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How Much Masked Twitter Account Can be Trusted?

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“Hector Ayala, The White Tiger, found his entire family brutally murdered when his identity was exposed. (….) The registration act takes away any freedom we have, any autonomy,” Captain America says to Iron Man.

Captain America disagrees with Tony Stark on Superhero Registration Act, a legislative bill which requires the mandatory registration of any person based in the United States with super powers. He thinks that such regulation is no different to revealing superhero’s identity to the public considering that U.S government has a poor history in keeping a secret. Tony could not agree more on this. Still, he persists in supporting the bill since the bill itself is triggered by the rash act of young superheroes. He recounts the Stamford incident, in which a group of young superheroes and the focus of a reality TV show, New Warrior, once botched an attempt to apprehend a group of super villains, resulting in the death of 600 innocent lives with the villains themselves successfully fleeing. Tony already foresaw the incident and thinks that all senior superheroes also responsible for this. The catastrophe could be avoided if all superheroes had been willing to unite under one roof. A one-man superhero show should come to an end, even if it costs their identity, Tony Stark says. Civil War arc thus begins.

Meanwhile, the police recently arrested three men who are allegedly the administrators of Twitter account @Triomacan2000 over extortion and defamation case in the real world. The account, which is now inactive, is very popular among Indonesian Twitter users for their controversial tweets on bribery, conspiracy and corruption within government institutions. By claiming to have a great network of insider sources, their stories became much more compelling, amassing over 200,000 followers since their first tweet in April 2011. In the spirit of fighting crime for freedom and justice, as boldly written on their bio, Triomacan2000 concealed its real user identity from the public just like Marvel superheroes do.

Anonymity is an option that is provided for the internet user in cyber world, or on Twitter for this case, enabling people to still take a part in the cyber activity and use pseudonym name without giving their personal information. This anonymity gives people more freedom to create their own new online personality and activity which then vary in term of content: parody account, horoscope account, trolling account or public intelligence account whom Triomacan2000 purported to be. The option to become anonym on the internet is practically legal. There is no regulation such Superhero Registration Act that requires every anonymous account, on any social media, to register and reveal their identity to the government due to their insufficient power to kill 600 people in a single tweet. Or can they? In Gamergate controversy, several feminists had to leave their home after being subjected to harassment, threats of violence, and the publication of personally identifiable information about them by angry gamers, who are mostly anonym, on social media. The question then arises as to how much impact an anonymous account can have on someone’s life.

Long before the rise of digital age, anonymity had existed in conventional media. They appeared as a source that possesses valuable information relating national affair. Given the controversy of anonymous source, Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel, 2 seasoned American journalists, proposed 7 criteria. The criteria are established so journalists will have a guideline to determine whether a source is worthy to be anonym or not. The process of filtering information and its sources for publication is called gatekeeping, a missing process in new media.

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Superhero fans will be furious to have their superhero characters compared to Triomacan2000. Whether it is acceptable or not, superhero and Triomacan2000 share same characteristics and even virtue. Both of them are fighting crime, wearing mask and invoking suspicion among people. If Triomacan2000 existed in comic book, they would surely help Spider-Man kicking the real villain: the white-collar criminals. However, there is one big difference vigilante phenomenon between comic book world and the real world, or particularly Indonesia. Tony Stark or Marvel writers had come to their senses that identity and its moral responsibility are important issue to be brought to surface and become the main backbone story of Marvel’s Civil War arc. Uncle Ben’s “With great power comes great responsibility” philosophy, in all conscience, is not embodied in Peter Parker’s choice to wear Spider-Man suit. Responsibility will be taken with credibility, which is started by using a real identity, not a secret one. Sadly, Indonesian netizen haven’t addressed this issue.

The fact that Triomacan2000 has over 200,000 followers is worrisome. The account published scandalous stories where names are often mentioned and they claimed that the stories are valid and based on fact. Aside the veracity of their stories, it is ironic to know that Indonesian Twitter users follow them not because of their credibility, but more to their sensational information. This naive behavior toward a sensational story was heartlessly exploited by the founder of Obor Rakyat tabloid in 2014 presidential election and no one knows who else will fish in this troubled water.

Does the world really need anonym? Gabriella Coleman, an anthropologist and author, answers the question in one of her article, Why the World Needs Anonymous. “Universally enforcing disclosure of real identities online would limit the possibilities for whistle-blowing and voicing unpopular beliefs—processes essential to any vibrant democracy,” Coleman writes. An indicator of healthy democratic state is a well-informed electorate. A democratic state is another authoritarian in disguise when the flow of information is being restrained from disseminating to its citizen. A whistleblower divulges secret information for public interest and its decision to be anonym is reasonable where lives sometimes are put at stake.

Living in a democratic country means that expressing an opinion, even an unpopular one, is everyone’s right and their right also not wanting to be affiliated to the opinion. Being anonym in social media serves this purpose. The Freedom of West Papua, The Free Aceh Movement, Indonesian communism and Indonesian caliphate have their own Twitter account, voicing their own opinion; An activity which is rarely seen in conventional media.

Moreover, anonymity is a result of how immature society confronts a dissenting opinion and misuse the defamation law. Indonesia holds grim history of defamation case. Any opinion or comment considered to harm someone’s reputation is filed a report for defamation criminal, from defaming God to criticizing a renowned novel writer. As long as a society can not discern the difference between criticizing and damaging a good reputation, being anonym is a solution not to spend a day in court.

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It is accountability that matters to Tony Stark. With it, Superheroes are obliged to bear the responsibility for the consequences of their act because everyone is not as heroic as Captain America. The problem with the likes of Triomacan2000, either it is on the internet or real world (Obor Rakyat), is accountability has never been in their agenda, let alone the veracity of their information. Even if their information is 100% correct, who can guarantee that the account will not be hacked and used for different purpose in the future? No one knows the real user is and no one will know if it’s hacked. History has taught that the true whistleblower is not tweeting or blogging their classified information. They went to reputable media to test and verify their story; Edward Snowden was one of them. While the media’s stance is occasionally questionable, that is why an idiom for this case was made: take with a grain of salt. We absolutely must leave room for doubt.

And if it is still too difficult to filter information from anonym and non anonym, maybe reading a comic book is what we need.

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