I acknowledge the importance of anonymity on the Internet and support its preservation, but there are some circumstances where anonymity cannot be maintained, or even expected. Take for example the report of Steve Jobs' heart attack. What heart attack, you ask? No, you're quite right, he didn't have one, but someone posted just such a report on CNN's iReport website and it sent the Mac community into fits.
The title of iReport's home page is "Unedited. Unfiltered. News. iReport.
Storytelling. Well, that much is true. In early October, someone calling himself Johntw posted a message starting this way: "Steve Jobs was rushed to the ER just a few hours ago after suffering a major heart attack. I have an insider who tells me that paramedics were called after Steve claimed to be suffering from severe chest pains and shortness of breath. My source has opted to remain anonymous, but he is quite reliable." But it was completely untrue. Nonetheless, it sent mini-shockwaves through the Internet and Apple stock dropped 10%. The problem was not that this person was able to post a false piece of information on a website. Anyone can pay US$10 or even less and set up their own site, and with minimal skill can even make it look attractive. The question is, who would care? No one, really. He would have zero readers and no influence. But in this case, the posting was on a news site affiliated with CNN--not an organization that I have much respect for but certainly one that many people do. And that credibility and visibility lead to this piece of fiction directly impacting people's lives and livelihoods. On the one hand, I treasure the ability to be anonymous. Anonymity is invaluable when a free people begin to be oppressed by their government and they need to criticize it without fear of retaliation, of when a person wants to pass on information to the police or corporate watchdogs without the danger of personal reprisals. However, this was a "news report" of an utter falsehood. There is no defense for such an action. So, the take home point for the rest of us is, as always, be skeptical about what we read. And for the writer, he or she may soon receive some unwelcome visitors. The Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating if the story was a deliberate attempt to manipulate the stock, and if so then someone will be going to jail.
Another person who may be going to jail is the person accused of breaking into Governor Sarah Palin's Yahoo email account. The son of a Tennessee state representative, Mr. David Kernell is a college student majoring in economics and is accused of using the password reset process to gain access, then taking screenshots of her mail, reading her messages, obtaining phone numbers and other personal information, and so on, and then posting various bits of information to 4chan.
I've been slow to upgrade my iPhone firmware, but 2.