Anonymous Cop Claims Anonymity Is Bad, Proposes National Email Registry For Internet Users

from the hope-you-saved-a-receipt-for-that-Irony-Detector dept

Online anonymity is a feature, not a bug, as we’ve pointed out several times here at Techdirt. True, being faceless and nameless can often bring out the worst in certain people. Anonymity may make a bad things worse, but anonymity, in and of itself, isn’t a bad thing.

Ask any website that has battled back by routing comments through third parties like Facebook, Google+ and Disqus. Requiring registration before commenting tends to result in fewer commenters. It also doesn’t eliminate the trolling issue as many people are just as willing to troll away post-registration. It does make it easier to ban troublesome commenters, but it rarely raises the level of discourse.

There are nearly as many “solutions” as there are varieties of trolls but until the problem of human nature can be solved, trolls will troll. Editors of websites will continue to fight a battle that’s pretty much unwinnable, shedding quality users along with a few trolls with every implemented system.

There’s one plan that hasn’t been considered yet (and for good reason). Via kenichi tanaka comes this alternative to online anonymity, courtesy of Officer Anonymous, puportedly answering a question that must have been phrased very badly (if it was asked at all) at KSL.com’s “Ask A Cop” column.

Here’s public enemy #1 as described by Officer Anon.

I am speaking about the spineless bottom feeders who sit at their computer all day bullying other people with inflammatory comments and remarks. A troll’s sole purpose in life is to comment about an article, statement, question in a forum or other Internet venue so that comment will upset the target person or persons to the point where they are yelling at their computer and punching the monitor… These arguments tend to be typed in all caps lock. There are professional troll organizations where this becomes a quasi profession. Lame, I know.

Officer Anonymous wants to beat back the troll horde with cliches, it would appear. He (or she) sounds like one of those people who reside just outside the sphere of discussion. Officer Anon’s depiction of trolls and their lives is all broad brushstrokes, the kind that appeal to other people like himself (we’ll just say it’s a “him” to save keystrokes) — the kind of people who label anyone who can safely browse the web without picking up extra toolbars as losers simply because “the internet isn’t real.” It’s like Andy Rooney reading Dilbert strips and spending his next segment trying to twist laughs out of cubicle farm stereotypes, bypassing any sort of subtlety and just generally banging out easy hits — slapstick discourse.

Here’s more:

Some actually think they are providing a source of entertainment. Unfortunately the people who do find this funny are trolls themselves. I can just imagine two pasty skinned trolls, one hand in a bag of Funyun’s, spraying crumbs on their overly used keyboard as they laugh at each other’s wit.

I’m sure Ofc. Anon. can “imagine” this scenario. Anyone can. It’s the “internet user” archetype, one that has been converted into a horse, killed and beaten nonstop for nearly 20 years straight. Snacks? Check. Crumbs? Check. Pasty? Check.

At this point, Anonymous Cop answers a question no one asked, not even himself. The answer he comes up with is surprising, not because it adds some previously unseen nuance to his argument, but because it’s so mindblowingly horrible.

So why should trolls go to jail? They are causing or inciting a riot plain and simple.

At this point I would add some commentary, but I really think it’s best that AC keep speaking for himself. Here’s the “riot.”

The victims of these trolls are upset the rest of the day. They are driving aggressively on the roads, yelling at their co-workers and being consumed with a way to find out who that person on the Internet was.

This is not good for public safety.

If you go through this post and replace the word “victim” with “Officer Anonymous,” the picture starts to take focus. (Nothing harder on public safety than an angry, aggressive cop.) This isn’t an editorial. This is a police officer attempting to get even with the internet and using the only weapon he has: authority.

Anyone who wants to comment or post anything needs to do this with their official email address registered by the government. This will be verified in person at your local driver’s license division. No more anonymity on the Internet. Every time you post anything, your picture and name will pop up.

Wow. Where do we go to sign up? The Dept. of Public Safety? Do we need to wait until we’re 15 or 16 and get an adult’s permission to acquire a provisional Internet License? Or do we have to wait until we’re 18? If you’re old enough to vote, you’re old enough to have an opinion. Just sign up for the draft and the Internet, all in one stop!

Won’t a registry like this just add to the problem? If someone’s pissed off enough and knows exactly where their tormentor lives, wouldn’t they be more likely to respond with violence or vandalism or some criminal action more serious than trolling?

Officer Anonymous touts the benefits of his Internet-as-police-state plan. No more phishing. (Really?) No more email scams. (Really?) No more catfishing. (Possibly…) Somehow the possibility that those seeking to scam others will be stopped by internet registration escapes this cop, who surely must be aware of things like identity theft, underage drinking and unlicensed gun sales. Making something illegal doesn’t stop it from happening. It can deter it, but those truly wishing to break the law will just route around the roadblocks. And while they do, good citizens using government-approved Commenter’s Licenses will have their every online action scrutinised, if not by the State then by their fellow Licensed Commenters.

How refreshing it would be to see who actually posted those racially charged comments. It would be interesting to see if they posted at all. Do you think those same people are making those same remarks in person? I don’t think they are. It would take awhile for them to adjust to sunlight, or being around people. I bet it would be nice for their parents to have access to their basements again. They could finally put in that game room they always wanted.

Oh, LOL. Internet users live in Mom’s basement. How droll. One last shot at Internet users from Officer Anon before he wraps up his incalculably stupid editorial. Aversion to sunlight? Check. Anti-social? Check. Basement? Check.

These cliched shots at a world that seems weird and scary to Officer Anon could have come from any number of other “authority figures” whose failure to comprehend the internet has lead directly to cheap, hollow mockery. See also: former NSA director Michael Hayden and Sen. Mike Rogers.

You may be reading this, flabbergasted by my own hypocrisy. I am aware that I am writing these articles through the safety of anonymity. But if you guys are willing to come forward, then so am I. Let’s break down the barriers of the Internet and come forward showing our true selves with no judgment. I can’t wait to see the national email registry!

I’ll admit I am flabbergasted, and your anonymity is only part of it, Officer Anonymous. Your offer of shedding your anonymity is contingent on citizens (those without power and authority) shedding theirs first. How convenient.

By the end of this exhausting glimpse into the mind of a cop, one is almost inclined to believe the post itself is guilty of trolling. Certainly it fits the description of trolling (via The Urban Dictionary) Officer No Name quotes earlier:

The art of deliberately, cleverly and secretly angering people, usually via the Internet, using dialogue…

The most essential part of trolling is convincing your victim that … you truly believe in what you are saying, no matter how outrageous.

Everything about the post, from the casual use of outdated tropes to the notion that anyone (other than the author) would actually consider a national email registry to be a good thing, screams “troll.” This gives the cop an easy out should the complaints and comments make him angry enough to “drive aggressively” or “punch his monitor.”

“I was just trolling to make a point, etc.”

No one should give him this out. Decrying anonymity from behind the two sets of protection — anonymity and the blue line — is more than simply disingenuous, it’s dangerous.

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Comments on “Anonymous Cop Claims Anonymity Is Bad, Proposes National Email Registry For Internet Users”

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58 Comments
Sneeje (profile) says:

I think associating this with "the mind of a cop" is a copout

I always think it is lazy when we dismiss foolishness/ignorance by attributing it (either directly or indirectly) with the organization (social or political) rather than the individual.

I think we should be talking about how irresponsible it is to be a cop and think this way, not how being a cop makes you think this way. Yes, I know, there is such a thing as “groupthink” and yes, there is a correlation between certain mindsets/personalities and law enforcement. But don’t give the individual an out by blaming their organization. We all have agency and we don’t lose that once we associate with an organization.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: I think associating this with "the mind of a cop" is a copout

In a job role where… You can tell people to shut up for speaking. Arrest people for speech you find offensive to you.Arrest people for speech that questions your opinion.
How can you isolate the individual who has that same mindset about “online speech” as an exception ?

It’s an institutional mindset.
Of course you don’t expect every individual to have that mindset but an institutional mindset is still institutional. Am sure there are those in the Governments who think Snowden is a hero whistle-blower… The institutional mindset remains tho… Shut up and don’t “troll” the NSA.

Sneeje (profile) says:

Re: Re: I think associating this with "the mind of a cop" is a copout

I’m not sure I’m arguing that it is an exception–just that it isn’t ONLY an institutional mindset. If we want to change it, I think we need to understand and hold accountable a) how the organization may (or may not) contribute to ignorant and dangerous thinking, and b) what causes individuals to think/behave in such an ignorant manner despite organizational and social influence.

It is absolutely true that organizations can magnify or discourage certain ways of thinking–but to me that is an after-effect, not the root cause… ergo, I may blame the organization for encouraging or condoning certain thinking/behavior, but I want the individual(s) accountable for their own thinking.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: I think associating this with "the mind of a cop" is a copout

It can be the root cause, when nobody else is doing something around you, would you do it differently if you knew it would cause you tremendous pain and grief?

Certain environments direct people to certain ways of thinking, this is something that is true and everyone knows it in some form or another.

Some types of environment may even have those ways of thinking as an occupational hazard.

If you treat sick people all day, you generally find people at their most vulnerable moment in life, one that they are in pain and may not be capable of acting or performing socially as expected, so it is easy to believe that everyone is a jerk and start acting like one, if you have to deal with liars all day you start to think that everyone is a liar, you stop seeing the whole and focus on what you can see which leads you to behave and act in a certain manner.

In a sense certain jobs may rob you of the ingenuity that we had at some point about how things really work, some people(a lot) don’t know how to handle that and institutions are even more incompetent to deal with it.

That may be the primary cause for cultures taking hold inside institutions, could they be prevented, what good or bad would it cause?

Individuals in these instances are fragile, very few go against the grain and ever fewer succeed it is not that easy.

Sneeje (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 I think associating this with "the mind of a cop" is a copout

This can be boiled down to “nature or nurture”. I believe there is a compelling argument (e.g., yours) to be made for both influences, which is why I believe its both. So, perhaps I’ve been unclear–I’m not arguing organizations have no influence on member thinking, just that it isn’t the sole cause or even predominant cause.

We know this because there are many, many members of these organizations that do NOT think in this manner. Keep in mind that what we see and read about over and over again suffer from selection bias–we focus on and remember most strongly the members that behave or speak ignorantly, not the members that execute in a manner consistent with our citizen expectations.

Ninja (profile) says:

I am speaking about the spineless bottom feeders who sit at their computer all day bullying other people with inflammatory comments and remarks. A troll’s sole purpose in life is to comment about an article, statement, question in a forum or other Internet venue so that comment will upset the target person or persons to the point where they are yelling at their computer and punching the monitor… These arguments tend to be typed in all caps lock. There are professional troll organizations where this becomes a quasi profession. Lame, I know.

Hmmm… Pot? This is kettle. Now get along nicely.

wise Wanderer says:

Re: Response to: Anonymous Coward on Sep 30th, 2013 @ 8:01am

As much as it sucks I fully expect governments will push for a universal internet login linked to an individual within the next 10 to 15 years.

It will be pushed as a way to combat fraud, make online shopping and government related dealings easier.

Make the most of these internet freedom days. One day we will be telling grandchildren about the wild west interney days.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Response to: Anonymous Coward on Sep 30th, 2013 @ 8:01am

Until that awful reality… Namefagging is a personal liability.

Change usernames / profiles etc… as regularly as you change your passwords. Don’t use names at all or just once if you can.

Namefagging has always been a personal liability online… In your vision IPFagging will be a liability if it isn’t already.

Anonymous Coward says:

I find this post very humorous. It is ironic that it really goes to show what kind of person this guy is rather than the trolls. Yes, I dislike trolls very much, but only for the seconds it takes me to read their post.
If text written on a wall affects this guy the whole day so he becomes more aggressive, drives crazy and punches innocent monitors, then he seriously needs professional help… especially if he really is a cop.
His depiction of a troll is so far out there in lollypop land that he might as well be reading it from “the jocks guide to nerds”.
I also wonder what his next step would be… say that all Americans were forced into this; what about the rest of the world? oh wait the NSA has that covered.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Yeah that is the gist of it, as I see it. He says that people would never dare to say these things face to face. But in the society we would like to have, we should be able to say anything really. Yes the optimal thing would be that no one would be wankers towards each other, but should we just beat each other up when we don’t like what they say? He seems to think so. Because when it comes down to it, the reason I am anon online is because time and time again violence and retribution have been the answer to words.
With anonymity we can at least make sure the debate stays a debate… in short: No matter how bad words get, isn’t that the society we strive to have?

The Real Michael says:

Sounds to me like Anonymous Cop is the one beating his desk and raging because of what people are saying online. Of course he wants communist-style registration just because he’s peeved over unflattering remarks made online. Sounds to me like he wants to stretch the definition of trolling to include anything he deems offensive and seek to punish anyone who’s comment(s) he takes exception to, like a mini-dictator.

There’s something called the First Amendment in the Constitution which guarantees he cannot do this. Too bad for Anonymous Cop. He’d be more at home in a dictatorship such as North Korea.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

With the way things work today, western countries en masse carve out exceptions to those mythical “first amendment rights” at a disturbing pace. USA is not holding back in that race to the bottom mind you. I don’t think anyone can read the constitution and then claim that the SCOTUS judgements follow the literal meanings of the rights granted in the documents anyway!

kenichi tanaka (profile) says:

First time an article I submitted was used. Thanks for writing this one up, Tim. I submitted this article because it shows just how ignorant cops are. Here we have a cop who uses his online anonymity to slam anonymous comments.

Talk about irony.

I guess he didn’t want to be identified by the online community nor singled out by his own police department because he surely would be standing in an unemployment line by now.

Machin Shin (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Well, I think he is little naive about more than just that.

“standing in an unemployment line by now.”

I question if he would do much “standing” at all after all his insults to the online community. After all, if not for him hiding his identity, he likely would have learned first hand not all “geeks” are pasty white guys living in basements.

MonkeyFracasJr (profile) says:

Anonymity

It seems to me that anonymity is only bad when it is not evenly distributed. It must be available to *everyone* or no-one. But that isn’t what those who would take away our online anonymity want. They want to keep their anonymity and deny us ours. That is one of the primary benefits of a corporation is it not? True a corporation does not provide perfect anonymity for its holders but it does effectively so.

If truly no-one could hide from scrutiny then I think anonymity would not be a “hot-button” issue. Sadly though I don’t think the world would be any better a place.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Anonymity

In this day and age “no one” is not an option. There are people out there who answer comments with nothing but violence. This goes to all groups: Taxi drivers, cops, ambulance drivers, farmers, religions etc. No matter where you look there will be a few bad people who would answer a comment with fists or worse.
We have the law, but the problem is that it is built for victims.
I would rather be a victim of bad language and trolls than a victim of a stabbing.

The reason I am not including victim of political assassination or other such things is that I am not sure it isn’t already too late for that… NSA and all.

MonkeyFracasJr (profile) says:

Re: Re: Anonymity

You mean that some bad actors will act badly even if they know their actions are known to all.

Probably true. However I think that number would still be lower than if people feel that they might “get away with it” due to anonymity or their belief that they are anonymous, even if eventual forensics eventually “outs” them and their bad actions.

Don’t take this to mean I am willing to throw out my ability to be anonymous. I simply want to “see more of the picture.”

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Anonymity

However I think that number would still be lower than if people feel that they might “get away with it” due to anonymity

I have yet to see that effect, so I’m not sure it exists to any appreciable degree.

But even if it does, that’s still a terrible argument to make in support of eliminating anonymity altogether. “Because people say mean things” is never a valid reason to restrict free speech rights, and eliminating anonymity is indeed restricting free speech rights.

If not for anonymous speech, the US wouldn’t even exist.

Michael (profile) says:

A troll’s sole purpose in life is to comment about an article, statement, question in a forum or other Internet venue so that comment will upset the target person or persons to the point where they are yelling at their computer and punching the monitor…

Really? Their sole purpose in life? I really thought the people trolling in comments on websites were just jerks. This guy seems ready to call it a “condition” and get it covered by medical insurance.

Perhaps that’s the real problem here – this guy needs medical insurance.

Edward Teach says:

Difference between a "troll" and "asking a hard question"

Hello, I’m “Edward” and I’ve haven’t trolled in 57 days.

But seriously, folks, I’ve trolled under my real name and pseudonyms. Back in the day, I ignited firestorms in old usenet forums, by asking poorly phrased hard questions. Some I’ve done accidentally, some I’ve done on purpose.

What’s the difference between “trolling” and “asking a hard question”? For instance, you could be accused of trolling PZ Meyers by asking hard questions about unexplained biological phenomena with bad grammar, or perhaps ineptly chosen adjectives.

You could be accused of trolling in some circles by asking about “hard on crime” politicians – when has the USA ever been “light on crime”, for example.

My point is that asking questions with slightly off grammar or choice of adjective or vocabulary could get you accused of trolling really damn fast. And you can do it totally by accident, just as you can do it on purpose, and then deny it, causing even more trouble.

This anonymous cop is just being un-American. Doesn’t he/she/it/them like Free Speech? Why does Officer Anonymous hate America so much?

There – see how it’s done?

CourageTheCowardlyDog says:

Funnyons? I have a solution for Funnyons infested Keyboards, found it by accident, I was so tired of cleaning mine from all sorts of things, I grabbed a plastic bag and put it into it. I was surprised how well this worked out, it also helps keep the keyboard without scratches. Now I just change the plastic cover(the ziplock bag) when starts to look warnout or creates a hole on the shift, F, J, K, N or control keys, yes if you use a cover you too will discover which keys you tap frequently.

Andrew D. Todd (user link) says:

The Internet and Riot.

The Anonymous Cop in question is obviously speaking outside of his competence. Most policemen are not lawyers– still fewer are what one might call, distinguished lawyers, that is, judges, law professors, lawyers who have practiced in the appellate courts, etc. The average policeman will have taken a short course at the Police Academy, covering the kinds of incidents likely to arise in ordinary patrol work. The Anonymous Cop has obviously not read Kenneth L. Karst’s _The First Amendment_, and in particular, is obviously not conversant with Brandenburg vs. Ohio (1969).

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brandenburg_v._Ohio

http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?court=us&vol=395&invol=444

The very nature of the internet as a telecommunications system implies a physical firebreak. The participants in any discussion are generally miles apart, and “imminent lawless action” is a physical impossibility. Even if they decide to physically seek each other out, the necessary travel and search requires hours to days to weeks, and is sufficient to establish intent, premeditation, hope of unlawful gain, and even conspiracy, on the part of the searchers. These are the antithesis of the actions provoked by “fighting words” or “immediate incitement.”

Anonymous Coward says:

Anonymity merely democratizes trolling, manipulation, propaganda, distortion of information, theft and all the nefarious, mean, aggressive, selfish things all human beings under a particular type of society will do. And that is a good thing because, precisely, it takes away this power from the hands of a small privileged fraction who historically owns it and abundantly uses it.
Of course, anonymity also allows all the rest, the productive, the intelligent, the kind, the creative, to spread among everyone as well.
The bottom line truth about such angry reaction, and any attempts at controlling anonymity, would therefore be a profound fear, possibly a terror, about power being evenly distributed among people.
Until the day where, yes, we can all shed our masks and use virtual and non-virtual public spaces to do the same in person.

amber (profile) says:

Anonymous is meant only for government employees

So, this cop anonymously is stating that being anonymous is bad? Shouldn’t he/she lead by example and publish his/her name, address, birthday, ssn, blood type, relationship history, etc; along with this post?

Also, on a more serious note, the police and border control seems to be acting more and more like they have the right to remain anonymous when performing their jobs. I have heard of people who tried to find out the identity of police who arrested them with no luck. Without knowing who they are, they are unable to proceed with a lawsuit for police brutality or other wrongdoing. More recently, the Americans detained from returning to a wedding in Canada were held, questioned, searched, had their possessions confiscated, and the officers refused to reveal their identity. http://www.onthemedia.org/story/my-detainment-story-or-how-i-learned-stop-feeling-safe-my-own-country-and-hate-border-patrol/transcript/

Anonymous Coward says:

“I can just imagine two pasty skinned trolls, one hand in a bag of Funyun’s, spraying crumbs on their overly used keyboard as they laugh at each other’s wit.”

And I can imagine two obese pig-faced cops in ill-fitting uniforms, one hand in a box of donuts, spraying pepper spray at pregnant women as they laugh about the time they shot someone’s dog.

Peter Dow (profile) says:

“The victims of these trolls are upset the rest of the day. They are driving aggressively on the roads, yelling at their co-workers and being consumed with a way to find out who that person on the Internet was.

This is not good for public safety.”

This is great! If this were law, most politicians could be arrested for getting people upset, like the 800,000 government employees about to be furloughed. Imagine how aggressively they’re going to drive home…

btr1701 (profile) says:

Useless

Officer Anoymous also seems to be blisfully unaware that the internet extends past the boundaries of the U.S., so that even if the fascist police state he envisions were to
actually come to pass, it would do nothing to stop the trolls, the scammers, the phishers, or any other malcontent on the internet from doing what they do.

On the other hand, since he’s cool with massively violating the 1st Amendment by abolishing the freedom to speak anonymously, perhaps he’d also solve that problem by just blocking Americans from the rest of the internet.

Anonymous Coward says:

The victims of these trolls are upset the rest of the day. They are driving aggressively on the roads, yelling at their co-workers and being consumed with a way to find out who that person on the Internet was.

Oh god forbid people be responsible for not letting their own anger make them do stupid things. Let’s just make it illegal to annoy anyone instead and pass the buck.

Anonymous Coward says:

He’s just barely self-aware enough to realize he’s being a hypocrite, but not quite self-aware enough to realize that it means his argument is invalid. Pity.

I can just imagine the conversation he had with himself prior to publishing this screed:
“Wait, if I post this with my name on it, I’ll get trolled en mass. I’ll just post it without my name.
…Wait a minute. I’m arguing that anonymous posting is detrimental to everyone, but posting this anonymously means I depend on that anonymity myself. Does that make me a hypocrite?
…Eh, whatever. *post*”

The guy isn’t stupid, otherwise he wouldn’t have even noticed; he just didn’t put enough effort into it. If only he’d spent just a bit more time trying to view things from the perspective of others, he might have realized that everyone else needs (and deserves) the same protection that anonymity gives him.
“Surely you do yourself an injustice. One more coruscation, my dear Watson ? yet another brain-wave!”

Alan (profile) says:

anonymity without accountability can be bad

I think people should be able to be anonymous whenever they choose.

But not when they deal with others that do not want to deal with the anonymous.

I think its also important to distinguish complete anonymity with revokable anonymity. Complete anonymity can be used to commit a crime, while anonymity that can be revoked cannot.

If your identity is known by whoever is responsible for a resource, you can be anonymous until you violate the rules.

Your neighbors may have revokable anonymity. You may not know who they are but you can find out. That fact encourages responsible behavior.

Out on the highway in major metropolitan area, people are usually completely anonymous. And they often act like it.

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