On Virtual Identity, Anonymity and Comments on posts

Is anonymity common in virtual networks?  Yes, I suppose, though I haven’t got the statistics on the percentage of networkers or learners who are posting in an anonymous manner.  I don’t see it as a problem, as I am now using avatars myself in some networks too, for security reason.  However, I am very concerned about the negative and destructive comments which are often too common in the web and blog posts, which are like trolls flaming us to respond or react to their baits.
I share Steve’s concerns. I would delete those as “spams” as they might not deserve our attention, and would also distract us from learning in collaboration with others. I don’t know the intention of those anonymous people who posted such comments on your post, but I think these were their “problems”, and not yours, so they should take responsibility in raising their “concerns” in a considered manner, and to fix their complaints by themselves, not you. Everyone could feel “free” to criticise others openly in open public networks, but, I think it’s the constructive views and comments based on evidence and “empathy” that would be valued by us as bloggers, or educators/learners, not the destructive ones that just leave others the impression of their arrogance. Manipulations, spamming and flaming are the acts those cyber bullies used to intimidate “us”, and I think we need to be aware of how it would affect and influence the way we share and learn with others.
So, Steve, thanks for bringing this to urgent attention, and I hope people would be more appreciative and constructive in their comments, as you mentioned in your post.
This then relate how we would like to relate ourselves in our identity in social web and networks, and how others would perceive us when we leave our “footprints” and traces on the networks.
What is Virtual Identity?
Thus a question arises about the purpose and meaning of the term “virtual identity”. Can we talk about experiencing one’s identity in the virtual environment? When and how does one change one’s “virtual identity”? It is for this reason that we have chosen to consider in detail the question of how identity in the virtual environment can be defined.
Why would people like to hide their identity on the web and network?
Is our real life and virtual identity blurred under such an ecology?
How would we educate ourselves and our (next) generation on those issues raised with such virtual identity on the webs?

19 thoughts on “On Virtual Identity, Anonymity and Comments on posts

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention On Virtual Identity, Anonymity and Comments on posts | Suifaijohnmak's Weblog -- Topsy.com

  2. I think there are always at least two sides to every issue. The response by Steve to an undesired comment seemed a little overdone, enough though he went to great pains to claim that he did not wish to belabour the issue. I think it was mentioned somewhere that one can just delete the comments one doesn’t like, so what’s the big deal? And, on the other hand, I think when you take your views public, you are running the risk of criticism. Such is life. What does anonymity have to do with it?

  3. Hi Ken,
    Yes, I see your point here, especially on the risk of criticism. Being anonymous may seem to be a “sugar coat”, providing the security and protection for the poster or commenter, so that they won’t be identified or traced even if the criticism is destructive or unwarranted in posts or comments. However, such comments would inherently lose credibility if they are not based on solid argument and evidence. So, what does anonymity have to do with it? Would it depend on the intention of the anonymity? There are many bloggers who hide themselves behind avatars for all sorts of reasons – political, religious, or cultural pressures, and they don’t want to be identified in the virtual world.

    May be, like you said there are two sides to every issue. Would anonymity reveal ones real, virtual or projected identity? See this


  4. Hi John. Just a couple more thoughts on this. I wonder if the term ‘heckled’ is useful here. It’s used to describe aggressive behaviour towards a public speaker, maybe that is the same type of behaviour witnessed on-line. Most speakers don’t like being heckled, they would prefer to deliver their message(s) in a mannerly environment, calm, attentive, respectful etc. When a heckler arises, efforts are usually made to remove that person from the event, to shut them down at least. Socrates comes to mind as perhaps an early prototype of the ‘heckler’, and, ultimately he was shut down with hemlock for his efforts.

    Anonymity may provide a heckler with the opportunity to practice his/her craft without risking the cup of hemlock. I guess the matter of anonymity, when combined with the heckling function, places one in a position of having to decide on whether the function has value or not.

  5. Pingback: #CCK11 libera associazione « serenaturri's Blog

  6. Hey John, I was thinking about this some more. Your question:

    >What would be some ways to un-mask such intention of hecklers?

    made me ponder this question:

    Why is it important to know the intention(s)?

  7. Hi Ken,
    Do hecklers have intention? If we don’t know their intention, do we know how to communicate with them? It’s like talking to a stranger or a machine, where you don’t know what he or she is looking for. Do you think it is not important to know the intention(s)?


  8. Hi John
    My thinking is that it is very difficult to ascertain anyone’s intention, a lot of the time. For example, in criminal law proceedings in my country, a lot of effort is put into addressing ‘mens rea’, a concept about trying to discover whether a person had a ‘guilty mind’ or ‘criminal intent’ in the commission of an illegal act. Given that a ‘criminal’ does not have to confess their state of mind, it must be inferred from their actions, where possible. (But I think criminal acts are a little different than heckling acts, the consequences are a little more grave, perhaps).

    I think I see your point though. I think that you are suggesting that it is important to identify a heckler so that one could communicate with them ‘appropriately’, meaning differently than how one would communicate with a ‘non-heckler’. But is it necessary to know their intent, or can you make adjustments to your communication based on their behaviours?

  9. Hi John,
    On the one hand, it is sad when people post data, like spam, provocations, and insults on a person’s blog, in a chat space during Eluminate, or in a moodle discussion. It would seem that people would know what is and what is not appropriate to say in an open forum. Nevertheless, it happens. People heckle. In some ways, the cruel comments seem personal when someone “uses” your blog to “express” their persona, doesn’t it? If a person were to behave like that in a public space, others might witness the comment and the interaction and an onlooker would draw her/his own conclusions about the incident. In a virtual setting when one is insulted, it is easy to wonder–is it me who is being overly sensitive? What do the others think of this comment? behavior? Does the person who posts spam or who writes insults in a blog, chat, or discussion forum really think that they are leaving data that cannot be tracked? I am with Ken. It probably is not important to wonder about the intentions of people who do that kind of thing. Think of them as a node, not a person with a name.
    On the other hand, I am not sure what you mean by negative posts, as you probably delete those before they are permanent features on your blog. What I see in your blog are comments from people who are following your blog, open to conversations in open online forums, and sharing in an important learning journey. That having been said, with your interest in adult learning, you might be interested in reading the following book:
    Mirriam, S. B., Caffarella, R. S., Baumgartner, L. M. (2007). Learning in adulthood: A comprehensive guide (3rd edition). San Francisco, CA: Wiley and Sons. The book reviews theories that have been discussed in the courses and there is also a section on Eastern, Maori, African, … etc ways of knowing… Too much stereotyping and pigeon-hole-ing for those who engage in transnational experiences, but a good review of theories and a quick read. The book lacks a section on adult learning in networks…
    Be well,

  10. @Ken,
    Your comment that “My thinking is that it is very difficult to ascertain anyone’s intention, a lot of the time.” resonated with mine. May I share a metaphor about online conversation with hecklers? Under a virtual space conversation, we may be subconsciously playing a virtual “game” with others. Sometimes, we have to “test the waters” to know the limits, or the temperament of others. For academics, these sort of “online games” may sound daunting, as there are lots of psychological implications behind those mind reading, and interpretations. Some of these games may even involve manipulative tactics, which may be often used by each other subconsciously. Would there be differences between virtual and real life interaction?

    Even with the best intentions as “friends” or network ties, there could still be subtle politics and power play which are inherent with the relationship, especially when dealing with hecklers in a virtual online situation. Whether a person (heckler) is aggressive or merely assertive could be a matter of interpretation and perception, as sensed by others (the speaker, or other observers) as you mentioned. Judgment of beauty is in the eyes of the observers. Would there be lots of assumptions relating to hecklers here?

    What are the assumptions about hecklers? What are their intentions/motivation? How would they interact? What are their perceptions of their behaviors? Back to you..
    Thanks for making me think. Isn’t this a very interesting topic?


  11. @Mary,
    Thanks for your insightful comments. You mentioned: “It probably is not important to wonder about the intentions of people who do that kind of thing. Think of them as a node, not a person with a name.” I share your thoughts, if the intention is not about spamming. I must admit that I am receiving a lot of other spams (most likely generated automatically via other machines or spammers) inviting me to visit their porn, adult or video sites. So, in this respect, these are the invisible “hecklers”, nameless, anonymous, but full of “intentions” to indulge me (and others) to promote their sites, nodes.

    Re: Negative posts or comments. I would only delete spams (normally these are detected and recommended as spam by recommender from WordPress). There may be others who posted their comments appraising me (to a supernatural level or what we called the “best” post I have ever visited), but that may be just a sugar coat when their links are all for advertising or promotion of products like Viagra, or porn, or political/religious/advertising sites etc.
    There are also few posts written in languages other than English, that were “sentenced” by the recommender as spams, and that I dare not to click through their URL. The hot stove effect still comes into my mind – when I tried clicking some sites into internet that had led me to the porn or mature sites. Just too risky!

    I didn’t delete any posts which have any “negative” comments on my posts, except the spams as mentioned above. However, there may be a few posts which talked about totally “irrelevant things” which left me with the impression: “What is comment all about?” Should I post it? May be not, if that is the case.

    Thanks for the book recommendation. May I request this? Any link to the book? Or I could check on Amazon or Google.

    So, Mary, I posted all comments from you on my post here. I see them all extremely positive and helpful, and I greatly appreciate you taking the time and efforts in crafting those insightful thoughts in articulated comments. This is a wonderful gift to me, and so many many thanks indeed.


  12. >Thanks for making me think. Isn’t this a very interesting topic?

    Yes, a very interesting topic, thanks for raising it. I think a nice research study could be undertaken on this matter, if someone were so inclined. A small textual analysis of online conflict. The dialogue in CCK11 comes to mind…

    ps. I can echo Mary’s sentiments about the book recommendation. I’ve read it, it provides a good overview of the field.


  13. Hi John,
    I just visited some of the OER and OEP practice sites on lifelong learning that you recommended in a post today. While they are now offering a website for people who want to publish their work in OER, which is very helpful. I do not see any links to information about how to protect ourselves from the intrusion into our work and lives of those who are simply into disrupting conversation.
    I was at a session at a French Historical Society meeting in Charlston, SC this morning. Learning about commodification, bankruptcy, and so on in Early Modern Europe. I am going to make an odd, distant, but…. perhaps relevant…connection between your comments and something that I heard today. In an analysis of data from 8 shop owners (men and women in fashion marketing) who ended up going bankrupt, one of the patterns was that only about half of the people who paid by credit actually paid their bills. After a while, even those with good credit ran into a cash flow problem. Also, fashions went out of fashion very quickly, so there was a huge amount of stuff that needed to either be sold off at less than market price or stored….

    I can’ t help but wonder what is going on in your blog isn’t part of the economy of the Internet right now… We have seen an incredible amount of spam and inappropriate content flowing through all systems lately.

    Thanks, Ken, for your brief review of the book.

  14. Hi John. I found the below text in the wikipedia entry on post-structuralism. I think it echoes what I feel to be the difficulty in determining a heckler’s intention, and how the recipient’s biases are very much in play during a dialogue:

    “The critical reading carried out by these thinkers sought to find contradictions that an author includes, supposedly inevitably, in his work. Those inconsistencies are used to show that the interpretation and criticism of any literature is in the hands of the reader and includes that reader’s own cultural biases and assumptions. While many structuralists first thought that they could tease out an author’s intention by close scrutiny, they soon argued that textual analysis discovered so many disconnections that it was obvious that their own experiences lent a view that was unique to them.”

    (replace author with heckler, literature with heckler’s words, reader with recipient/speaker)

  15. Hi Mary,
    Interesting to learn about your learning at the French Historical Society meeting in Charlston. Fashion went out of fashion very quickly, isn’t this also a reflection in social media where Myspace is now “out-fashioned” by Facebook, and to a certain extent, blogs are now overwhelmed with various blogs and micorblogs -like Twitters (which seems to have superceded Plurk and many others). There was a huge amount of stuff that needed to either be sold at less than market price or stored – this is also the case when printed books in hard copies, once having certain “values” are now on “e-print” on Amazon, and ebooks on Kindle or ipad, which all posted certain “threats” both to publishers and book stores.

    The knowledge economy, based on books are now on the edge of “fad”, and so is the blogs are being part of the economy of the Internet (the Black Hole) as you mentioned. Everyone could add their voices through such economy of voices, which makes our life both exciting and fascinating.

    Would this economy of knowledge, and economy of voices lead us to a new Economy of Education? Like to know…..

    Again many thanks.

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