Red Hood Project fights to protect kids from predators on social media
Anonymity is a powerful protector in the online world, but it can also be a powerful weapon against the innocent.
Anonymity was core to the development of the Internet as we know it. Anonymity, however, is not an absolute freedom; though, granted, it must be protected in many circumstances. If you're an activist in Iran or Syria, or if you're gay in Russia, for example.
Nowadays, though, our presumptions surrounding online anonymity are "deeply middle-class", says Garossino: "Women in Pakistan have different needs for anonymity than the troll stalking teens in Coquitlam."
As for the Internet-age adage of "Don't feed the trolls", Garossino remarks, "That's like saying, 'Lie back and take it'."
Additionally, women and gays must face the walled garden of white-male-dominated discourse that surrounds the tech industry: as Garossino puts it, "The culture has decided whose voices are legitimate."
"But is it censorship?"
Garossino points out four common arguments against enforcing accountable identities in social media, and their flaws:
- "It's up to the parents to manage their kids' social-media use."
This argument is naive at best, disingenuous at worst; trading on the notion that the parents of at-risk teens could possibly keep up with changes in technology, and would then be positioned to monitor and intervene when their kids needed help.
Ask.fm co-founder Mark Terebin says that we should blame society rather than its tools, even as his site is on its way to becoming the Aokigahara of social media. Society is us, and we are society. The question Terebin is not asking is, "Why isn't society in charge of its tools?" Meanwhile, in the case of Ask.fm, email authentication isn't even required for signup: upon filling out the fields with whatever you want, you're in.
- "This is censorship."
Red Hood is gathering momentum at a particularly sensitive time, as Edward Snowden has just blown the whistle on the NSA's rampant domestic espionage in the US. However, censorship is an action carried out by a government against its citizens, and you did not elect Mark Zuckerberg.
The Red Hood Project is suggesting industry-side action: PayPal does it, so why can't Facebook? It wouldn't even break the login APIs of your favorite sites: once you're authenticated for one, you could then sign in across the board.
- "The Wall Street argument, i.e. "It's complicated... you wouldn't understand."
That argument was unconvincing coming from bankers during the Global Financial Crisis, and it's not aging well today.
- "People will always get around it."
True, any online roadblock can be eventually breached or circumvented. But it's a weak argument for not even trying.
You can go into a 7-11 and shoplift, yet we still maintain laws against stealing. We cannot hope to protect everyone at all times. There are no perfect tools, there is no perfect security. But should we, as a society, not be trying to protect as many people as possible?
These questions emerge as society at large grasps with varying magnitudes of anonymity, and in varying circumstances.