Sites have to find their own way with anonymity

Sites have to find their own way with anonymity

SINGAPORE - More than a decade ago, when the Internet was a more innocent space, I came across the term "ego-surfing".

It captured what many of us liked to do back then on the quiet - check our name online to see where and how we'd been mentioned.

I remember writing a piece about people's adventures in ego-surfing. I discovered online namesakes who led more interesting lives than me. But at least nobody was saying anything particularly negative about me. Today, however, googling one's name can be an ego-bruising and even masochistic habit, which is probably why nobody uses the term ego-surfing any more.

Any writer must now learn to cope with an online environment where personal attacks are more common than substantive criticism. But that's a trade-off that many of us accept, since there's no doubt that the Internet is probably the best gift to writing since the printing press.

The Government is less sanguine.

A week ago, the Prime Minister hinted at things to come when he said that the Government will need to develop a framework that will protect the responsible use of the Internet. Among other things, he addressed the problem of trolling, noting that it deters serious readers from participating in forums and poisons the overall atmosphere in cyberspace.

It is widely believed that trolling is encouraged by anonymity. Behind their masks, some sad individuals feel they can be abusive with impunity, creating one form of the so-called "online disinhibition effect".

Hence, the Government is going to require all commenters on its Reach website to register. The chairman of the feedback arm, Dr Amy Khor, has stated that it will implement Facebook log-ins starting from Dec12.

The move has naturally prompted the question of whether this is a precursor of a wider push-back against the trolls. Could the Government be thinking of requiring other websites to impose similar rules for their own forums and comments sections?

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