Version 1.5b Castle in the Sky

lecture: What is the value of anonymous communication?

Event large 4b8aa978adbb7c8e80151f5a83c6782a12e763374ae3a042a55e7e626a64d93b

What does the fact that Tor users can’t edit wikipedia mean for the quality of the ``encyclopedia that anyone can edit?’’ How do captchas and blocking of anonymity services affect the experiences of Tor users when they are trying to contribute content? This talk will discuss the increasing limitations of active participation in the anonymous Internet and the findings of our interview study of Tor users and wikipedia editors concerning these issues. We believe that by understanding the contributions Tor users make—and that people denied access to anonymity tools don't make—we can help make the case for the value of anonymity online.

The belief that a free and open Internet enables people to accomplish great things together is at the core of projects like Wikipedia, open source software, and online political activism. The term “peer production” has been used for years to describe a new kind of collaborative project-—one that is facilitated by the Internet and in which people self-organize to create things they value, whether that’s software, encyclopedias, news, maps, or just about anything else. But research about these projects and how they work generally doesn't take into account the value of anonymous participation.

Moderating user-generated or peer-produced content has challenges and many services (Yelp, Google, Wikipedia, Cloudflare, etc) have turned to third party blacklists, real-name policies, and banning users of anonymity networks like Tor to handle real and perceived abuse issues.
The result of such decisions in aggregate means that the Internet offers uneven opportunities for participation and engagement. It’s easy to imagine anonymous participants as only jerks and trolls, but much harder to quantify the contributions that don’t happen when anonymity is banned or made more difficult.

We interviewed Tor users about their participation in peer production projects and Wikipedia editors about their privacy concerns. In this talk, we will share stories about the contributions of anonymous participants and the chilling effects of limiting anonymity ---topics not edited and people silenced.