Trust in Adherence to a Predefined Role – EIC 2013

On 16 May 2013, at the invitation of Jörg Resch and after my lecture in 2010, I was once again guest at the European Identity Conference to talk about the Venetian model of anonymity.

This time it was mainly about finding out why the Venetian anonymity model worked well and did not produce an excessively high crime rate. My basic thesis was – as mentioned in earlier contributions to this blog – that the role-playing element already discussed by Ignatio Toscani had a stabilizing effect:

– Bauta and Tabarro are historically rooted in the traditional carnival and in the role-playing games of the Commedia dell’Arte. The Venetians knew both and were used to them.

– Using the mask as a means of anonymization meant a thoughtful act: one had to “disguise” oneself skilfully, which cost a little effort and time. Wearing the mask meant playing hide and seek and attracting attention at the same time.

– Taking on the role of the “ideal Venetian citizen” also meant accepting the behaviour of a gentleman.

– Venetians who communicated with a bearer of the Bauta could trust that he or she accepted his special political and social role and, in terms of behavior, adhered to the rules of this special kind of game.

– Immediate sanctions were possible in the event of abuse.

– To use the Bauta therefore meant consciously accepting social control and social expectations. It also meant accepting a possible unmasking, a related loss of honour and immediate exclusion from the Venetian community as a sanction for abuse of the privileges offered by the mask and disguise.

– Thus, the mask had a direct and inevitable influence on the behavior of those who used it.

The presentation can be downloaded here.

In the discussion that followed the presentation, the audience was showing interest in the underlying reputation and sanction system of the anonymity model. An ordinary “reward system” does not exist, as the expected behaviour of a masked person was simply “normal” from the point of view of the Venetians. Social pressure, however, did exist as a corrective, and the participants found it interesting that the punishment for misconduct immediately threw the delinquent back into his real, non-anonymous existence and had consequences there.

On the other hand, unmasking a Venetian did not rule out the possibility that the same person later would take part in the anonymous life again, provided he was not sent to prison. Related to anonymous life, a purely behavior-based security existed. This model, the listeners agreed, could be transferred to anonymous platforms on the Internet: Those who behave badly should be simply excluded from those places immediately. If the new registration process is only laborious enough, the pure inconvenience of the sanction could possibly effectively ensure good behaviour.

Note: This blog entry was translated from the German original with the help of artificial intelligence. It’s not perfect, for sure. Please excuse me for any imperfections.

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!

Guy_Fawkes_in_Venice_1

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.

Guy_Fawkes_in_Venice_2

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.

Article in German Business Magazine “Brand eins”

Carolyn Braun has written a nice short article about my Bauta project for the German business magazine “Brand eins“. The title of the article is “Die Maske der Ehrbaren”, which is a variation of my old ISSE presentation title “The Mask of the Honorable Citizen”. If you do not want to read it, you can alternatively listen to it or download it as a MP3-file (choose “brand eins 07 / 2012 Schwerpunkt: Digitale Wirtschaft”, then right click on Hören).

Unfortunately the article starts with a little mistake. It says that all Anonymous activists in Germany call each other “Bernd”. Of course I never said something like that. I also know that the author got it right. The mistake is probably a result of a last minute shortening done by the Brand eins editorial board. “Bernd” is the name which is used by all the members of the German image board “Krautchan”, while “Anonymous” is the name used by all members of the international image board “4Chan”. You can find more information about this at the end of this article. But apart from that I really like the article, and discussing the Bauta topic with the author was fun. I am especially pleased with the fact that she uses the word  “Verhüllungsgebot” (obligation to wear masks) in a positive way, which makes an ironic contrast to the German term “Vermummungsverbot” (ban of wearing masks). Unfortunately, in Englisch there is no pair of words which has the same effect.

During the interview I suddenly understood that there is a “freedom of speech” aspect of wearing masks which I did not see until now. It puts the aspect of “deindividuation” (read more) in a new perspective. Deindividuation effects can be helpful for shy persons ot those with a lack of self-confidence, because it makes it easier for them to take part in political or other discussions which tend to get “personal”. A simple fact, not new, somehow trivial, but think I will have to write a special article about that.

The German radio station Deutschlandradio Kultur reported on the respective issue of Brand eins magazine. You can listen to the feature on their website or download it, the masks are mentioned in the last quarter.

All pages have been checked for the last time on August 11th 2012.

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.

Signora Maschera was a gentleman

From the fact that the Venecians never abandoned the use of the Bauta until the Austrians marched in and changed politics and culture, we know that there probably never was too much misuse of the society mask to give it up. That’s a little mystery, because having the chance to act anonymously always creates temptations to act in an antisocial, egoistic way. M.E. Kabay for example, with respect to deindividuation theories, points out that the deindividuation factor of practical anonymity may foster incivility, dishonesty and a more aggressive behavior and that it may lower self-reflective propensities (see sources to find his essay).

I already mentioned that one of the reasons why the Venecians only had to cope with a tolerable degree of misused anonymity was the fact that bearers of the Bauta did not escape society rules and expectations and that they could be practically unmasked if necessary. But this measure certainly only was used as a last resource. Another reason why citizens adhered to good manners when wearing the mask certainly was that when they put it on, they changed their existence to the role model of an ideal member of the noble citizenship.

Bauta - Carnevale Venezia 2011

Picture Source: Fotolia.com, Gloria Guglielmo

 

The role of “Signora Maschera” not only was to be characterized as generic and predefined, as I mentioned before, it also meant to reduce personal characteristics and to play up the qualities of the noble patrician as an idealized model. There are certainly parallels to old ideas of the “perfect gentleman” with his perfect style and manners. From Karbe and Toscani (see sources) we know that Venecians wearing the Bauta explicitly behaved politely and chivalrously when wearing the Bauta and that they even tried to move and communicate in a most elegant way.

Hedonistic, unethical and dangerous?

Over the centuries Venetian lifestyle has been stigmatized as hedonistic and unethical. For strangers, especially carnival and the fact that so many citizens wore masks gave reason for suspicion. Someone who wears a mask has something to hide, they thought, and what else would a person want to hide than something felonious or unethical?

Mario Belloni today finds a way to say it more friendly, but the basic rating of Venetian culture still is the same: ‘They were merchants and adventurers who risked their riches, and often their own lives, on a daily basis on the ships which sailed for the mysterious East. Pirates, storms, attacks by enemy fleets, strange lands: mystery and adventure! These people couldn’t let up even in Venice, in their own city. Adventure for them was a way of life. They therefore created a city which offered all types of adventure, in every sense of the world! Carnival and masks everywhere represent absence of rule and freedom of action. You can do everything you want when you hide behind them, and adventure is possible again, even in the city, among the offices of the institutions, regardless of the laws and the vetoes of morality, however severe they may be. And so carnival breaks its boundaries and masks enter the realm of everyday life. In some places they were actually compulsory by law! Games of chance (a good example of adventure in the city), were a bit like the “national sport” of Venice, but in the state casino (the “Ridotto”) you could only play if you were masked.’

Of course there’s truth in this explanation. Just visit Cologne in Germany today when the carnival season arrives, and you will certainly find out that this kind of feast is an event to do things you would not do at other times. But Belloni’s explanation of why masks were worn in daily Venetian life may be at least partly wrong. After reading Karbe and Toscani, I think especially the use of the Bauta had a more serious and sophisticated social and political background. The Venetians had a deep understanding of what anonymity was good for. And, what’s most important, a citizen wearing a mask in Venice did not escape law and order. Of course he or she could do things which were not meant to be attributed to him or her by others, but his or her behavior still had to comply with certain expectations and laws. Venetians wearing Bauta and Volto were not up to antisocial behavior.

Today, for older generations the internet life of the digital natives perhaps looks as suspicious as the Venetian life may have looked like from the perspective of other cultures in the past. Ironically, even piracy in a different context is a core topic again. But in both cases the critics also misunderstand a culture which knows about the merits of anonymity and how to live with it. That’s one of the topics I’d like to work on.