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Week 11: Identity, Deception, and Accountability

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B. Who am I?

A. Huh?

B. Who am I?

A. Is this suddenly philosophy class?

B. It's always been philosophy class, you just haven't noticed. But I repeat my question. Who am I?

A. You're a looney ( MP3 ).

B. Come on now, who am I? [long pause] I'll answer for you. I'm a father, a husband, a teacher, a researcher, a basketball player, a performer, and many other things. Now who am I?

A. You're all the things you just said.

B. And you could make a similar list of things you are. But how do you go about generating that list? How do you define who you are?

A. [thinking out loud] Well, you said you're a father, a husband, etc. So did you list things that you spend your time doing every day?

B. I don't do all those things everyday, but they're still an important part of who I am.

A. So the things in your list are things you want to do, or mean to do?

B. That's an interesting answer, and one I didn't expect. So are teenage geeks who dream about being nunchuck -bearing ninjas really ninjas? Or, I suppose the proper question is -- is being a ninja really part of their identity?

A. [somewhat confused] If you ask them I'm sure it is.

B. But if they've never really handled martial arts weapons, how is it that "ninja" can be part of their identity? It must be the same mechanism that makes "husband" part of mine and "student" part of yours... [sounding somewhat lost himself]

A. Well, I think it has something to do with their past.

B. How's that?

A. Being a father is something you've done in the past, being a student is something I've done in the past, and being a ninja is something they've imagined in the past.

B. So "really" doing things isn't an important part of identity?

A. It doesn't look like it.

B. Is this the difference between identity and reputation (that we talked about before)? Your identity is sort of a private reputation, that can include thoughts, dreams, desires, in addition to things you've really done...

A. [cutting in] But your reputation is just the list of things you've really done?

B. Or, in the case of bad reputations, the list of things you're rumored to have done.

A. But that takes us back to putting things on the list that haven't really happenned. So we're saying that an identity is a just a list of things some how associated with (by rumor, daydreaming, or actual doing) with a person?

B. That sounds workable. Let's experiment with it a bit. What makes Michael Jordan Michael Jordan? Is it anything more that the list of things we associate with him, like hitting winning shots time after time, showing a fierce competitive spirit again and again, always drinking Gatorade, etc.? What about Frodo Baggins? Does the same logic apply to fictional identities?

A. I think so. Although I wish you would have used Tom Bombadil as your example. [smiling to other students]

B. Don't bait me with Bombadil. You know I think he's the greatest character in any story ever. But back to the topic!

A. Yes, so how does all this connect to social software and online interaction?

B. Well, it turns out that people are sometimes rather ill-behaved online.

A. Yea, I saw some of that on IRC last week.

B. Thought you might have. Based on what we've just been saying about identity, what would you guess is the relationship between identity and a person's behavior?

A. Ok. So your identity is the history of all the things you've done (in the real world, in your own mind, or in someone else's mind) in the past. How does the history of all the things you've done in the past relate to your behavior... [pause] you mean like predicting it?

B. You're saying that if someone had punched you the last 27 times you past them in the hall, you'd steer clear on time number 28?

A. Something like that, yes.

B. I once heard someone say "no matter what your past has been, your future is spotless."

A. Well, I didn't say your past behavior *determined* your future behavior, just that it was probably a pretty good predictor. For several reasons.

B. Such as?

A. Well, if you've got a great reputation, you probably don't want to ruin a good history with a "blemish". On the other hand, if your reputation pretty much sucks, you're probably not going to care what people think tomorrow, either.

B. Let's not assume that people with bad reputations don't care...

A. Yea, yea, ok. But you know what I mean. Now what was the question we're supposed to be answering?

B. The relationship between identity and behavior.

A. I think we just covered that.

B. What do you suppose would happen if we threw anonymity into the mix? Following the argument we've laid out above, what is anonymity?

A. I guess it's when you can act without anyone knowing your identity.

B. More words, please...

A. Since people don't know the history of your past actions, they'll be less able to predict your future actions. Also, there will be no "person" to connect the action to, so whatever you do doesn't affect your public identity or reputation (though it may affect your private identity, since you'll know you did it).

B. So basically an anonymous person can act without predictability or accountability?

A. I never thought about it quite like that before.

B. If people could act without accounting for their acts, how to suppose they would act?

A. Yikes.

B. Jump over to Slashdot for a minute. Find a story with a few hundred comments, and read ones posted by "Anonymous Coward" (you may have to set the Threshold to -1). Compare the kinds of comments made when people post anonymously to the posts made by people who login. Go on and do it now. (Be warned that you may find some of it offensive.) [pauses]

A. Ok. You made your point.

B. Well, its really your point as much as mine. There's a whole other conversation to have about online identity in terms of deception. But I'm going to let Judith Donath cover that one (and make many more excellent points about identity) in the only reading for the week:

A. Well, if that's the reading for the week, next must be the assignment.

B. Thanks again for another great segue!

Assignment: Synthesis 2

Write a brief piece describing the relationships between cooperation, incentives, reputations, trust, identity, and accountability. Focus on connecting the concepts and frameworks in the articles you have read for this class with your own personal experiences. Questions you could answer INCLUDE BUT ARE NOT LIMITED TO: In what manner are identity and trust related? To what degree can trust be established with anonymous or pseudonymynous individuals? What is the role of accountability in creating trust? What are the roles of accountability and trust in facilitating cooperation? Can cooperation succeed without one or both? Et cetera.

By now you know how to turn your work in and when to do it by, so see you next week!

A. See you.

Copyright 2008, by the Contributing Authors. Cite/attribute Resource . admin. (2008, May 20). Week 11: Identity, Deception, and Accountability. Retrieved January 07, 2011, from Free Online Course Materials — USU OpenCourseWare Web site: This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License Creative Commons License
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