Anonymity on the Internet

December 15, 2011

Political Theory


I don’t care for the internet in that almost everybody is anonymous, which reduces their accountability for things that they say or post. I know I’m not the only one who encounters it, though maybe I get exposed a little bit more by playing games over Xbox Live (yes I am a video game nerd). I want to focus on online gaming especially in this post. Xbox Live is home to a lot of people who feel free to speak their minds more than they normally would because nobody else can see their face or know who they are. Throughout my time playing I’ve heard people called plenty of names, two of the more common ones are “nigger” and “faggot,” which I don’t think are appropriate in any circumstance. 

Mill would probably defend the speech of these individuals, he believed that if their words don’t cause any crucial harm then their rights shouldn’t be constricted. I don’t really think that their rights should be constricted, though I do wish that they could be somehow accountable for their actions. 

Xbox Live is something the user pays for to be able to use, and they have to accept an agreement to use the service. I have expressed consent to be exposed to this, so I could just walk away. The other side of this is that I pay to use the service, and I wish it was better. I’m sure there is something in the agreement I accepted that states that Microsoft can’t be held accountable for what other people say when online. I agree that they shouldn’t be held accountable for what other people say, but maybe there is something they can do to help steer people toward the right direction and make the experience better for everybody. So what are the options?

First of all, there is a mute function where you can silence anyone who is talking. The good thing about this is anybody who doesn’t want to hear them can get rid of them, but that doesn’t solve the problem. It doesn’t stop their actions, it just takes away their audience. I want to make society better in this regard, hopefully make people think about what they say before they say something.

Another option I’ve considered is monitoring people and banning them from the service. This would be extremely difficult and hated by most people. On one hand they are paying for the service so it would be terrible to just take it away. Also, it would take a lot of manpower to monitor the people who are causing the problem, and it would be difficult to decide what can and cannot be said. Perhaps a better solution would be a complaint system (there is one in place, but I’m not sure if they actually do anything with it). If someone gets a number of complaints for being offensive within a certain time limit, they would be suspended for like 24 hours. Maybe they would change their ways after knowing that they had some consequences tied to their actions. Another possibility is having a specific group of games available separate from the others where saying certain things can get you in trouble.

 I don’t think it will ever change, but it’s wishful thinking on my part to try and hope for some way to get people to think about their actions over the internet more. I’m sure the contract theorists would all just be laughing in my face because I’ve expressed consent and keep paying for something that I could just walk away from. Also, I’m sure that Mill wouldn’t think that it would be a good idea to restrict these people’s rights under these circumstances. After all of this writing, all I want is some accountability. One of my favorite quotes throughout the whole semester is “And covenants, without the sword, are but words, and of no strength to secure a man at all.” I’m definitely not trying to say that they have a covenant to clean up their language, nor should they be punished by a sword. I do think, however, that people should be required to accept an agreement that states some legitimate consequence for misconduct over Xbox Live. I don’t like to think of it as a Big Brother situation, but more like an elementary school situation where the teacher can punish someone for behaving badly. 

Can anyone else offer a better way to deal with this? Am I completely wrong for wanting to cut someone’s free speech a little short for the advancement of the online community? Please comment, I would love to hear your thoughts.

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7 Comments on “Anonymity on the Internet”

  1. jrphilli Says:

    I am with you on this. It may seem as cutting someones freedom of speech off, but it is for the best. Now, yes people are alouded to say what they want, but the company should not want someone doing things that makes that company look ill. The Xbox company can install some rules, or consequences for offending other people, because they are not playing the games by themselves. No one wants to come on a live game that they paided for and feel insulted. There is a limit to the freedom of speech clause. If I am paying for this game, I have the right to say what I do not like, I paided money just like the other people using the game. Your suggestion seem like good ways to go about this without fulling taking someones freedom of speech away,

  2. abswang Says:

    The thing I hate most is online harassment, especially under usernames. For some reason, when people get online, all of their morals and manners seem to go out of the window. They have more courage to say things they wouldn’t normally say, They are rude to people and talk a lot more trash, and they have no regards for other people’s feelings. In this case, I honestly think if someone is being disruptive to other people for no reason, there’s a line you can draw that cuts their freedom of speech. Most people would never say the things they say online in person anyway, so if they can’t monitor themselves, someone more mature should do it for them.

  3. lmaren Says:

    Honestly, restricting their speech would not be an infringement on their freedom of speech because they can say those things at other places if they wish. But merely restricting them from saying harmful things on xbox live does not completely silence them at all. I think that it would be much better if we had a better monitoring system. Xbox is a private company. They are not directly officiated with the government, so the same rules don’t exactly apply.

    Also, their comments are harmful to others and Locke would argue that hate speeches are one of the times when your freedom should be limited. If they are harming others, they should have consequences for their actions. Maybe a solution is not necessarily kicking them out of xbox live, but maybe banning them from the chats?

  4. ryanjcarney Says:

    Yeah it’s definitely frustrating when you encounter jerks who use the anonymity of the internet as a way to harass other or fling hate speech. That said I don’t see any great need for more action against them. The mute function totally ends the conflict between you and the jerk with just a few clicks of the mouse. With the way the internet is you’re never going to permanently silence them – they’ll continue showing their ignorance and immaturity somewhere on the series of tubes that is the world wide web.

    As you said, Mill and the others would support their right to free speech, even if it is immature and stupid.

    I don’t subscribe to Xbox live as I play online games on my PC so I don’t know how everything works there. Most pc games allow dedicated servers with administrators and moderators who can police their own domains – does XBox Live not do this? It seems that the dedicated server route is pretty effective in weeding out the type of players you don’t want to play with.

  5. pelarkin Says:

    The world of online gaming contains many stupid and childish individuals just like the people that you mentioned in your post. Unfortunately, due to the fact that I play games like Call of Duty quite a bit, encountering these people is, unfortunately, something you just have to deal with (especially in Modern Warfare 2, where for some reason, they made you go into game chat). However, I am able to brush these people off all the time, due to the fact that I am steadfast in my own beliefs enough to just brush their hate speech off. In the end, I know that they’re probably just an idiot who feels better by yelling at people they’ll never meet, and I know that I’m better off, so I have just learned to deal with it, even if they are incredibly annoying.

    However, even though no one likes dealing with fools like this, there really isn’t any basis to lay an argument for taking away their free speech on. The glory of freedom of speech is the fact that people can say what they want. Now, some people might say that freedom of speech deserves to be revoked when people are using it to directly and knowingly harm other people. However, when you listen to these idiots talk on their headsets, do you honestly think they woke up that morning thinking to themselves, “Boy, I can’t wait to yell some hate speech at people on the Internet today.” No, of course they didn’t (at least, hopefully not). The nature of most games on the Internet is the fact that it is incredibly easy to get frustrated at them, and, in turn, people take out their frustration by yelling at other people, because, naturally it makes them feel better. Really, since there’s nothing we can do, we just have to learn to deal with it and move on with our lives.

  6. Brian Hall Says:

    I think this is an interesting case because on xbox live, the terms bandied about are so explicit, I don’t know how anyone could possibly be a fair arbitrator in deciding who gets the ban-hammer and who rides free. I have personally come across many people who have unleashed a stream of verbal garbage into my ear, and as ashamed as I am to admit it, I’ve reacted in similar ways every time (though never to the extent of using unnecessary racial slurs). It’s just too easy to act like a complete douchebag in a situation where there are no consequences; the most that can happen is your account is banned. You can always pay for another one (on PC at least they can ban your IP address, or even more insidiously, your hardware signature).

    Frankly, one should know exactly what they are getting into when they decide to enter the world of pre-pubescent racists and homophobes that is xbox-live. It’s not something that goes out of its way to offend you; you have to seek it out. Therefore, I’d say the way they handle things now is acceptable.

    On a side note, the particular combination of explitives you mentioned in your post reminds me of this rather non-PC video…If you are offended easily by sensitive racial issues, I’d advise not watching it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G2nTbqbtGug

  7. danielpienkowski Says:

    I believe this issue you brought up here really falls into a larger issue of abuse of privacy over the internet and cyber-bullying. Whether it be Xbox live, Youtube comments, or even anonymous posts on the web, it is apparent that some people start to think they are invincible since there is no accountability for their actions. I constantly see hateful comments on Youtube that are linked to little more than a very vague profile, meaning that they can say whatever they want without having to truly respond for their actions and put everyone else down. Youtube has an option to flag or report abuse over the internet, although this is hardly effective as the website itself is a free service so taking down an account is of little consequence compared to the damage people can do. Since Xbox live is a service that is paid for, it might be a little trickier to enforce these rules, and there may be little that one can do about it. But I believe that the people making these comments simply crave attention and live off of irritating others, so ignoring them and not justifying what they say with a response might go be helpful in eradicating this problem.

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