Should people be allowed to obscure their identities online?

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 December, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 13 December, 2011, 12:00am


Matthew Murchie, 18, Imperial College London

The internet's widespread influence and easy accessibility has opened doors to new methods of crime.

These include fraud, cyber-bullying and identity theft.

As a solution to this problem, some people suggest that internet users should not be allowed to remain anonymous. This, however, would limit the usefulness of the web.

The internet is the most powerful tool we have for free expression. Yet many people only feel comfortable publishing their opinions online if they can do so anonymously.

This is particularly true of citizens in oppressive states where airing critical views can land you in trouble. Preventing people there from hiding their true identities online would effectively cut them off from the outside world.

Cyber-bullying is also a commonly cited example by opponents of internet anonymity.

However, bullying will happen whether or not bullies can remain anonymous. After all, bullying is an equally common problem in the physical world where the identities of bullies are obvious.

In addition, victims could also hide their true identities online to shield themselves from bullies.

Obviously, there are times when our identities must be verified, such as when we engage in online shopping and payments.

Yet in most cases, forcing people to always reveal their true identities online would do nothing to solve existing problems, and would only create new ones.

Such transparency could bring about a whole host of new issues that may well have a negative impact on the way we use the internet.

Elise Choi, 16, Sai Kung Sung Tsun Catholic School

Undeniably, the internet makes communication much easier. Yet often the problem is we don't really know who we are communicating with.

In the web's virtual world, face-to-face communication is often impossible. It is very easy for people to obscure their true identities to deceive others.

If everyone was forced to reveal their real identities online, however, such people would have no chance to prey on others behind false identities.

On social networking sites like Facebook, some older men pretend to be young so as to befriend youngsters with bad motives in mind.

To tackle this problem, sites should make sure that users' personal information - including name, age and gender - is correct.

For example, users' personal information could be verified by a third party before they can register in order to avoid false identities appearing on sites.

The government should help websites by implementing a law based on this principle: everyone must provide their real identity.

Sometimes, we bid at auctions, shop and trade via the internet. We do so under our real identities and expect other people to do likewise. If that didn't happen, the internet would become a place where no one can trust anyone.

Yet if everyone was required to provide his or her true identity online, we will be able to browse the internet without worries. Even if we are cheated, we can easily track down those cheats.

It is simply immoral to provide wrong information or to hide our true identities with ulterior motives in mind.