On Anonymity

In a comment the other day, I said:

I’m opposed to the concept of anonymity on the internet in general (the same reason I hate that people on IRC use handles rather than real names, or handles that don’t even resemble their real names). I make exception for political dissidents etc. of course.

Based on a couple of emailed comments, wanted to clarify my position on that: There seems to be an aspect of internet subculture which conflates anonymity with privacy. What I’m talking about here is standing by your name – accountability. I feel that what you write, and the domains (i.e. publications) you own should in most cases be attached to your real name. I feel that it is possible to be non-anonymous while still keeping private information private. I feel that attaching your name to your expressions is connected somehow to integrity.

When I enter an IRC channel or chat and everyone is using a handle rather than a real name, I feel suspicious. Do these same people configure their email clients to use false names as well? The predominance of nicknames in IRC doesn’t automatically mean everyone is “hiding” something, but it does mean people may be inclined to say things they wouldn’t if they were using their real names. It invites the saying of things that might not be said otherwise. Some call that a level of freedom we don’t have in meatspace. I’m not sure that exercising that freedom without good cause is necessarily beneficial.

I don’t begrudge anyone the right to be anonymous if they choose to be – I just don’t think it’s necessary most of the time. I also think that a lot more conversation on the internet would be civil if pseudonyms were removed from the picture. Again, I make exception for some political speech.

A friend pointed out that artists sometimes work under pseudonyms for artistic reasons that have nothing to do either with politics or actual anonymity — just pure art. Fair enough. But we also know — or can easily find — the real names of most artists working under pseudonyms. If an artist (or writer, or domain owner) is taking positive steps to thoroughly hide their real name, we assume they have political or other very good reasons to do so. If not, then we are suspicious of their reasons for seeking anonymity, and credibility is in question.

Then again, maybe I’m reading too much into it.

Music: Coot Grant & Kid Wesley Wilson :: Take Your Hand Off My Mojo

5 Replies to “On Anonymity”

  1. At times I have posted comments anonymously – mainly because the comment could have gotten me into trouble with employers, and that’s not something I want to happen. Most of the time, I agree – if you don’t want to be connected to what you are saying, for christ’s sake, don’t say it!

  2. Part of me believes that anonymity is a blessing on the internet. I post comments on blogs anonymously because usually it doesn’t really matter who I am, it is what I have to say that matters. Most people do not understand how to have a civil argument. Any irrelevant personal information you give them can be used against you. You could do a search on my name and find something I’ve said previously to construct an argument against the position I’m taking. If I am anonymous, the discussion stays at the site where it originated–there is no looking anywhere. I prefer to keep it about ideas, not about me.

  3. I like the way Anonymous made his (her) point. Personally, I avoid putting my last name out there because of my wife and young kids. Our extended family uses personal blogs to keep in touch, but we all keep last names and addresses out of the content. We are certainly accountable to the many who read our blogs and know us in “meatspace.”

    I worry (just a tad) about Miles. Should he be so easily seen and found? Should I let my 11-year-old and 13-year-old have blogs? (They do.) Fatherhood brings worry.

    Of course the gov’ment knows who we all are, so there is always that bit of comfort.

  4. I post comments on blogs anonymously because usually it doesn’t really matter who I am, it is what I have to say that matters.

    Well, maybe. But that’s kind of the meat of what I’m getting at. I think it does matter who is saying something. Yes, ideas can float freely in the ether, but ultimately they come from someone, and as a reader, I’m far more likely to give weight to a comment that’s not posted anonymously.

    You could do a search on my name and find something I’ve said previously to construct an argument against the position I’m taking.

    People will always use one’s words to twist one’s point around, whether online or off, in the media or out.

    In any case, I respect your decision to remain anonymous.

    Jeb, I definitely do identify with the fatherly worry aspect. Frankly, I anticipate that my worries will be greatly magnified as time goes on and Miles becomes more sophisticated at wandering the internet without supervision.

    But my concerns are about what he’s going to do or read online, not about what I’ve posted about him as an infant or toddler. As he gets older, I’ve posted about him much less, and eventually will likely not post about him here at all. We’ll see.

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