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Anonymity and the dark side of cyberspace

Anonymity and the dark side of cyberspace

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An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Luke Cassidy. Originally submitted for Humanities Applications at None, with lecturer Pat Byrne in the category of Computer Sciences & Information Technology
An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Luke Cassidy. Originally submitted for Humanities Applications at None, with lecturer Pat Byrne in the category of Computer Sciences & Information Technology

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 30, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Anonymity and the dark side of cyberspace09509968
This paper will look at how anonymity influencesour use of the internet. It will look into individualbehaviours and how anonymity influencesinterpersonal relations on the web. It will look at the subject of ethics with regard to the internet.Control of the internet can properly ensure userssafety. The paper will investigate how the
‘hacktivist’ group A
nonymous and the Church of Scientology use the internet. It will investigate theconflict between the two, and how the two use theinternet to further their respective goals.
As the idea becomes more commonplace,every aspect of cyberspace is being harnessed anddeveloped. People nowadays are much more awareof the virtual world that exists behind the computerscreen. It is a world in which anything is possible.This paper will look into how the cloak of anonymity that is available to users in the virtual
world brings with it certain repercussions. „Each
new communication technology alters the fabric of 
everyday social discourse‟ (Spitzberg and Hoobler,
2002). In the world of media, notably film andmusic, new technologies have been utilised. Musichas changed fundamentally. New genres of musichave emerged through advances in the digital toolsavailable. Film has also changed with the
emergence of 3D and animation. „We shape our 
tools and thereafter
our tools shape us‟ (Marshall
McLuhan).Society interaction with the Internet andCyberspace is increasing. As people utiliseCyberspace, there is an opportunity for the darkersides of society to take advantage. Cyberspace hassuspended its origins as a science-fiction term. Ithas become a theatre of dreams, where anythingyou can conceive can be executed. It is a
„performance space‟ (Vrooman, 2002). People
using cyberspace have the opportunity to createnew personas for themselves. It is a vessel for an
individual‟s imagination. It allows not only for 
anonymity (being publically unknown) but also tolive out their dreams through a virtual creation.While this may seem like a wholly positivesituation, there may be something else lurkingunder the surfa
ce of positivity. „Cyberspace has – 
 and can have
absolutely no principle social
action‟ (Tester, 2002) that is to say that as
cyberspace exists only in a parallel dimension, one
 beyond the physical, it shouldn‟t have any „realworld‟ repercussions. „
In t
his anonymous realm‟
(Spitzberg and Hoobler, 2002) a lot of individualsindulge the negative side of their impulses.In this new communication age, theargument that cyber actions should not have realworld repercussions is deeply flawed. Ascyberspace has become an everyday part of life,people link both their virtual and physical worlds.Social networks such as Facebook and Twitterallow users to re-create their social connections inthe virtual world. These sites allow forcommunication and expression. However, thesepositives are accompanied by negatives. Thesenegatives are very similar to the undesirable
aspects of „real‟ world social structure, most
commonly bullying and harassment. Todistinguish between these in the physical andvirtual worlds is difficult, as the effects of interpersonal terrorism in both worlds are verysimilar. This paper will look at cyber interpersonalterrorism. This paper will explore other examplesof how anonymity is used on the internet, and howsometimes it is abused. It will look into the ethicsand controlling of the internet. It will also look intothe SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA(Protect IP Act) bills that were a source of controversy in late 2011 and early 2012. It will alsoanalyse how the religion Scientology and the group
„hackivists‟ A
nonymous use the internet to furthertheir respective messages.
Interpersonal Terrorism
Interpersonal terrorism is an umbrella termthat encapsulates many of the dark aspects of thenew cyber reality. It includes bullying, stalkingand other hostile behaviour such as flaming ortrolling. The new virtual world available beyondthe computer screen provides an outlet for peopleto express themselves, to express their own viewsand opinions. These opinions are met sometimeswith hostility. This hostility can be avoided in thereal world; however in cyberspace there is nowhereto hide. Content on the web is available to anyoneand everyone. Sometimes a blog post, status updateor comment can invoke anger or sadness andprovoke a heat of the moment reaction. Theflaming phenomenon is an aspect of the negative
effect anonymity has on an individual‟s behaviour.
 The computer screen acts as a securityblanket. People are more likely to express their truefeelings, positive and negative, with the security of 
anonymity. ‟Computer 
-mediated communication(CMC) can be characterised by high-levels of self-
disclosure‟ (Joinson, 2001). This leads to a more
passionate defence and attack on beliefs andopinions. The internet can become a place wherepeople often reveal themselves far more intimatelythan they normally would. Sometimes the dark sideis not produced by people acting differently, ratherpeople revealing their inner most thoughts andfeelings. People can act completely differentonline to how they act in everyday life. Adisconnect forms between how they inhibitthemselves in real life, and how they lose theirinhibitions when online. Sometimes, users realisethis disconnect and feel disappointed with how theyhave acted. However, many users embrace theironline life. They feel like they are achievingsomething online that could not be achieved in thephysical world.
Flaming and Trolling
Flaming or Bashing is a term used todescribe a new type of social phenomenon. It refersto hostile and insulting interaction between internetusers. They are usually active in social forms,insulting other users by posting upsetting ordemeaning remarks on a discussion forum, video,or status. Flaming is also common while playingonline games. Users communicate through headsetsor keyboards. There are two types of flaming,deliberate and emotional.Emotional flaming is not meant to hurt or
offend anyone. It occurs in the „heat of themoment‟. Examples of emotional flaming are
hurtful comments that the user may regret after theevent, or passionate ramblings or rants. It is notintentional.Deliberate flaming is different, it is apremeditated attack. They have specific aspectsand corners of society as targets. They intentionallyfocus on controversial topics and conversations inorder to provoke a response.This
is how the „hackivists‟ group
Anonymous has grown into the virtual army it istoday. The group originated from an internetmeme on a discussion forum and slowly developedinto an internet superpower. Trolling refers to asocial annoyance that is prevalent on the web.Trolls are less clinical and precise in their work.They are obvious and deliberate. They tend tocomment with the sole purpose of instigating aflame war.
Stalking is a relatively new crime. In 1990 theUnited States government passed legislation torecognis
e „stalking‟ as a criminal offence. Stalkingmay be defined as „as an ongoing course of conduct
in which a person behaviourally intrudes upon
another‟s life in a manner perceived to bethreatening‟ (Spitzberg and Hoobler, 2002). It was
quickly discovered t
hat „most stalking is perpetrated against „normal‟ citizens‟ (Spitzberg
and Hoober, 2002). The improvement andadvancement of technology means that there aremore tools at a stalkers proposal. As technologydevelops it changes the society we live in. Thisaffects crime and psychological thinking.Cyberstalking can be defined as the repeatedpursuit of an individual using electronic or Internet-capable devices. Cyberstalking can involveharassment via e-mail, social networks and onlineprofiles. Interpersonal contact has improved due toadvancements in communications technologies.Improvements in interpersonal contact result in awider opportunity for interpersonal intrusion,
„Society may be inexorably making itself more
vulnerable to these avenues of privac
y invasion‟
(Spitzberg and Hoobler, 2002). Cyberstalking maybe perceived different to physical stalking, howeverresearch shows that the two are linked (Spitzbergand Hoobler, 2002). Research has identified collegestudents as a group at risk to cyberstalking. This isbecause of the social use of cyberspace.
Ethics of Cyberspace
technologies imply
problems thatmust be dealt with in
ways‟ (Tester, 2002).
Cyberspace is referred to as a different realm fromthe physical world. The question must be raisedabout governing cyberspace. Should the sameprinciples and rules that govern in the real world beprevalent in the virtual one? Is there a separateethical code of conduct when dealing withcyberspace? Cees J. Hamelink suggests in his book 
 Ethics of Cyberspace’ 
that „the only ethical
theory which meets the standard of universal
acceptability is human rights theory‟. Cyberspace is
almost an impossible society to govern. How doyou police something that is not tangible? The onlyway for an ethical code to work is for theindividuals in the society to act ethically. Incyberspace, it is up to the individual to actethically. Some take advantage of the anonymityallowed by the system. They live vicariouslythrough an alter-ego, a virtual persona they havecreated for themselves. Cyberspace is
ungovernable. It is an „ethical vacuum‟ (Tester,2002). It will „evacuate human rights of all itsmeaning and force‟ (Tester, 2002). It is very hard
to hold an individual or group accountable foractions carried out online.
Scientology and the Internet
Scientology is a controversial religion,developed by L. Ron Hubbard in the 1950s.
Hubbard was a science fiction writer, who based
his new religion „as an extension of his earlier 
psychological theories of 
Dianetics‟ ("Scientology:
From Science Fiction to Space-age Religion".2012).They are still fighting to be recognised as areligion. Many are critical of the church because of the aggressive way in which it handles criticism.Scientology has embraced both the light and dark sides of the internet. It has used the internet tobroadcast its message to millions, but has also usedit to protect itself, and attack others.
alt.religion.scientology is the starting pointfor an ongoing war, known in the public sphere asScientology versus the Internet. It has been
described as a „flame war with real bullets‟ (W
ired3.12: alt.scientology.war. 1995).alt.religion.scientology is a newsgroup set up inJuly 1991 (Official Software Consortium logs). Itwas set up to discuss the views and beliefs of thereligion of scientology. It became a place of frequent flame wars with strong opinions on bothsides. On Saturday, August 12, 1995, the home of 
Arnaldo Lerma, „a Usenet poster and former 
st‟ (Wired 3.12: alt.scientology.war.
1995) was raided and his personal home computerseized. Raids like this were carried out on a numberof individuals and other websites. These raids andlawsuits raised a number of questions. Questionsabout intellectual property, copyright and the rightto free speech were highlighted in the publicsphere. The newsgroup that exposed the story wascreated by Scott Goehring, an ex-scientologist. Thenewsgroup intended to cause a stir. His ex-wifewas still a scientologist when he created the group.
It was formed „half as a joke and half as a place todiscuss the truth about the organisation‟ (NYU
Press Electronic Title: NET.WARS by WendyGrossman; ch06; pg02. 2012). He used a forgedmessage to begin the group,
„miscaviage@flag.sea.org‟. Scientology has been
opposed to the site since its inception. Aside fromthe harassment and lawsuits against people andwebsites, it has called for the newsgroup to be shutdown. Scientologist lawyer Helena Kobrin sent amessage to Usenet servers asking for the group tobe shut down. They claimed the website was legal.This response was heavily criticised by free-speechadvocates. They were criticised for attempting toblock people from speaking freely, and expressingtheir own opinion. This request was dismissed byUsenet. They then began to flood the page with junk mail and spam. This made the site nearlyimpossible to read at times. It was another methodof self-preservation by Anonymous, whichmirrored how the group dealt with people whocriticised the church in public.
Scientology’s Stigma
Scientology has been looking forvindication since 1984. A Superior Court of California Judge, Paul Breckenidge stated that
scientology was „corrupt, sinister and dangerous‟
(BBC Panorama - Scientology and Me). It is an
organisation which, he stated „harasses its enemiesand abuses the trust of its members‟
(BBCPanorama - Scientology and Me)
. In 2007, BBC‟sPanorama aired „Scientology and me‟. The
documentary was supposed to shed light onScientolo
gy‟s teachings and beliefs, and address
the question of the Church of Scientology being acult. The documentary however, turned into thestory of an individual being followed by theChurch. It became an account about how theChurch deals with its former members and critics.The presenter John Sweeney was viewed beingfollowed and watched throughout the documentary.Sweeney had many intimidating encounters withTommy Davis, a well-known spokesperson for theChurch of Scientology.
Fair Game
L.Ron Hubbard, the creator of scientologywrote many different rules for dealing withenemies of the Church. One of these is called
‟. Fair game states that the enemy „may be
deprived of property or injured by any means byany Scientologist without any discipline of theScientologist. May be tricked, sued or lied to ordestroyed
‟ (Scientology: The Shrinking World of 
L. Ron Hubbard - YouTube. 2012). It is nowrelatively easy to gather information about anindividual or organisation. An idea or statementposted in cyberspace has the potential to reachmillions of people. Any sensitive informationposted on the web can be very hard to protectyourself against. Amy Scobee featured on a
Panorama documentary called „The Secrets of Scientology‟. The program f 
eatures information
about Scientology „fair gaming‟ Scobee. She left
the church in 2005 after twenty-six years. Sheaccused the church of being a cult publically. Inresponse, the Church of Scientology postedpersonal details on its online magazine. Theyl
abelled her the „adulteress‟ and accused her of „wanton sexual behaviour‟. The magazine reached
over a hundred thousand people, and many moreare reported to have seen it online (Panorama TheSecrets of Scientology - YouTube. 2012).
Controlling the Internet and Anonymity
Controlling the Internet is a controversialissue. Many say that the Internet should remain aplace where free speech is unadulterated andallowed to flourish. Another view is that the

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