[Dave Birch] I’m always looking out for real-world problems that appear serious but where intelligent analysis shows that an effective digital identity infrastructure can support good solutions.  As such, I often use the "chatroom paradox" as a simple example of how the technology to deliver pseudonymity can balance the needs to stakeholders even in a contentious environment.  But I’m a technologist, so I tend to dwell on how online identities might be protected rather than why they might be protected.  A recent Israeli court ruling has made me think about this again.

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A court in Haifa recently refused a request to reveal the identity of someone who bad-mouthed the plaintiff in a chatroom.  The plaintiff, Rami Mor, who provides alternative medical treatments for skin and acne problems, was upset because a poster on a medical site called him a charlatan and a thief, among other things.  The judge ruled that "the proper balance between freedom of expression on the Internet and the uniqueness of the Internet as an institution for democracy does not justify the exposure of surfers’ details," wrote the judge. She explained that the content of the information posted was superficial and contained no factual basis; and was therefore not likely to be believed by the public.  I wouldn’t be so sure, personally, but I agree with her liberal sentiment.

It’s the interconnection of pseudonymity and reputation in the judge’s ruling that I think provides some real insight. If I say, in a chatroom, that someone’s idea/medicine/company is useless, then who cares?  But if my pseudonym has a reputation, then they would care.  So clearly it’s the reputation that’s important, not the pseudonym.  Therefore, if I step out of line, then having my pseudonym cancelled is a more important, and more effective, punishment than fining me some money in the real world (because I have worked hard to build up my reputation and now I have to start again).  Rather interestingly, this means that if I misbehave I can be effectively punished by a court with anyone (not even the judge) knowing who I really am.

My opinions are my own (I think) and are presented solely in my capacity as an interested member of the general public.
[posted with ecto]

1 comment

  1. though i do agree with the ruling, i think it’s a sad state of affairs when anyone can hide their identity and say whatever they’d like about some else or their products, service or solutions.
    what happened to the days when we had to stand up and identify ourselves BEFORE saying something about someone else?

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