002

Gary Marx, 2001. “Identity and anonymity: Some conceptual distinctions and issues for research,” In: J. Caplan and J. Torpey (editors). Documenting individual identity, Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, pp. 311–327.

Timothy May, 1998. “The Crypto Anarchist Manifesto,” at http://www.spunk.org/library/comms/sp000151.html, accessed 3 April 2005.

K.Y.A. McKenna and J.A. Bargh, 2000. “Plan 9 from Cyberspace: The implications of the Internet for personality and social psychology,” Personality and Social Psychology Review, volume 4, pp. 57–75. http://dx.doi.org/10.1207/S15327957PSPR0401_6

W.S. Mossberg, 1995. “Personal technology: Accountability is key to democracy in the online world,” Wall Street Journal (26 January), p. B1.

A. Pinsonneault and N. Heppel, 1998. “Anonymity in group support systems research: A new conceptualization, measure and contingency framework,” Journal of Management Information Systems, volume 14, pp. 89–108.

Jamie Poster, 2002. “Trouble, pleasure, and tactics: Anonymity and identity in a lesbian chat room,” In: M. Consalvo and S. Paasonen (editors). Women and everyday uses of the Internet: Agency and identity. New York: Peter Lang, pp. 230–251.

Karina Rigby, 1995. “Anonymity on the Internet must be protected,” at http://www-swiss.ai.mit.edu/6095/student-papers/fall95-papers/rigby-anonymity.html, accessed 14 March 2005.

Roberto Rocha, 2003. “Industry gets tough on Internet pirates. Web not haven of anonymity it was thought to be,” Montreal Gazette (12 July), p. A1.

Neil Seeman, 1999. “Looking For a nice girl: For chronically shy men, it’s a search filled with pain and humiliation,” National Post (3 November), p. B1.

Howard P. Segal, 1985. Technological utopianism in American culture. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Stephen Toulmin, 1958. The uses of argument. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Sherry Turkle, 1995. Life on the screen: Identity in the age of the Internet. New York: Simon & Schuster.

K.A. Wallace, 1999. “Anonymity,” Ethics and Information Technology, volume 1, pp. 23–35. http://dx.doi.org/10.1023/A:1010066509278

Dan Zakreski, 1997. “Tracking pedophiles on new unwieldy: Officer,” Saskatoon Star–Phoenix (3 April), p. A6.

Rod Ziegler, 1999. “Legal eagles patrol the Internet,” Edmonton Journal (7 October), p. CS.08.

 


 

Editorial history

Paper received 25 June 2007; accepted 6 July 2007.


Contents Index

Copyright ©2007, First Monday.

Copyright ©2007, Robert F. Carey and Jacquelyn A. Burkell.

Revisiting the Four Horsemen of the Infopocalypse: Representations of anonymity and the Internet in Canadian newspapers by Robert F. Carey and Jacquelyn A. Burkell
First Monday, volume 12, number 8 (August 2007),
URL: http://firstmonday.org/issues/issue12_8/carey/index.html





A Great Cities Initiative of the University of Illinois at Chicago University Library.

© First Monday, 1995-2019. ISSN 1396-0466.