Once every year, a carnival was held in the medieval Venice. People put on masks and took to the streets. Many depravities reportedly took place but went unpunished, because people needed to let off steam and the carnival madness was eagerly savoured even by who we have come to call VIPs in modern times. Anyway, once a year it could be endured.

The carnival tradition was first recorded in 1296, but it may well be older than that. Napoleon cancelled it when his troops landed in Venice five hundred years later. He was said to be frightened by excesses, and therefore cancelled both the mask parade and the republic. Nowadays, the Venice carnival is a tourist attraction, masks are pure science, and millions of visitors arrive in the city of gondolas.

But mask is a fascinating concept. When you put it on you will seem to be somebody else. Depravity does not target its wearer, but indeed his mask. Hidden identity gives one freedom to do the unspeakable. It’s fun the citizen of the Venetian Republic has been looking forward to all year round. But fun should not get out of hand, should it?

In a derived sense, the mask principle is present all around us. If, that is, one ventures out not to the dark Venetian lanes, but to the internet. It is incredible to see how easily masks are donned online, how easy it is to make them, and how convincing they are. Consequently, the internet harbours as many moral transgressions as the Republic of Venice did in its time. But, importantly, unlike the carnival, the internet is not just for one day.

In the viral environment we meet our Facebook friends, more or less well known persons, many normal people, but also many strange masks worn. Some are just scary, others downright dangerous. They all are trying hard. Activity is rewarded in their case. We hear that a certain eastern empire is sending out hundreds or indeed thousands of masks every day, churning them out much like the ghouls from the accursed Mordor.

Czech media are in a tricky situation due to that. Each and every report must be cross-referenced, because the masks always insinuate something, attack somebody and elate someone else to heavenly heights. Submit an article to public online discussion is to invite a smattering of masks.

So, on the one hand we ban the burqa, which conceals a woman’s identity in public space, but on the other we see an internet populated by hidden identities. I think it’s somehow grossly unnatural. But I don’t know what to do. Say, aren’t we living in fascinating times? A medieval Venetian could have hardly imagined how fascinating it is.

Daniel Raus

Daniel Raus

Journalist and publicist, works for Energeia public benefit society