Every day, millions of web users censor themselves in order to maintain control over the online image they portray to the world. This censorship takes place on multiple levels, given that we all have multiple audiences we seek to interact with and be accepted by.
Censorship may be the physical act of filtering what we say and removing pictures we deem unacceptable. We may post photos that don’t completely convey what we look like in reality. Or, some people choose not to filter anything at all. Consider the constant need, for those who were recently in college and are trying to find jobs, to remove incriminating photos with alcohol. They aren’t abiding by government censorship, rather, just that of society.
Yet, even the choice to not filter yourself is a form of censorship – you censor the socially acceptable parts of yourself and unleash the ones you think most Internet users will relish.
Outgoing Google CEO Eric Schmidt recently stated that no anonymity and transparency is the future of the web:
“Privacy is incredibly important. Privacy is not the same thing as anonymity. It’s very important that Google and everyone else respects people’s privacy. People have a right to privacy; it’s natural; it’s normal. It’s the right way to do things. But if you are trying to commit a terrible, evil crime, it’s not obvious that you should be able to do so with complete anonymity. There are no systems in our society which allow you to do that. Judges insist on unmasking who the perpetrator was. So absolute anonymity could lead to some very difficult decisions for our governments and our society as a whole.”
We begin searching for our identity when we are adolescents. The online world is greatly contributing to how we as human beings go about doing that. Social media tools in particular are accelerating that process, and it all begins with a name. I’m sure you’ll remember when AIM was a big part of our lives.
Unbeknownst to most of us, our screen name became a part of our identity whether it was “hotchick12,” “animalhousecrazy,” or “susie_johnson.” Each of these accounts says something different about the user and for friends and strangers this affects the conversation topics they enter in to. This transcends to any other username/handle we use for a myriad of accounts we may have. These multiple identities allow people to explore and discover themselves, thus shaping and creating his or her identity of self.
This sense of self and the portion of it we choose to convey affects the content we produce on certain social media platforms. Let me use a personal example.
When my real name is used in my username or handle I have to ensure that that self adheres (somewhat) to the “me” that people see at work, at home and in the general public eye. I filter what I say/post in the hopes that there is no disparity between the person people “know” and think they know. With accounts using an alternate (or anonymous) identity it’s a free for all. Here boundaries are crossed and rules broken, testing the waters of How Far Is Too Far?
Last year, Reporters Without Borders posted an article about the crackdown on anonymous postings in Belarus stating that, “By subjecting online access to an identity check or to prior online authorisation that depends on the content and the applicant, this decree will force people to censor themselves. This is obviously the intention, regardless of the government’s insincerely reassuring comments about online free expression.”
The elusive Anonymous that overruns 4chan, wreaking havoc on all who make the mistake of crossing its path, is one such example. These are the guys that sent innocent little children to porn sites when they tried to watch a Justin Bieber video on YouTube. Anonymity allows for individuals choosing to operate under its guise to abandon the rules of the Internet and post whatever they please, like the uncensored versions of R-rated movies, without suffering the consequences (for the most part).
If Anonymous allows this form of chaos that people seem to want to peddle in, then why do so many people feel the need to censor the content they publish? I think it comes back to the desire for order: Chaos can be fun in moderation for most of us, but we still have a need to fit into a variety of social circles. In order to do so, we censor our image in order to be deemed acceptable. Even when we operate under an anonymous account you adhere to the rules of anonymity, or the rule of that rules don’t exist. Censorship is always happening whether you want to admit it or not. Take a look at your accounts and gauge how you censor yourself. I bet it’ll surprise you.