Wednesday, March 21

In defense of Anonymity

I am a big fan of Tom Belford and Roger Craver because of their work at The Agitator. They write about relevant news with expert insight combined with uncany access to some of the country's best fundraising experts and professionals.

So, imagine my horror to read Tom's new post: Anonymity Sucks.

Whether in the context of ...

* Posting a "Big Sister" Hillary video.
* Writing an blog "evaluating" charities.
Making a "Comment" on someone's website or blog.
* Sneaking a contribution to a political candidate.
* Faking "grassroots support" for a legislative goal.
Hiding behind an e-mail nom de plume.

Anonymity used to attack or manipulate springs from cowardice and/or malice.

It is the antithesis of integrity.

It is the enemy of authentic discourse.

Whatever merit the message might hold.


I added the emphasis myself on lines that hit close to home for me.

Sure, I'm an anonymous fundraiser who works at a charity and is reluctant to use my real name and professional affiliation online. However, in my defense, it was always my hope that readers of my blog understand that the online identity of "a fundraiser" has an honest point of view, shared without malice. If anything I often regret that my online reputation as "a fundraiser" may be wider known than my real identity because "a fundraiser's" ethics and integrity (not to mention brilliant sense of humor) is solid... with the hundreds of regular readers.

I would go one step further. I think Tom is wrong.

I believe users of "Web 2.0" need to be granted the ability to create online identities protect their real names while still ensuring an authentic discourse backed by the reputation of that identity.

People who play online virtual world games like The Sims and Second Life understand this important distinction... so do people who use online chatrooms and message boards.

Using my identity as "a fundraiser" translates into a reputation. I've worked hard to build and protect this reputation.

Tom could never convince me that online reputations are the antithesis of integrity... I believe it is one of the essential core tenants of a successful and thriving web community.


Bob McInnis said...

Anonymity as you seem to admit is a shield. I read your blog regularly but don't have an opinion of your alias's ethics or bias. For me credibility is always questioned in anonymous postings or comments. Your argument that Web 2.0 allows for the creation of avatars and alternate personalities doesn't work for me. To compare citizen journalism (social media) with 2nd life ( socialization)seems like a hollow defense.

Anonymous said...

I agree... but then again... I am an Anonymous poster.

Anonymous said...

this from Chicago Tribune:

The creator of a widely circulated viral web video portraying Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Clinton as an Orwellian Big Brother was identified Wednesday as an employee of an Internet consulting firm that works for one of her opponents, Sen. Barack Obama.

The Obama campaign denied any involvement in the ad and the consulting firm said it fired the employee immediately after the company learned of his role.

The wide reach of the ad-it has received more than 1.7 million views on YouTube in just a few days-and the unmasking of its anonymous maker offer a glimpse of the changed media landscape of a nascent presidential campaign that is already bitterly competitive 10 months before the first primary.

Jesse said...

I would argue there's a difference between anonymity and pseduonymity -- the reader has no idea who "anonymous" is or what they're about, but "a fundraiser" has a history and a reputation. It's the avatar argument, and I think that's different from pure anonymity.

Jeff Brooks said...

Your anonymity is okay with me. Because you probably had to choose between speaking out anonymously and not speaking out at all.

I do think being anonymous (and responsible) imposes a higher standard on you than someone who's not going incognito: You need to be careful that you never use anonymity to be a jerk. If a blogger who uses his own name is a jerk, he'll have to live with the consequences to his reputation.

So post away. And thanks for saying the things you say.

RaisondeBlog said...

for obvious reasons, the Internet is still the Wild West--to this day I am dodging email bullets. Tom is doing the same.

Because of the nature of the World Wild Web, I am currently wearing my kevlar firewall and my anti-virus helmet.

on the other hand, in the mind of the great spy computer--blinking in an underground bunker, or wherever--I am transparent. even here, I have left my digital fingerprints. While the spy computer itself continues to remain anonymous.

My words may reach more people here than a side street conversation would, and most users are more interested in opinions than profiles. In that sense anonymity is a moot point.

Anonymous said...

On behalf of whoever I am, I'd be fine knowing who you people are, but keep your hands away from my shadowy mask. Thank you.

Mark Petersen said...

I can totally understand your perspective, and think you know best whether to reveal your identity or not given your unique circumstances. I'm also in a similar situation, except as a donor. In my case I decided to start a blog and tie it to my real name. It's been scary to be this vulnerable, and time will tell if it was a good decision or not.

BTW I love your blog title.

Paul Botts said...

Anonymity has always seemed to me to be broadly inconsistent with the values which I treasure so much about this society. Hence for anything that matters at all to me (including my non-profit-sector blog) I decline to be anonymous; I also discount the credibility of anyone who isn't willing to stand behind whatever it is they have to say. Moreover, having been a newspaper reporter myself and having a close relative who is a lifer in that field I'm pretty dubious about the "anonymous sources are necessary" argument from both a journalistic and a civic perspective.

None of that makes me conclude that being anonymous is "immoral", which is the tone I detect from the "anonymity sucks" verbiage. It is a choice which everyone is free to make, and I have enjoyed "Don't Tell The Donor" regardless of it. What I have not been willing to do, and never will be, is to quote an anonymous blogger as a source of any authoritative information or thought. That is the price of being anonymous.

And no, I have no idea who has been behind the curtain and yes, I look forward to finding out!