‘Anonymous’ is all right for Palgrave’s Treasury…

Jerry Coyne did an amusing post yesterday about anonymous blogging. He did it as if he were Andy Rooney (an editorialist on a long-running tv news show, for non-US readers).

I’ve learned that there are people out there who run blogs but do it anonymously. Anonymously—get it? That means that they hide their identity from readers. Now when I first heard this I was astounded. After all, I’ve been a journalist for nearly seven decades, and the first thing you learn is that you stand behind your work—you take responsibility for what you say.

Well quite. And if you don’t, then most of the time – unless you’re very good at it, very clever and sharp and funny and knowledgeable – you will be taken considerably less seriously than you would be if you did take responsibility for your work. You will also be read less. I’m just not very interested in what Someone Random has to say (unless SR is good enough to have built up a reputation as SR, which takes time), and I’m also usually wary of it, because SR lacks an important motivation that the rest of us have for not doing things like lying or lapsing into scatalogical frenzies.

But some commenters on Jerry’s post sharply disagreed – mostly for bad reasons. A somewhat good or at least reasonable reason is that some people want to be free to discuss controversial ideas without fear of repelling employers or families or both.

I would still say that is at least not the best way to argue for controversial ideas, precisely because it does look evasive and unaccountable. There is an old and admirable tradition of anonymous pamphleteering, but all the same – there are drawbacks to pamphleteering that way. There are non-invidious reasons people want to know who is writing.

More to the point, however, that kind of anonymity isn’t a reason for slandering other people who are not anonymous, and doing so is ethically…suspect, shall we say.

One late commenter remarked that

I find it interesting that those who fail to understand the value of anonymity are usually those who didn’t have the privilege of growing up with the internet. It’s an unfortunate generation gap.

No; that won’t fly. Anonymous abuse does not magically become a fine thing just because it’s on the internet. For one thing it’s hardly a secret that the internet can be an incredibly nasty place, nor that anonymity is one major reason for that. For another thing, why would it?

Suppose someone at your workplace starts leaving messages all over the place saying nasty things about you or some other co-worker – anonymously. That’s not considered perfectly all right, is it? Granted I don’t get out much, but it is my understanding that that kind of thing is frowned on. Or suppose someone at a school is doing that – plastering the place with anonymous messages about a teacher or a student. Is that seen as okie dokie? No. So why would it be ok on the internet? It wouldn’t, and it isn’t.

I don’t read anonymous blogs much; it may be that I don’t read them at all (I’m not sure offhand). One I’m just not very interested, but two, I don’t trust them. Newspaper editors don’t trust anonymous sources, and neither do I. And as for anonymous ankle-biters – they’re just a joke, and they sink to their own level. No one reads them but other anonymous ankle-biters.

You did want to know that, didn’t you?

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