Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Anonymous on the Internet

Because there's nothing like a thoughtful article about anonymity on the Internet:

The article tells the story of the South Korean blogger Minerva, and how he moved from anonymity and influence to notoriety and a court trial. Park Dae-Sung became tremendously influential in Korea as the financial markets plummeted, and his anonymous predictions, which he based on careful study of the markets, turned out accurate at important moments. Despite flying rumors before the revelation, he turned out to be nobody particularly qualified; no economist, just a student, and not a reformed greedy financier as he'd presented himself.

Orson Scott Card himself, on his web site, noticed the resemblance of the Minerva case to his book Ender's Game, where Val and Peter become Locke and Demosthenes, using the anonymous names' freedom to pretend to more gravity and influence than they actually had. Sometimes doing that attracts attention in itself, as the anonymous writer can come across as someone powerful who wanted to speak the truth without compromising an established reputation.

Minerva was uncovered in the end, though, in a way that also uncovered serious flaws in the system of South Korean law and government, if the Wired article is accurate in its judgements (something I don't really know much about so I can't be sure). Internet and privacy, and whether it is the government's job to keep the Internet clean and tidy for its citizens, is of course a whole other debate, worthy of discussion but not for this post. But the article is an excellent read, with its insights into the economic crisis, South Korean society, the nature of anonymity on the Internets, and the interaction of opinions with the sources that form them.