Anonymity and Online Identity – by “George O – YLT2012”

Shakespeare was well ahead of his time—yet again—when he wisely said that “All the world’s a stage.” Did he foretell private government secrets being broadcasted on Wikileaks and Kim Kardashian’s personal thoughts on Israel being splashed on Twitter feeds to cause uproar on our contemporary international stage? The Internet has made everyone and everything so connected and shared that one action or one thought can spread like wildfire on the web. Take Sophia Grace’s rendition of “Super Bass” as an example, and her two-week meteoric rise to stardom when she became the darling child of the new Oprah, Ms. Ellen DeGeneres herself.

She looks happy, to say the least. But not everyone can be as talented, cute, and frankly, lucky, as this young British girl. Well, maybe that is, except her cousin, Rosie, the hype girl, who’s also enjoying meeting the biggest stars and exploring Disneyland on Ellen’s dime.

The point I’m trying to make here is that the Internet does not just create stars instantaneously—it also creates monsters. People become envious, defamatory, bad-mouthed individuals when cloaked with anonymity on the world wide web. They begin to say and do things they would never do in front of another human being. It could be something as small as an insult in a Youtube video comment on Sophia Grace’s 6,798th visit to Ellen, to something as significant as an entire blog dedicated to blaspheme an ordinary person with big dreams (see Civilizing The Internet where a woman dedicates her blog to slander an aspiring model). In the latter article, Rosemary Port, the defamatory blogger, and her lawyer try to quash a subpoena seeking to expose her identity by claiming she was protected under free speech, asserting that her words were akin to Hamilton and Madison’s Federalist Papers. Yeah right. The judge, of course, did not buy it, and Port’s identity was exposed after Google released her information. The model’s lawsuit against her was dropped and Port got cyberSLAPPed, that is, her internet anonymity was taken from her, and the world saw her for the monster she was.

But the question of anonymity and defamation need not apply only to obsessed stalkers. It can also apply to you, yes you, who may write a short reply on a small forum thread. Anonymity on the internet has bred a slew of defamatory gossip in sites like juicycampus (RIP), formspring, and even the Ivy League equivalent, Ivygate.  When alone, posters write spiteful insults and divulge the most private details of normal people on a forum for the whole world to see. Do you think the blurry posts in the forums below really count as protected “free speech”?

These trash talkers though are empowered only through their hidden identity—they write to hurt others under the belief that they are truly hidden and anonymous. They claim their right to free speech and latch onto the fourth amendment to prevent any type of search and seizure that seeks to expose their true identity.

The conundrum here is that on one end, our culture has grown to thrive on juicy gossip tidbits because it gives us a glimpse of someone else’s life that we may not be exposed to in our daily routine. It makes us interested, it motivates us to read the “sluttiest girl” thread and maybe we even up-vote it, because we learned something private, scandalous, and all of that makes us feel better about ourselves. We can comfort ourselves feeling that our own privacy and secrets are still safe, while our peers find themselves under the bright lights of the world’s stage. Feelings quickly turn though, when the stage flips us on and rotates to expose and defame us. We begin to take the insults personally and feel the world closing in on us when our reputation we took so long to build is chipped away by an anonymous comment (The Future of Reputation discusses this issue in great detail.)

The solution to this problem of loving gossip and avoiding gossip of oneself comes down to two possibilities: one, we can continue to fight gossip by publishing more gossip of others for vengeance. After all, our secrets would not be so bad if everyone else’s secret was out there and maybe even ours would pale in comparison to the next juicy tidbit.  Eventually, though, this approach would snowball into tons of gossip pages that would hurt so many people and cause significant damage to unstable people. Instead, we can take the second approach: as the model Liskula Cohen did, we can cyberSLAPP defamatory posters to show that Internet anonymity is a privilege and not a right. It is a privilege that should be used to protect journalists and their confidential sources like those here; this privilege should not be used to protect blasphemous and envious individuals who spit hate on people who are not pubic figures and do no warrant such malicious words. Let us reframe our thinking about anonymous Internet usage to encourage users to become more mindful of the content they broadcast to the world. For this to happen, the legal framework must adjust to the technology and allow for expeditious cyberSLAPP process where people do not have to go through the lengthy process of filing lawsuits to expose the monsters of the Internet.

– by “Clay G – YLT2012”

Look at just about any college-aged kid’s Facebook pictures and you’ll immediately understand the Onion article, “Every 2040 Presidential Candidate Unelectable Due to Facebook.”  Be it a drunk picture or an ugly picture, a stupid Facebook status or a misspelled Twitter update, everyone has something embarrassing linked to their online identity.

Some try to make their Facebook profile inaccessible to outsiders, and some kids make sure their parents cannot see their pictures (as to spare them of the thought that their teenager drinks at school). But when you have hundreds of Facebook friends, most of whom you do not regularly think about, you often forget exactly who will see what you post. There is always that aunt that you forgot to block from seeing your pictures after she friended you four years ago who now creeps on you and emails incriminating pictures of you to your blocked parents.

There is a strange duality in social media that is near impossible to upkeep: on one hand, you want potential friends to look at your profile and think you are spontaneous and fun. But you want potential employers to see it and think you are responsible and hardworking. In the case of Facebook, the latter is often sacrificed for the sake of the former. So when applying to college or a job, you just change your Facebook name (linked to your awesome profile) to something totally unsearchable, but crafty and funny enough to still garner respect from your peers.

Social media caters towards our need to attention-whore. In the moment, it all seems like a great idea to post it so the world can see. But somehow, when I look back on all of my Facebook statuses from 2008, I wonder how I could have constantly been such an idiot. Seriously, why would you publicly post that you had a crush on Liz So in freshman year if you wanted that to go anywhere?

We’ve been so obsessed with how new our technology is that we sometimes forget how creepy it is (think Find My Friends app). There’s a constant evolutionary battle between technologies that let us creep and ones that secure our privacy. For one reason or another, creepy technologies seem to have the upper hand.

Enter the new advancement on the privacy side, the proclaimed messiah of sexing, Snapchat. The app allows you to send picture messages to friends for a specified amount of time – somewhere between 1 and 10 seconds. According to the website, “snaps disappear after the timer runs out.” If the person you send the “snap” to takes a screenshot, you are supposed to be immediately notified.

Can Anthony Weiner finally sext without the entire world having to see him flex?

 Some of the details are still shaky: what is meant by “disappear” is never specified. You may be notified of a screenshot, but it still exists on the other person’s phone and can later be sent around. You could take a photo of the screen with a separate camera. Still, it is still a better, more secure, alternative to sending a picture message.

A “snap” need not be a nude picture; my roommate recently sent me a picture of his bowel movement. Snapchat is used to #embracetheugly. Users will often take ugly selfies to show how they’re feeling — maybe a tortured Edvard Munch “The Scream” face to express their boredom. The privacy settings of Snapchat are effective enough that people are willing to let their friends briefly view embarrassingly unattractive pictures for laughs.

Get the idea?

As Snapchat has gained in popularity, a trend is emerging. Instead of embracing the extra security, people appear to be more interested in how to take away other’s privacy than how they could be retaining their own. Snapchat seems to be inviting people to attempt to circumvent another’s privacy.

How does Snapchat know if you’ve taken a screenshot?  How can you get around the company notifying the person? Already, there exist sites explaining in detail the steps necessary to circumvent this privacy measure.

Crafty, but not cool

Snapchat cannot monitor whether you take a screenshot. Instead, it checks if you press the buttons for a screenshot – home and power – while in using program. After jailbreaking a phone, you can change the screenshot buttons such that you will no longer be pressing home and power simultaneously. Thus Snapchat never registers you as having taken a screenshot. Or, if you’re not as tech savvy, you can download an app that takes a screenshot when you shake the phone vigorously.

Snapchat does not guarantee your security. In the “Terms of User” section of the website, Snapchat states that the company is not responsible for damages caused by “the conduct of other users of the application, even if Snapchat has been advised of the possibility of such damages. You assume total responsibility for your use of the application.” Snapchat insists that they “don’t see any of the photos sent through the service,” but Verizon probably would have said the same prior to a few weeks ago. Snaps are sent at the risk of the user.


Note, Gawker has a nude section


What does Snapchat represent? Snapchat seems to be a step in a new direction: an attempt to protect our online identities from constant future privacy breechings. “The idea, really, is that the images expiring means that you can be really silly, really funny, really ugly,” Evan Spiegel, the founder of Snapchat says. “And that’s a really powerful and exciting thing — especially my generation, who grew up with everything they’ve ever done retweeted, liked or forwarded all over the Internet.” Spiegel is right here. Facebook applications are known for selling user data.  Public tweets were recently deemed to have no “reasonable expectation of privacy.” This remains a theme throughout: we have very little privacy in most social media outlets. That concept has always been disconcerting, but for some reason, it is not enough to stop people from using them.

In Snapchat’s creation exists a recognition that people want privacy that they otherwise cannot have on the internet. However, when you type “snapchat” into Google, one of the first autofill options is “snapchat screenshot hack.” Maybe we’ve gotten so used to the lack of privacy that we no longer respect other people’s right to it.


“Sign in using your account with…” – by “Celine C – YLT2012”

The internet is becoming less anonymous. What was once a free-for-all space where you could create a social media profile pretending to be Kanye West, bash your ex’s new boyfriend on JuicyCampus or post that your professor only gives good grades to students willing to sleep with her, is now unmasking some of its harshest trolls and making it harder to be who you aren’t or say whatever you want.

Will the real Slim Shady please stand up?

Some of this is due to shifts in our legal code. The increasing prevalence of Google and Facebook background searches in the process of job applications or even college admissions has caused people to more closely guard their online reputation. British law firm Bain & Cohen, for example, has seen a rise in online defamation cases as victims in high profile incidents such as the “Skanks of NYC” case or the AutoAdmit suit involving Yale Law School students successfully subpoenaed forums to hand over the IP addresses of their cyberbullies.

However, some of this online unmasking could also be due to a cultural shift, possibly in reaction to the vulgarities and obscenities posted on unfiltered forums. The rise of Facebook, a site that began by requiring a valid .edu email address to sign up and still promotes a single identity transparency, over MySpace as the most popular social networking site, signaled our generation’s growing acceptance of using our real name on the internet.

Stories of anonymous sex offenders targeting teenage girls on MySpace or trolls pretending to be famous celebrities on Twitter further increased our desire for authenticity on the web. In reaction to the swarm of fake celebrity Twitter accounts, the site introduced verified accounts for select high profile individuals and companies, and a few years later Facebook followed with verified profiles. Amazon includes a “Real Name” badge next to your avatar if you’re willing to post reviews using your real identity (verified by your credit card account). More and more forums and comment feeds require a user to sign in before posting, and some even allow logging in through an account on another social networking site that uses your real name, such as Facebook or Google.

Really,, you're going to let me sign in using MySpace? That's so 2007.

Of course, there’s still value in allowing pseudonymous and anonymous posts in forums. Not everyone wants to be google-able for the questions they posted in a firearms forum or for their detailed comments on the latest episode of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo. In the case of reviews, some anonymity allows for more honest opinions of the product in question.  Online anonymity can also allow a safe space for discussion of taboo topics and create a community for marginalized groups such as psychologically troubled teens, rape victims or individuals coming to terms with their sexuality.

The dilemma of anonymity vs. accountability

With anonymity can come a lack of accountability, but as we move more and more towards integrating our real and online personas, we should remember the virtues of conditional anonymity. Whistleblowers, confidential surveys (imagine how different OCI teacher evaluations would look if they weren’t confidential) and those of the minority opinion all deserve a forum to speak, and the internet has proven useful as such. Yes, we do need a way to prevent slander and other forms of online defamation, but considering the most recent lawsuits it seems like we’re moving in a direction towards traceable anonymity, where your identity will only be revealed if you intentionally harm someone else. Whether having your comment downvoted, your video flagged or even being cyberSLAPPed, just as in the real world, anger enough people and you’ll be shunned.


Anonymity on Today’s Internet – by “Bradley C – YLT2012”

O Rly?

Contrary to what this celebrated (and much too overused) 1993 New Yorker cartoon might suggest, recent events have shown us that we are not as anonymous on the internet as we would like to think. On November 9th, CIA Director David Petraeus offered his resignation after the FBI uncovered details of his extramarital affair through an extensive electronic surveillance and tracking effort. In October, notorious Reddit moderator and “internet troll” Michael Brutsch (a.k.a. violentacrez) had his personal information outed by Gawker reporter Adrien Chen, causing him to be fired from his real life job as an application developer.

So what about anonymity for the rest of us on the internet? After all, we’re not CIA Directors or infamous internet sensationalists, worthy of special attention by the government or the vengeful press. Well…..

The current front page of Grokster. Kinda ominous, isn't it?

We live in a world where much of our internet activities leave a distinct digital record through which our personal identities can be compromised. Our IP Addresses are available through even the most cursory Google search of “IP Address”. Our internet service providers retain mounds of data available to law enforcement, and it’s suspected that a few might even be selling them to commercial third parties. “Web cookies” installed on any computer record private browsing histories, in many cases “personalizing” web pages based on a user’s preferences. And this is not to mention the many, many forms you’ve probably voluntarily filled out on the internet with your personal information before clicking on the “I’ve read the terms of service” box. (Are you sure you’ve actually read all this? And this? And this? And this? Just like you were supposed to?)

The fact of the matter is that if you’re a dog on today’s internet, given enough time and resources, the chances are good that they would at least suspect that you had some canine preferences.

The guy who was insulting your mother on Call of Duty

Today, we hear of countless attempts by both private industry and government to break the veil of anonymity on the internet.

In 2010, Blizzard Entertainment (purveyors of current games such as World of Warcraft and Starcraft II) introduced Real ID, which required forum users identify themselves with their real names. In the early days of Google+, Google demanded that every user use their “real name only” on the social networking site, a Google VP describing it as akin to “like when a restaurant doesn’t allow people who aren’t wearing shirts to enter.”

In government, there are constant legislative efforts to reduce internet anonymity online in the name of everything from stopping child pornography, to reducing digital piracy, to stopping hacker attacks from the likes of Anonymous and LulzSec.

However, in the end of it all, despite all the trolls, internet anonymity remains something to be defended. The fight for internet anonymity in many ways represents the classic struggle between social control and personal freedom. The First Amendment of the United States Constitution guarantees the freedom of speech, of the press, of association, of assembly and petition. Anonymity has been affirmed by the Supreme Court as having significant social and political value in public discourse. Recent events during the Arab Spring have vindicated the power of anonymous communication on the internet.

So… if you’re a dog on the internet and want to keep people from learning that you’re a sentient, computer using canine (probably a good idea), there are a bunch of things you can do to further protect your anonymity online.

Tools and Resources 

Tor (conceals your location through bouncing internet data through servers worldwide) 

VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) 

(for the hyper-paranoid)

– Read this guy’s blog and follow everything he does. (hint: one of the steps involve getting a new Linux operating system)


The End of Trolling? – by “Derek G – YLT2012”

Along with tweeting, liking, posting and producing, trolling has been a very prevalent feature of the Internet in recent years. As it constantly grows more widespread, it brings with it its controversies and legal ramifications. Trolling can be variously defined, but looking at it broadly, it basically consists of posting in an online community something emotionally provocative, offensive, or off-topic to elicit some sort of reaction from other users. While it is usually used to frustrate or poke fun at an overly aggressive or sensitive user, it too often crosses the line into libel, cyber-bullying, or other forms of destructive and illegal speech. Trolling is very much a result of the anonymity of the Internet that leads people to believe they can be truly anonymous on the Internet, and therefore have power to say whatever they want without being accountable for their words. However, this way of thinking is wrong, not only morally, but also legally, and some trolls are starting to face the consequences of their actions in courts.

the internet's big question

Before completely dismissing trolling as a malicious, illegal action that should be condemned and outlawed, we should first appreciate its merits. When done correctly, trolling can be used to make a criticism, or serve an educational purpose—such as an educator trolling his students to teach them what trolling is. These kinds of trolling are protected forms of speech, and can be both entertaining and innocuous.

After recent court decisions, it appears that true anonymity on the Internet is coming to an end, and people will be responsible for what they say, unable to hide behind the anonymous cloak of the Internet. The legal system will use its resources to find the identities of lawbreakers, and the law will be applied to speech online the same way it is offline. Still, this does not mean trolling must come to an end. Following a few easy guidelines, trolls can bring trolling back to its old glory without getting sued! A few tips:

  • Don’t engage in unprotected forms of speech. A fairly simple rule: just use caution when engaging in defamation, copyright infringement, obscene, actionable, or otherwise unprotected speech. Piece of cake!
  • Don’t target an individual. If you’re really set on singling someone out, it’s best to go after a public figure, as criticisms against them are more likely to fall in a legal gray area.

For a full guide, watch this quick, comprehensive video!

trolling the trolls

While many Internet users will be displeased with the disappearance of anonymity on the Internet, it is worth sacrificing a few laughs to enforce the law and prevent tragedies resulting from trolls going too far. Cyber-bullying is an undeniable issue plaguing the nation during this digital age, and preventing bullies who break the law from hiding behind anonymity will help discourage these acts that many of them would not engage in if people knew they were the ones doing them. Although some may argue this kind of transparency goes against the spirit of the Internet, the Internet was not meant to be a breeding ground for hate and illegal activity. Protecting victims of cyber-bullying, especially vulnerable teens and children whose lives are potentially at risk, should be the main priority. Trolling can still exist, but the distinction between trolling and defamation and cyber-bullying must be explored with great care. Eventually, lack of anonymity will become an accepted facet of the Internet, and this transparency will not hinder the distribution of information that the Internet provides, but rather make it a safer and more harmonious place.

Final Project: Defamed (Part 1) – by “John G”

As a suite, we decided to write a rap as an educational piece, lecturing small children about the risks involved in hateful speech and defamatory claims against an individual/others. The introduction begins with a terse explanation of defamation in U.S. law and common defenses in court. Transitioning into the topic of defamation per se, the rap speaks about the difference of defamation per se as compared to regular defamation, specifically, that damages are assumed for defamation per se.

Utilizing celebrity cameos, the rap introduces the four specific instances of defamation per se and continues to provide detailed circumstances under which each could be found applicable or a notable exception. Explicitly, the four categories are allegations or imputations injurious to one’s profession, of criminal activity, of loathsome disease, and of unchastity, which is duly noted in the rap’s chorus.

In addition to the four instances of defamation per se, Internet libel laws are also discussed as a means of exhibiting the relevance of defamation laws in modern culture and technology.

We aptly decided to construct this project as a rap song in order to cast the subject matter of defamation into the medium of aggressive hip-hop, a genre which is often plagued with defamation within its context, thus creating a parody of the genre and of defamation itself – allowing us to discuss and commit speech acts that might otherwise be construed as defamatory.

With much serendipity, we invited many famous artists from the hip-hop industry to spit their game on this track. In a surprising turnout, we were able to have featured performances by The Ying Yang Twins, Chris Ludacris Bridges, Nicki Minaj, Rick Ross, Eminem, T-Pain, Dr. Dre, Jamarius Brahamz, Gangreeeeeeen, and Notorious B.I.G. (posthumously). Unfortunately we could not produce a promotional video due to scheduling conflicts and the fact that one individual is currently deceased. Much to our surprise, our producers have signed a contract for another track to be released in the near future. Follow us on twitter

Here is the link to the song:

Jamar Bromley
Matthew Prewitt
John Greenawalt

Final Project: My Big, Fat, Vaugely Acquainted Network – by “Charlie C”

People are getting smarter about their privacy online. By now we all (hopefully) know to restrict our profiles so that only friends can see our personal information. But after 3, 4, 5+ years of social networking, how many people still know ALL of their Facebook friends? For our final project, we set out to design a fun, interactive website that would work to remind Facebook users of their overly extended networks.


After launching this weekend, we’ve seen over 700 users (Mostly college age students) tag 35,000 friends, and it turns out that the average player only knew 70% of their Facebook friends presented. Now, of course, the term “average user” is very skewed given our user base. Facebook reports that the average user has 130 friends, while our average player has boasted a whopping 880.

We argue that anything under 100% recognition of your “friends” should raise some privacy red flags. Every one of your friends can share your information with third-party apps (in fact it’s this that allows our app to function); we are able to pull all of your friends photos, without their permission–that is, unless they’re smart about their privacy settings.  Even if you can’t bring yourself to defriend a long-lost acquaintance, at the very least you should consider creating managed friends lists with restricted privacy settings.

Results from a round of WhatsHerFace

We also hope to remind people to consider their audience when sharing content. “Friends of Friends” is never a good idea. For the average Facebook user, that’s 17 thousand people you don’t know, and why would they need to see your information anyways? Entire networks are generally a bad idea as well. You have no idea how large those networks can be, and with companies asking alums to Facebook stalk you on their behalf, does all of Yale really need to see you with your solo cups?

You probably think you know all your friends. Maybe you even pruned the list recently. But you had names and faces, and it’s so much easier to identify someone with a name. Try out and you’ll understand just what we mean when whatsherface from freshmen year comes up and you’re forced to think, “Who the hell is that?


Charlie Croom
Bay Gross