V for Venice – Guy Fawkes in the lagoon city

It was in April 2013 when I finally had a chance to visit Venice again. My beloved wife and I strolled along the narrow streets, and of course we had a look at the display windows of the mask makers. And there we found: Guy Fawkes!

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The Venetians produce the mask in their traditional way, and somehow their version looks friendlier than the well-know plastic masks which are based on the comic “V for Vendetta” and the film version.

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Just a joke for the tourists? Maybe.

But it is an intriguing phenomenon: In modern Western civilizations, the Guy Fawkes mask is perhaps the one with the highest impact on culture and political life, and it stands for privacy and the right to act anonymously. And now it has found its way back into a a cultural environment which in the past used probably the most elaborated anonymity concept in daily life and for political purposes.

Presentation at Siegen University

Prof. Dr. Kesdogan, Head of  Research Group at the Business Informatics Chair at Siegen University, invited me to hold a presentation on the Venetian anonymity concept on Frebruary 23rd, 2012. The presentation took place and perhaps leads to an official research project. Teachers and students were especially interested in how to use elements of the Venetion concept to design models of anonymous participation in organizational and political, perhaps municipal decision making processes.

What comes next?

After rebuilding the blog (it was hacked in 2011) and writing some first new posts, it’s time to define what to do next. I’d like to focus on the following questions:

  • How does the Bauta concept of anonymity comply with well-known social and philosophical concepts of public and private life?
  • How do anonymity concepts for closed online communities differ from those for the internet on the whole? How does the Bauta concept fit in?
  • Is the “internet netiquette” idea something which can be compared to the “gentleman factor” of the use of the Bauta?

Pseudonymity or anonymity?

A pseudonym (literally, “false name”) is a name that a person (or, sometimes, a group) assumes for a particular purpose and that differs from his or her original orthonym (or “true name”) (Wikipedia).

Anonymity is derived from the Greek word νωνυμία, anonymia, meaning “without a name” or “namelessness”. In colloquial use, anonymity typically refers to the state of an individual’s personal identity, or personally identifiable information, being publicly unknown (Wikipedia).

So what’s the Bauta? An anonymity or pseudonymity device? From my point of views, assuming a predefined and generic role like the one of Signora Maschera means staying anonymous.

New sources: Jillian C. York

Jillian C. York is director of International Freedom of Expression at the US organization Electronic Frontier Foundation. Some of her articles and a lot of the interviews she has given provide excellent insights into chances and problems of anonymity and pseudonymity on the internet and on closed social network platforms. “A case for pseudonyms” for example explains why being able to use a pseudonym sometimes saves one’s life and often is an important factor to guarantee freedom of speech. “Lieber anonym als verfolgt” partly is a German translation published in the weekly newspaper “Die Zeit”.  In “San Francisco Organization Fights For Online Anonymity” by CBS San Francisco Jillian C. York briefly summarizes why she does not like the ban of user pseudonyms by Google+ and Facebook.

Thoughts on Privacy

In his blog www.metaphorous.com, Wilhelm Greiner 2010 wrote down some interesting thoughts on privacy in the social media age. The blog disappeared later, but, as you see, the Internet Archive still has it in its wayback machine. The entry is here. From Wilhelm’s point of view, for a privacy-aware person, there are four possible attitudes towards social media:

  1. Lifecasting – me, myself, my life and everything shall be online. Self-marketing is more important than privacy.
  2. Total refusal – nothing shall ever be found online about me. Privacy is my top concern.
  3. In-depth and detailed control –every bit about me goes through a risk assessment process before I put it on the web.
  4. Social media stream designed as a résumé – whenever a future employer finds information about me, he or she should get the right impression.
  5. Role play or “alias” mode – I make sure that my online me is not at all congruent with my real life me.

I like these categories, especially when taking into consideration that there are combinations of the attitudes possible. Wilhelm already mentions that attitude 5 can be combined with attitude 3 and 4, but in my opinion it also fits to attitude 2. For example, web-citizens anonymously participating in imageboards like 4chan or krautchan, inhabitants of virtual worlds or players of multi player online games may never show any information about their real identity anywhere on web 2.0 platforms like LinkedIn, Xing or Facebook. This seems a little bit similar to the way the old Venetians lived their real lives. In their small, but vibrating and multicultural town on the seas, dealing with merchants and pirates from everywhere in a still uncharted world, they developed the idea of living an anonymous life besides the public life. Wearing the Bauta, they played a role, but it was a predefined and generic role. It worked very well. Everyone wearing the Bauta disguise was accepted and greeted as “Signora Maschera”. May be that this is the 6th attitude to be thought about. By the way, on krautchan, every user is called “Bernd”. I definitely have to think about that, too.