Sunday, July 24, 2011

Arguments against anonymity. (See also: babies and bathwater.)

Online commenting: the age of rage | Technology | The Observer

Troll, well ... Orc ... close enough. 

Arthur Schoepenhauer wrote well on the subject 160 years ago: 'Anonymity is the refuge for all literary and journalistic rascality,' he suggested. 'It is a practice which must be completely stopped. Every article, even in a newspaper, should be accompanied by the name of its author; and the editor should be made strictly responsible for the accuracy of the signature. The freedom of the press should be thus far restricted; so that when a man publicly proclaims through the far-sounding trumpet of the newspaper, he should be answerable for it, at any rate with his honour, if he has any; and if he has none, let his name neutralise the effect of his words. And since even the most insignificant person is known in his own circle, the result of such a measure would be to put an end to two-thirds of the newspaper lies, and to restrain the audacity of many a poisonous tongue.' 
The internet amplifies Schopenhauer's trumpet many times over. Though there are repressive regimes when anonymity is a prerequisite of freedom, and occasions in democracies when anonymity must be preserved, it is clear when those reservations might apply. Generally, though, who should be afraid to stand up and put their name to their words? And why should anyone listen if they don't?
The pull above is the end of a longer article, but I think if we can talk about the points made here, we'll pretty much cover my responses to the arguments against the use pseudonyms.

With regard to newspapers and reporting I feel pretty strongly that what bloggers, tweeters, g+ers, ffers, etc. do is not journalism. It looks like journalism at times. It may even masquerade a journalism. At times it can even be as informative as journalism, but it is not the Fourth Estate. I don't think we even need to address Schopenauer's argument about requiring the true authorship of reporting in the discussion about blogging, forums, social media, and commenting because we're not comparing apples to apples. He may have been right; however, I don't think we need to think to hard to imagine a case where revealing authorship could endanger the life or freedom of a reporter and imagine a scenario where perhaps on the only editor should be known, in effect vouching for the reporter, while allowing the reporter to remain anonymous to provide for her safety and continued reporting. People demanding the same accountability of social media users and commenters (!) are really applying the wrong standards.

Who should be afraid to put their names by their words outside of authoritarian regimes? I assume he means besides battered women? And confidential informants? And whistleblowers? How about less dramatic examples like those on the receiving end of racism? Should a black man relating his experience of accidentally walking into a Klan bar (yes, they still exist) while travelling be expected to attach his real name (address, phone number?) to the a blogpost describing the experience? Isn't it valuable still for those stories to be told, so people are aware how dangerous it still is to be black in the American south without the guy telling that story having to worry about a burning cross showing up on his lawn?

Why should anyone listen to the story told by an anonymous individual? Uh, is anyone forcing them to?  Last I checked my stats, I hadn't marshaled an army of enslaved readers. Don't want to read what I have to say? Skip it. It's really not hard.  Offended by trolls? Yeah, me too. You know what though? You don't have the right to live unoffended.  Sorry to be the one to break it to you.  Disgusted by what your fellow humans say under the cloak of anonymity? Yep, me too. (I'm also disgusted by what Ann Coulter says every time she opens her mouth and we know here name.) Still, would we know how deep and extensive the problem of moral retardation and ignorance is in this country if the commenters on hate sites like Fox Nation were afraid to speak their minds because they'd have to put their names to their homophobic, Christian extremist, and racists screeds?

Does the sheer volume of trolls and spammers ruin much of the internet?  Yes, I think I'd agree they do. It's a human (and 'bot) cesspool out there. Do I really need to pay for that though? Do you need to know my name and address to have a discussion with me about politics, philosophy, religion, or chat about what we're reading and listening to?  If so, why? Really, why? I've been here (well, at before there was a here, but blogging, as 'cdog/cdogzilla') for a long, long time. I'll answer your questions, I'm willing to stand corrected when it's warranted. If you make a convincing argument and change my mind -- it can be done -- I'll acknowledge that.  I'll give credit where it's due when it happens. What else do you want from me?

I'm not going anywhere. Unless I'm censored, in which case you can just carry on without me and I'll go back to my reading.

[ Last update: pseuds are a hot topic and I'm not going to even try to link all the articles and posts, so here's one just one more by Scicurious.]

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