Brian Edwards has raised the issue of online anonymity again in The Anonymity Pandemic.
This has prompted much discussion, including a parallel thread at The Standard: The privilege of real-name blogging.
All the usual arguments for and against anonymity come up.
A key part of this debate came late at The Standard in a comment from ‘Jenny’:
Edwards and others are upset by what people are saying on the blogs. not by who they are.
I can’t speak for Brian but I get the impression that most complaints are not about what is said, but rather how things are said. There’s a valid question about people (usually hiding behind pseudonyms) who abuse and attack and harrass on blogs. As I’ve said before – I think it’s the misuse of pseudonyms that’s the real issue, not the use of them.
Jenny goes on:
That is his right. The real message behind his plaint; Due to the democratising power of the internet, too many people are now having a say. The previous gatekeepers of political debate like himself can feel their power to shape public perceptions slipping away from them.
As uncomfortable as it may be for media ‘personalities’ like Edwards, having to address the ideas raised in blogs like this one has become inescapable. If those ideas are being freely, democratically and intelligently raised and held by large amounts of people. They can no longer be ignored.
I don’t think the issue is about “those ideas are being freely, democratically and intelligently raised”.
In fact Brian addressed this in his post.
On the contrary, the writers of these blogs appear to regard the unrestricted freedom of their anonymous correspondents to say what they want, in whatever way they want, as a healthy expression of democracy.
I think it is a healthy expression of democracy – blogs provide a valuable freedom of expression (some more free than others).
… it is, in my submission, a democracy of the gutless whose commonest weapon is abuse hurled from behind the ramparts of their anonymity.
All freedoms involve responsibilities. It’s lack of the responsibility and lack of respect for the rights of others that causes most concern.
The minority who use anonymity as a gutless weapon can be used as a weapon to attack all those who choose to post under a pseudonym. That’s unfair on the many who exeercise their anonymity responsibly, but it’s what typically happens.
Bad behaviour is the main problem
If none of those using pseudonyms abused then anonymity wouldn’t be an issue. But it’s not a perfect world.
The best way to reduce criticisms of the use of pseudonyms is to reduce the misuse and abuse of them, by speaking up and confronting bad behaviour. This is partly up to blog managers and moderators, but best results come from exercising community responsibilities.
I see a lot of tacit support for abuse on blogs (as in wider society) it’s common for people to avoid getting involved in attacks on others to avoid becoming a target and a victim themselves. That’s understandable.
But if people using pseudonyms did more to confront those misusing them (forcefully but reasonably) then anonymity would become less of an issue.