Entirely too many people think that just because they use a nick, pen name or handle (call it what you will.  It’s an alias) on a forum that what they say on that forum is anonymous.  This is in fact very much not the case.

Even if, when you sign up for the forum, you use a throwaway email address and false information in the registration form, your identity is at best only very thinly shielded.  There are 178 anonymous posters on topix.com who are in the process of finding out the truth of this.

According to a news report, the story begins about a year ago when a woman accused a couple of sexually assaulting her along with another man.  This is when people who believed that they were anonymous started posting comments on topix.com

The vast majority of those comments were extremely offensive (not to mention unprintable, I can’t help wondering why moderators at topix did not at least remove the worst of the comments and / or ban the users who posted them).

Last month the couple was found not guilty of the charges.  Unfortunately, this didn’t mean anything to the people posting their anonymous comments.  While the courts had found these people not guilty, the posters on topix apparently had them convicted and sentenced.  Thus the flood of vile comments continued.

Here’s where those 178 posters get to find out that they are not as anonymous as they thought they were.  A judge has ordered topix to hand over any potentially identifying information about the posters and gave them until March 6, 2009 to comply.  Since a representative from topix was quoted in the story saying that topics cooperates with the courts, it can only be assumed that they will most likely comply.

When they hand over this information it’s going to include the date, time and IP address of each poster at the time their comments were posted.  With that information, it’s a simple matter to consult with their ISPs (via court order if need be) and discover what user account was assigned to a particular IP address at the time a comment was made.  ISPs of course know when a user is connected and what IP address is assigned to them for that connection.  This ties the anonymous poster to the real world human responsible for the account used.  From there, lawsuits will issue forth.

I believe in anonymity and the right of people to be anonymous if they so choose.  However the other side of that coin is that if people think they’re anonymous, there are those who will abuse that anonymity.  Then again, as I’ve shown, they weren’t really anonymous in the first place.  They only assumed they were.

The lesson to learn here is that no matter what you do on the Internet, there is a very real chance it will return to haunt you someday.

Also, real, strong anonymity IS possible however most people don’t want to learn the things that are needed in order to accomplish it.  They generally think it’s too hard (it isn’t) or too much work (it isn’t) or requires a ton of sophisticated technical knowledge (it doesn’t) or they just don’t have the brains to comprehend much more than logging onto a forum someplace and issuing forth vile accusations and cruel, often libelous “opinions”.

The truth is that out of those of us who DO have a clue about true anonymity, only a vocal minority abuse it.  People who really want or need to be anonymous are, by definition, not in the habit of drawing attention to themselves.  They’re anonymous for a reason.  The last thing they want is to draw attention to themselves by pulling cruel, vile, asinine stunts like those posters did on topix.

Those idiots will no doubt get what they deserve.

Technorati Tags: Anonymous Comments, Truth, harrasment, Anonymous Posters, News Report, Topix, Isps, tarrant county, Pen Name, Registration Form, offensive comments, persecution, vile comments, Date Time, online persecution, False Information, Anonymous Posting, Email Address, Alias

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