// Posted by on 02/13/2012 (8:05 PM)

For class last week, we read the first few chapters of Mark Poster’s book, Information Please. As he began, he wrote about how in online networks, the authors of information are anonymous. While he used to be able to know who was writing information; however, this is no longer the case with information on digital networks. As I was reading this, I began to think about a recent experience of mine.

A few weeks prior, as a part of one of my on campus jobs, I was charged with creating a Wiki page for the Office of the Chaplaincy. I had used Wikipedia hundreds of times to investigate a wide variety of topics, but had never created a page, or even edited one for that matter, so this was a new adventure.

As I began on this project, my boss told me that I was welcome to use the information on the Chaplaincy’s website; however, while copying this information was acceptable for my boss, it was not for the Wiki community. Before I knew it, someone known in that community as WildCowboy had flagged my post for violating Wikipedia’s copyright rules. As I continued to work on this issue, and eventually fixed it, I encountered a number of other characters within the Wikipedia community who amended parts of this page.

This time lapse video displays where edits of Wikipedia pages were made over an eight year span.

Through this experience, I learned much more about the community on Wikipedia and how it works, but I also learned more about what Poster was writing. Although you can search back through the history and see who made specific changes to any Wiki page, you cannot know their real identity. So while I know that WildCowboy has since made minor edits on my pages, I have no clue about his identity. This experience has taught me much about the digital community and how anonymous authors truly are.

Is the anonymity of authorship on the Internet a benefit or a liability? If it is a benefit, then should authors of information in non-digital realms be anonymous too or only those on the Internet? If it is a liability, can we fix it and require people to input their identity and hold them accountable?

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Bridget said...

I think Cameron poses a very interesting dilemma in the end of his post – the issue of whether anonymous authors using the internet is a benefit or a liability. I think it is interesting that authors utilizing anonymity on the internet are able to “get away” with much more than authors on paper. Although some authors write comic strips, newspaper columns, or other written texts under a false identity, the overwhelming majority use their real names – taking complete responsibility and accountability for what they publish. I think that this responsibility and accountability adds credit and legitimizes an author, versus ones that hide behind a facade, saying, writing, or posting what they want without taking ownership for it. But this is a choice every author nowadays must make. If they wish to put themselves out in the world and be known for their true identity, then they are able to do so. But if they wish to only be known by a pen name, or anonymous tag, then they risk never being really known by their audiences. They risk a legitimate legacy so many writers and authors of the past have attained through their honest author identities.

// 02/13/2012 at 10:19 pm

Max said...

Related to Bridget’s comment: it’s an easy argument to make that this anonymity represents a liability or simply an unnecessary expenditure of time. Wikipedia’s function is as an information tool and the people contirubitng to it are supposedly accredited. Is WildCowboy someone who attended a Divinity School and wants your article to more closely adhere to the beliefs and foundations of the religious institution (office of the chaplaincy) that you’re working for? Or is he simply another college student who meddling with your article? It’s interesting that it almost seems that Cameron is held more accountable for legitimacy as an author as opposed to those editing his work.

// 02/16/2012 at 12:52 pm