In this chapter in Rushkoff’s book he addresses the subject of anonymity in online spaces. When the internet was first developed, the idea of “usernames” and online identities was thought to be a way for people to interact without prejudices – that hiding behind an ambivalent name would prevent people from judging each other and keep the space more open and free flowing. This idea, however good intentioned, has backfired. Having an online identity makes it so that people can hide behind a fake name and let their most negative sides show. By going online and having no consequences related to your own name makes it so much easier to attack and harshly comment on different place on the web. In places like Iran where the internet has harsh restrictions, being able to have usernames with no consequences can be useful for the freedom of speech. However, in America where speech as completely free people do not take any responsibility for their words online. We must learn to keep in mind that nothing on the internet is “off the record” and instead use the ability to be our true selves as a liberating tool. We have to own the words we put into the digital sphere.
Cherny, “The Modal Complexity of Speech Events in a Social Mud”
Cherny’s article centers around the idea of MUDs, which are “multi-user dimensions.” These multi-player virtual world games, are mostly text based. Cherny gathered her findings from a text-based participant-observer on a MOO (object-oriented MUD). Through the use of LamadaMoo, she observed social interactions and participant’s speech in the community. LamadaMoo is the oldest MUD today starting in the mid 1980’s. It is an online community where users are randomized a character and name, which then allows you to interact in that specific virtual world. Cherny analyzes specific written words of communication in LamadaMoo called “says,” body actions (Scratching of one’s head), and internal feelings or attributes called “emotes (An eye roll, which communicates feelings of annoyance). Cherny analyzes what these actually mean for communication, user’s interpretation of them, and the effects. Cherny specifically discusses the differences between each emote and specific intentions that MUDs provides. Cherny gives readers a detailed and specific description of some of the “real worlds” created by MOO conversations and how they relate to real life outside of the virtual world.
Dibbell, “A Rape in Cyberspace”
The article “A Rape in Cyberspace” describes the author Dibbell’s experience with a virtual world LambdaMOO, a MUD (multi-player computer game) in existence since the mid 1980’s. In this game, the characters or avatars are able to interact automatically with each other, objects, and locations in the community, as if it their second world. In the article, Dibell talks about a cyber rape that was done by Mr. Bungle, an avatar of the virtual world that he had committed on two other members of the community. Mr. Bundle executed this rape by using what is known as the “voodoo doll,” which is when one character is able to attribute actions to other characters, without those characters permission or knowledge. The reason why this article was so significant was that it crossed a boundary between the real world and the virtual world. Although the crime was a cybercrime and not a real rape, the emotional pain felt by the victim’s was real, so that raises the question, does that make the incident real too? The event also raised questions regarding how the site should overall be governed, in that it seems highly unfair that virtual worlds can have these “super users” like Mr. Bungle who can control the game due to their high level of knowledge concerning technology. Three days after the incident occurred, the users of LambdaMOO arranged an online meeting, in which Dibbell was part of, under his screen name, in order to talk about what should be done about Mr. Bungle. Ultimately, the users of LambdaMOO could not decide on how to handle the situation, so one of the members, who was particularly skilled in the virtual world, enacted a virtual form of the death penalty to use on Mr. Bungle’s character.
2. Discussion questions
- Although the crimes Dibell described in his article “A Rape in Cyberspace” never actually included any acts of physical force/exertion, and only occurred in a virtual world, do you think that since it caused real pain to the victims that it should be counted as a real crime as well?
- Do you think there are more productive ways for the users of LambdaMOO to make decisions regarding its community, in other words, how do you think the community should be “governed”?
- What would the benefits be for participating in a MUD or MOO? Would it only be beneficial in terms of socializing? Could it ever be useful in terms of education or careers?
- Cherny’s analyzed the differences of language of the virtual world. Could there be a time when the language expressed is misconstrued to another character? Would it then require us to learn a separate language, just for the virtual world?
- Going off of Rushkoff’s article would you be more inclined to post or share your personal opinions or beliefs online if your identity or name is not attached to it?
3. Main ideas
- Virtuality Vs. Reality: The line between the virtual world and reality is becoming thinner and thinner as technology continues to innovate. Before the virtual world was an escape from reality and now the virtual world has a different language, rules, and customs that it too has become a separate reality to some. These readings help us to discover if the virtual and real world are really that separate? And if real rules and laws apply to the virtual world.
- Cloaked identity in cyberspace/privacy: Anonymity in cyberspace is a significant concern for community. It’s often difficult to find a balance between privacy and security. Cyberspace appeals people in that it allows them to share ideas and engage in conversation and debates with people that live on the other side of the globe. A lot of the times on cyberspace, people remain anonymous just for the sake of staying private, but sometimes people take advantage of this and that’s what creates issues. While anonymity seems to be a basic right for any of us to have, it also allows users of cyberspace to perform ‘virtual’ criminal activities with a very low chance of being caught for it. The problem with anonymity and cyberspace though, is that it is very difficult to decide how to handle the situation. How can we monitor cyberspace, so situations like “a rape in cyberspace” do not have to happen again without eliminating anonymity completely? How can we regulate anonymity legally and fairly?
4. Additional readings
- Tacy, Chris. “For Now, ‘Community’ Is Just a Web Buzzword.” For Now, ‘Community’ Is Just a Web Buzzword. New York Times, 2 July 1997. Web. 30 Oct. 2014.
- Eisen, Andrew. “CCP Investigates Eve Online FanFest Panel for Mocking Suicidal Player.” GamePolitics News. ECA, 26 Mar. 2012. Web. 30 Oct. 2014
- Albrecht, Matt. ““A Rape in Cyberspace” Gets Remade for the IRL Era.” Kill Screen. Kill Screen Media, Inc., 4 Mar. 2014. Web. 30 Oct. 2014.
- “There is no longer an expectation that being on the internet will allow you to escape from the physical world’s Harassers”
When we finally got the chance to interact with a MUD I believe the class got a much better understanding of the virtual world if they didn’t perviously have interaction with it. Through LambdaMoo we were able to interact with the separate language, morals, technology, and actions that we had been talking about throughout our class. Since our whole class got to participate we were able to see the similarities and differences between our experiences and theirs. Through this week we are able to better understand a internet identity and if it similar or completely separate. This week asks us the question does our media identity define us?