Got an opinion? Attach your real name to it

Back in my days as an editorial-page editor in New England, I would eat breakfast in the same diner each morning. And, each morning, the diner regulars and not-so-regulars would grace me with their learned opinion of my bylined commentary or editorial of the day before:

“That was just plain wrong.” Or the Leno line: “What the hell were you thinking?” Or the ever-popular “That’s bullshit” and “You’re a moron.”

Then, in I-know-better-than-you fashion, they’d tell me what the column or editorial should have said. I’d take out my reporter’s notebook and write down what they were saying. They’d notice and ask what I was doing.

“Well, your point is interesting,” I’d say. “I believe in running opinion on the editorial page that disagrees with our editorials or my columns. So I’m going to put your opinion in the paper. All I need is your name, please.”

None ever offered a name. None was willing to attach his or her name to an opinion in public. None stood up for what he or she believed. That’s the point Tom Grubisich makes about Internet opinion in today’s Washington Post. Internet opinion or commentary is much like that diner: No real names required.

Here’s Tom’s lede:

These days we want “transparency” in all institutions, even private ones. There’s one massive exception — the Internet. It is, we are told, a giant town hall. Indeed, it has millions of people speaking out in millions of online forums. But most of them are wearing the equivalent of paper bags over their heads. We know them only by their Internet “handles” — gotalife, runningwithscissors, stoptheplanet and myriad other inventive names.

Some newspaper editors may be to blame for the perception that the press likes readers’ opinions without real names attached. As early as the ’80s, back in my news biz days, some papers would install comment phone lines. You, the reader, could simply phone in your opinion and not leave your name. The newspaper would transcribe the phone recordings and print them.

Watch some CNN news programs. The same nameless protocol applies. Take the “Cafferty File” on Wolf Blitzer’s “Situation Room” program. Jack Cafferty, early in the program, offers an opinion. (No problem there; he attaches his name and makes it clear it’s his opinion.) Then he asks viewers to respond by e-mail to a question. At the end of the program, he reads some answers on air. Others are posted online.

None has a full name attached. CNN’s not alone in doing this, either.

Newspapers and television news programming have lent sanction to the notion of unsourced opinion from readers and viewers. Newspaper and broadcast reporters have been overusing unnamed sources in their stories for decades. Is it any wonder that the Internet has become a haven for any opinion — and no attach-your-name-you-wimp requirement?

Consider what unfiltered, unsigned opinion has done. Some really good ideas for fostering community commentary have gone down literally in Internet “flames.” Witness the Los Angeles Times’ wiki editorial experiment. Would posters and commenters be so quick to act like profane jerks if they could be quickly and clearly identified?

Mr. Grubisich notes that some news organizations that operate blogs and wikis are beginning to change their philosophies by requiring more disclosure on the part of bloggers and commenters.

It’s in the best interest of those who value good opinion. And a good opinion does not have to be one I agree with. It just has to be sufficiently credible to make me think and reconsider an idea or issue.

Writing opinion is hard work: It takes research, reflection, common sense, attention to detail — and a real name attached to it. That lends credibility. Shooting from the hip — with no name attached — fails to advance critical thinking on any issue.

I covered town meetings in New England for many years — the real ones, in which townspeople argued about issues and the town budget, not the fake, televised and scripted “town meetings” favored by politicians.

People stood up and said: “My name is John Smith. Here’s what I think …”

The Internet — and the press — would do well to emulate that New England exercise in opinion and governance.

My name is Denny Wilkins.

xpost: 5th Estate

43 replies »

  1. This is an interesting post – good food for thought but i completely disagree with your conclusion. Internet can, in a way, be anonymous. But it means more to be able to go and see a collection of someone’s writings under their ‘tag’ than it does to be told by any media that “Martin Butkis is an expert on the environmental impact of hydrocarbons’ when all that may really mean is that the pundit of choice has been a media advisor to Exxon/ Checron/ Shell for 15 years.

    Many poems and sayings hold value on the basis of their content, although the author’s name may be forgotten. This doesn’t strictly apply to news or opinion but the content of a piece and the nature of argument and analysis surely gives greater weight to its merit than 2 words attached at the beginning or end. I write for alternative media in my country and we write ‘properly’ – fact checking, giving right of reply, and generally avoiding hysterical hyperbole. I don’t attach my name to my blog because I don’t want it to provide an easy reason for certain interviewee’s doors to either close or be harder to open than they already are.

    I think that you overrate the value of these mainstream sources in constructing our attitudes, especially as you neither acknowledge the fact that many pseudonymites haven’t necessarily been heavily receptive to them nor consider that there may be a multitude of other reasons why people choose not to use their birth names that are associated with the modern cultural context. Not completely definitively in this regard, I’d say to check out Baghdad Burning and consider whether the writer’s choice to post as Riverbend somehow detracts from the impact or value of her writing. Just one case where ‘wimp’ sure as hell does not apply.

    Thanks for thinking out loud though Denny, 😉 typingisnotactivism

  2. There are people out there with real reasons for anonymity. Whistleblowers, for instance, and people who may face violent retribution for voicing unpopular opinions in their towns. I can imagine that if I were a gay man with political opinions in a lot of small towns across America, I might want to keep my name out of it.

    However, I just described a VERY small percentage of the actual cases on anonymity on the Net. The function that anonymity usually serves online is to cover for trolling, to provide safety for flame-baiters, and to enable the Great Leveling, whereby people with no credentials, no credibility, no real knowledge of any sort can sit back and take pot shots at people who HAVE done something in life, who have put their names and reputations out there and who are willing to have an honest discussion about an issue.

    When I encounter an anonymous poster I look to see if what I’m reading suggests a valid justification for anonymity. If not, I assign less credibility than I would otherwise. And if I’m reading a comment that’s close to or arguably over the line, standing behind it with your real name gets you the benefit of any doubt.

  3. Sam, exactly the point about anonymity that Tom Grubisich makes later in his editorial:

    Online pioneer Vin Crosbie suggests that sites — whether personal blogs, community sites or major news providers — should be flexible enough to grant pseudonyms to users who want to blow a whistle. This would require sites to make decisions on a case-by-case basis. How often would such intervention be required? Not enough to require most sites to hire extra staff.

  4. I appreciate all the points made so far — and the articulate writing in which they were made.

    Re: anonymity

    In five years as an editorial-page editor, I ran three unsigned letters to the editor. All had been victims of sexual assault; all three letters spoke to larger issues than their own circumstances.

    Yes, anonymity has its place. But who defines “flexibility” and “case by case” as Grubisich’s piece suggests? I guess the “publisher” (which, in sense, was me as edit-page chief) makes the “rules” as needed.

    But even then, I’d argue that the granting of anonymity be accompanied by the reasons anonymity was granted. That rule (although often broken in reality) is part of many journalism organizations’ ethics codes.

    Re: “overrate the value of these mainstream sources in constructing our attitudes”

    At the risk of offending, it’s hard for me to buy that argument given that so much principal reporting done by mainstream news organiztions is the foundation of what Internet bloggers and posters comment on — and cite as evidence.

    Mainsteam journalism continues to be a principal source of the hard news discussed in blogs.

    Then there’s the issue of “constructing our attitudes.” I’ll let Doc Sammy, if he chooses, tackle the notion of media effects. I still don’t believe that media messages have the power to cause changes in attitude, behavior or opinion. I continue to believe the media can’t tell us how to think but can tell us what to think about.

    Buried in that agenda-setting role of the mainstream press and the anonymity of online commentary lies little more than cacophony.

    Thanks for your comments. I appreciate them.

  5. Oh Yeah! Great idea. Make it even easier for the Christo-Fascists to blacklist those of us, with brains still intact, living in Jesusland

  6. Anonymity allows people to say what’s REALLY on their minds, without fear of those thoughts being traced back in a way that might embarrass or humiliate them. Often, I play devil’s advocate on forums, and explore possible perspectives that I’m not personally dedicated to. I would be turned-off from doing this if my real name were attached.

    Could you imagine? What if I were seriously trying to debate a middle ground between Holocaust denial and Holocaust orthodoxy? In this case, even a healthy curiosity about the facts can be construed as racist, and I’d prefer not to attach a name in that case.

    I don’t have friends who care to debate ‘controversial’ stuff, but I don’t want my name attached to EVERY possible angle I’ve ever taken in a debate.

    The free exchange of ideas would be severely limited by the fact that you would be held accountable for everything you’ve ever said. And not only that, but every person you’ve countered would have your name. In my case, that’s a number in the thousands, and I don’t trust that one out of those thousands is NOT a crazed, violent stalker.

    The internet is great for debate precisely because of anonymity. If my name were attached to everything I typed, I’d be forced to conduct the same self-censorship I maintain at work. And thus, would see no point in going online.

    Could you imagine your boss googling you, and seeing every political argument you’ve ever been in? Or your prospective employer, or the girl you just met at a coffee shop? It’d be like passing out your diary to the world.

    Terrible idea.

  7. I propose controversial ideas, some of which I’m not sure I believe, all the time. And I do with my name on it. Sure, there are orthodoxies out there, on “both” sides, and they can land hard on those who challenge the divine correctness of their dogma. Believe me, I know this.

    But these hierarchies of bad thinking are never brought down by those who won’t attach their names to their critiques. They’re brought down by smart people who stand in front of them and call them on it. So long as you’re having to critique from behind the cover of anonymity they can dismiss you out of hand and claim the moral high ground. “We can speak what we think in the open – our opponents have to hide because their opinions can’t stand the sunlight.”

  8. Another one for William: let’s say I buy your rationale. Say I buy it completely, and think sure, you’re posting something potentially inflammatory, makes sense to do it anonymously.

    What is it about your comment on THIS post that’s so dangerous you can’t even stand behind IT? This is a pretty civil community and I’ve posted a couple comments already today that are far more radical than anything you’re saying here, but I’m almost certain that 1@1.com isn’t your real address.

    So what’s REALLY going on here?

  9. Denny:

    Go back to making Grand Slam’s.

    Anonymous commentary is the absolute oldest and most honorable means of expressing political commentary. This was necessary when absolutism was the most common if not exclusive form of gov’t. It began with graffiti (Flavius Maximus is a cocksucker!) and continued including Madison, Hamilton and Jay when writing the Federalist Papers. Franklin was a great user of the anonymous commentary. Fucking duh.

    Identifying yourself is what you do at a town meeting or press conference. Outside of those contexts, no one really gives a rat’s ass who the person is– unless, of course, they want to retaliate against them in a non-verbal way. The internet is just a big old poster to contain what used to be graffiti and anonymous pamphleteering.

    Now you want to end that because your widdle panties are wadded up due to some bonehead plans you liked getting canned by the flaming. As Michael Cain once said, “Got an issue? Here’s a tissue.”

  10. And there, Denny, is a great example of what I was talking about in my comment above (#2).

    Yeah, this is EXACTLY what Madison and Franklin were like….

  11. I will go along with this when the right wing noise machine stops creating waves of front groups with misleading names and shadowy funding sources.

    Remember “Swift Boat Veterans For Truth”? Is there any doubt that they were merely sock puppets for the same (anonymous!) nutcase crazies who have been surreptitiously funding all this stuff all along? In the end their wild accusations never come to anything except distractions. Look how “swiftboating” has become standard term for harebrained accusations with no substance to them.

    What are the names of the people who put them, and the myriad groups like them, on the map in the first place? When that is clear in all cases you may have a point.

    Till then this sounds like yet another attempt at a hatchet job on one of the few places remaining where regular people can gather, learn, organize, and push back at the vast right wing noise machine. Sorry, ain’t buying your little attempt at sabotage.

  12. Good lord – you looked S&R over and concluded that we’re here so we can lure progressives out in the open so we can swiftboat them?

    Wow. Just … wow.

    I guess I reiterate what I said above. You don’t bring down evil empires anonymously. And there are no anonymous leaders.

  13. I’ve always put my name on every email I send, every opinion I’ve stated, every blog and comment I’ve posted. Because I think it’s raw cowardice not to without a damn good reason. And half-baked conspiracy theories don’t qualify as a damn good reason.

    If I’m going to take a controversial position that I don’t necessarily agree with, I often preface it with something like “being a devil’s advocate here” so you know that I’m trying to get you to think about what you’re saying instead of necessarily stating a serious opinion. But in-my-not-even-remotely-dreaming-about-considering-being-humble-opinion, if you’re afraid of saying something publically without your name attached to it, maybe you shouldn’t say it at all, or better yet, find a socially appropriate way to say it. There’s a concept called a social contract, after all….

    Anonymity does allow whistleblowers, victims of violence, and members of oppressed minorities the opportunity to have a voice they might not otherwise have. But that should be the limit of anonymity.

  14. Could you imagine your boss googling you, and seeing every political argument you’ve ever been in? Or your prospective employer, or the girl you just met at a coffee shop? It’d be like passing out your diary to the world.

    Yep, I sure can. And you know what? My view of this is really simple – if my current or prospective employer has issues with my online social/political speech, then I probably don’t want to work for them. Oh, and I work for a company that does probably 99% of its business with the federal government.
    The easy way to handle this is to never post about your work in any way that could be tied back to the company. Does this qualify as self-censorship? Considering that I signed a non-disclosure agreement when I started working, I don’t consider it self-censorship. I consider it staying within the spirit of my signed agreements and thus a stand on principle. If I were to post about my job anonymously, I’d be an unprincipled weasel who didn’t deserve the trust, or the salary and benefits, of the company I work for.
    And it’s not your diary you’re passing out to the world. If you’re putting something up on the Web, it’s up for public consumption, warts and all, unless you’ve password protected it or isolated it behind firewalls. Everything you say online is like screaming from a soapbox in a public market, even the supposedly “private” stuff. If you don’t want people to scream back at you, don’t shout from your soap box to start with. Come back and try again when you’ve got a valid analogy.

  15. It is all about credibility.

    And, accountability.

    As independent journalists, editors and photographers the bar is higher for us as is the price, given that our colleagues died in record numbers in 2006.

    Robert S. Finnegan
    Southeast Asia News

  16. I have faced repercussions in the workplace, before, for being too free with my political opinions. Have you, Denny? Have you, “Dr. Slammy”?

    Denny, are you really arguing that those commentators throughout history who wrote under a pen name had no credibility because they did so, and Ann Coulter and Michelle Malkin do have credibility because they use their real names? Are all of those Washington Post articles (or New York Times articles) assuring us that Saddam had WMD before the war and that all of the violence in Iraq is due to Iran credible because they come from “transparent” institutions? Are the cozy relations that the journalists enjoy with the Bush administration really so “transparent” — are they completely exposed to the light of day because journalists and commentators use their real name as their byline?

    Sam, you are right that “there are no anonymous leaders”. Not all of us, though, aspire to political office like you do. We are not all trying to be leaders; many of us are just trying to participate in a community, and one thing I’ve learned over the years is there are no trustworthy political leaders. You don’t rightly earn anyone’s trust just by using your real name; you earn it over time by matching your words with deeds. Are you really suggesting that blog comments should only be open to aspiring leaders?

    And asking “what is it about your comment on THIS post that’s so dangerous you can’t even stand behind IT” is terribly foolish. Are you arguing that is better to use different names for different purposes so each post stands alone and cannot be connected to a persona than to consistently use a single pen name so that all your posts can be connnected to a persona just as well as if you had used your real name? What if I legally change my name? Does that count, or is only my birth name valid? What are the magical qualities of this “real name” you speak of that lends instant credibility to the poster more so than the weight of the argument itself? Do you think that ad hominem attacks are a valid sort of argument? If not, why does the person’s real life identity matter more than the weight of their argument, or for that matter, the ability to follow the threads of all of their arguments if they use a consistent pen name?

    What is any of this supposed to solve, anyway? You mention the problem of trolls. Is that what this is really all about? Are you seriously suggesting that if we just get every single human being on this planet who uses the internet to abide by the honor system and follow the rule that we only post under our real name then blogs will only get thoughtful, deliberate comments from now on? Is this a serious proposal or just another one of those fanciful daydreams about a perfect world that would work just swell if everyone would just follow the rules with which way too many people who like to pretend they are engaged in politics entertain themselves? With all due respect, it is hard for me to take this as a serious proposal for solving the problem of trolling.

    If you want to solve the problem of trolls, it is quite easy: censor their posts. This blog is not the internet. It is just one very small community on the internet. Every community has the right to defend its integrity against those who simply wish to disrupt it. You are not violating anyone’s free speech if you tell disruptors “Go somewhere else. You are not welcome, here”. But to tell those of us who have a day job where we can face consequences for freely expressing our opinions and who are not trying to be “leaders” of anything that we are not welcome, but racist trolls are welcome so long as they use their real name — with all due respect, to me this just smacks of a thinly concealed elitism. Everyone views the world throught the lens of their own experience; it is human nature. For those engaged in careers where personal reputation is capital that is vital to advancing their career — such as academics, pundits, and politicians — there is an inclination to view the whole world through the lens of their life-long struggle to establish and develop such a reputation. In their own life, there is no separation between expressing views, establishing personal integrity, and advancing a career; they are all one and the same. It is all too easy to project that view outward toward the whole world and not see why it should be any different for anyone else. This view ends up concealing an unconscious elitism — an ivory-tower view of the world that thinks that all people benefit by just acting the same way academics or pundits do. If you have staked your career on building a reputation based on the views you express, that is so. But for those of us who have day jobs, whose careers are staked on matters very different from our politics, who nonetheless care about the world, seek to educate ourselves in our spare time, and seek to engage somehow even though we still need to worry about our day jobs, it is not the same as it is for you pundits and academics.

    Sure, there are those who abuse anonymity. There are also those who abuse the personal authority they have by virtue of “credentials” or a reputation otherwise obtained for ignominious aims. Should we therefore denouce credentials? Should we insist that everyone post anonymously so that no one can abuse their credentials or personal authority to disingenouly lend credence to positions that don’t deserve it? If not, then why is anonymity treated differently just because it is abused by some?

    My pen name is Mike Breton. I have no “credentials” to qualify me to express political opinions. If you have a problem with that, then censor my post. I can always go elsewhere to express my views if I am not welcome here.

  17. Nobody is my friend in this world. I don’t want to be chopped up and fed to pigs. I have things to say that I don’t even like. How am I assured you won’t hold something I say against me when it comes to employment housing and food when this farce falls on it’s face. Not that I think there is any true anonymity with NSA is on the case. Nah I am going to continue with a nom du plume or two whatever for the time being. I don’t to make anything easy for anybody.
    ps does anyone else think that both sides are stalling while the plundering goes on

  18. Mike: Have I faced repercussions? Maybe. Probably. But I’ll never know for sure. I’ve been an out-of-the-broom-closet pagan for years and anybody who visited my Web site knew it. I never got beat up or harassed – then again, I’m 6’2″ and 215. I’m not naive. And I never said there was NO room for anonymity. (And there’s no need to italicize “Dr. Slammy” – my name is plenty public, here and elsewhere.)
    What I said is that it gets abused. A LOT. Something you acknowledge. And my experience tells me that for every seriously good reason I encounter I also encounter 100 of the other.
    But let’s ask this, like I did the guy above. Say I buy your argument. What is it that makes it so important that you use a pseudonym in THIS comment thread? You’re hardly advocating anything that’s even remotely controversial.
    In addition, it’s as you say about the NSA. You’re not silly enough to think the faux anonymity of the technology here protects you against the real threats. I guess I just wonder to what extent people are acting on something that doesn’t quite register with me.
    In any case, you’re not likely to get censored here so long as you’re rational. And while I don’t agree with you on this one, you seem smart and well-informed and more than capable of civil exchanges.
    That’s about all I can ask, isn’t it?

  19. I disagree. If we have the freedom to speak, then we have the freedom to speak without identifying ourselves. Its up to the audience whether they want to believe our words.

    This country targets people who identify themselves for their speech. WHy would I want to make their job any easier?

  20. Sam: I’m glad you acknowledge there are SOME legitimate uses for anonymity. I’d feel better if you’d acknowledge there is MORE legitimate uses for anonymity than you have so far acknowledged; but more importantly, I’d feel better if those who have been trying to make opposition to anonymity on the internet a cause celebre would acknowledge that there are SOME legitimate uses for anonymity.

    I do acknowledge that there a real problem with trolls. I don’t acknowledge that anonymity is the core of the problem (though it certainly makes things easier for them), and I think that if the problem is trolls then that is what we should address as the problem, not anonymity itself, which is what this blog post criticizes. I think the problem of trolls is reflective of a broader problem in our culture. For one thing, there are always going to be creeps out there who do this, just like there will always be those creeps who send white powder in envelopes to people in the mail, or who key someone’s car or slash their tires, or for that matter, leave a burning sack of poop on their doorstep, ring their doorbell and run away. However, I think there is a coarseness in our culture today that has been made far worse than need be because it is being fed by a corporate opinion-industry that finds feeding controversy more profitable than informing the electorate. Anyone who turns to mass media outlets is fed a constant diet of inflammatory character asssasination disguised as political rhetoric, and that breeds a lot of imitators on the net. It is laughable that we are now hearing commentators in the mass media lament the coarseness of “debate” in the blogosphere, and some are trying to say the real problem is anonymity. It is not. That is not the problem. This lament from mass media outlets is like the owner of a factory that dumps massive amounts of chemical waste into a river complaining that some people downstream have started tossing litter into the river. To paraphrase a line from the Bible, instead of lecturing anonymous bloggers about the splinter in our eye, they should be tending to the timber in their own eye.

    As for the NSA, that was someone else who mentioned them, not me. I’m concerned politically about the huge potential for abuse of power and the insatiable apetite for unaccountable power that our political elite display, but I am not paranoid about gestapo busting down my front door over an opinion I express in a blog post. However, I am concerned about coworkers or employers knowing about my political activities. It doesn’t concern them; they don’t need to know about it, and it complicates things for me if they do know about it. And employers do search the web for this sort of stuff.

    Finally, as for why I use a pseudonym in THIS comment thread: I can’t speak for the person whom you first responded to with that question; I can only speak for myself. I personally am using a pseudonym in THIS comment thread because I consistently use the same pseudonym in ALL posts of mine. I did not always do so, but awhile ago I decided to try to set myself apart somewhat from the trolls by picking a pen name and consistently sticking with it so that comments I post (and any blog I maintain if I ever start my own blog) can be identified with a consistent persona, even if that persona cannot be easily connected with my real-life persona. That’s just my approach.

    I may be going out on a limb, here, but I suspect that some people (aside from the trolls) post anonymously not just out of fear of an employer seeing their posts, but also for psychological reasons. I think the internet is making it easier for people who are not accustomed to doing so to step forward and offer their views, but it is also intimidating for those who are unaccustomed to doing so. Whatever legitimate fear there may be, it can become magnified and exaggerated by a lack of confidence (and perhaps an oversensitivity to criticism), and that lack of confidence (or oversensitivity to criticism) can only be overcome over time with practice. I would argue that in spite of the widespread abuse, anonymity provides a sort of easy on-ramp for those who feel so intimidated to dip their toe in the water and start engaging themselves in debate. Many will lapse into becoming trolls, but some may actually acquire some confidence, develop a thicker skin, and actually become informed and engaged citizens. Maybe that does not happen as much as I think it might, but it still seems to me a good thing to hold out that prospect.

    I think it is up to each blog to set clear policy on what is acceptable for comments on that particular blog. I don’t think it is an attack on free speech to censor inappropriate comments on a particular blog if that is done in a transparent fashion — one consistent with the declared policy on comments. That is the best solution for trolls (though it unfortunately places an extra burden on the maintainer of the blog, which is admittedly frustrating).

    Anonymity is, I think, something that contributes to free speech and is worth defending even if the abuse-to-fair-use ratio is 100 to 1. Laments from commentators in the mass media about the coarsenees of debate in the blogosphere are not worth taking seriously. When I hear one of those commentators complain about how all of the Bill O’Reillys, Glenn Becks, and Rush Limbaughs of the world have poisoned political discourse in our culture and bred armies of imitators on the net, I’ll start listening. Until then, their laments about how “anonymous” bloggers have coarsened political discourse are simply laughable.

  21. Um, bullshit. With every right comes an equal responsibility, and the rampant anonymity of the Web destroys that fundamental balance. Anonymity as it’s presently practiced on the Web does not represent a type of freedom, it represents anarchy and, in some case, actual illegality.

    And I for one find the level of anarchy I see reprehensible and unethical.

  22. A story in the NY Times today (5/14) stated that a man was stopped from entering the US from Canada because the Customs agent did an internet search on the man and discovered articles the man had written in the 70s which were pro-marijuana, LSD, etc. and libertarian in general. The man has crossed into the US hundreds of times to visit his children in Seattle and hasn’t used illegal drugs in decades, and he doesn’t regret his use. Now, he’s considered unwelcome here. Anonymity is essential to the net to express opinion, otherwise, free speech will die in the name of avoiding “thought crime”

  23. I thoroughly enjoyed that.

    While I would defend anyone’s right to post anonymously, I would also defend anyone’s right to require disclosure – as I have always required in my newspaper’s letters to the editors.

    Might I mention a funny side-effect to the prevalence of anonymous postings?

    Despite using my real name, I have had to seriously contemplate going to court to add quotation marks to my name.

    In an ironic twist, anonymous posters tend to distrust the veracity of posters who put their names as if “Jeff Barea” is untrustworthy almost by virtue of saying they are Jeff Barea.

  24. We start to have a problem when the Michelle Malkins and Ann Coulters of the world use their comparatively huge megaphonesa to publish the names and addresses of people whose opinion they don’t like and encourage (either implicitly or explicitly) violence or intimidation against them.

    I say require even stricter accountibility in the paid media (which is, after all, someone’s active choice to pay to support), and none in the blogosphere (where people can simply ignore opinions if they disagree with them).

  25. I think it’s a shame that there is a real cross-purposes exchange happening here and that none of the obviously intelligent/passionate posters here has identified it as such.

    1. validity of anonymity in print
    2. validity of anonymity on Net

    and newly arisen in string
    3. differing obligation of the journalist as opposed to the commentator
    4. the code of morality for those intent on overthrowing the system from their keyboard.

    1. yes, re print – without the linkability that allows a personal assessment of the writer’s credibility, although there can be exceptional contextual circumstances, anonymity in print will weaken the potential impact or plausibility of most articles.
    2. Nothing posted here so far convinces me otherwise regarding previous opine on net-anonymity/use of tag.
    3. Mr Finnegan – good call, but I think it is also contextual and the only hard and fast rules should be common sense, credible research, and respect for the reader. That said, Seymour Hersh, for example, would be dismissed if filing anonymously but that reflects point 1 more than it affirms the unacceptability of adaptation to technology through the consistent use of a trackable-to-source online i.d.
    4. Brain Angliss, you seem to be inadvertently creating a spin zone. “with every right comes an equal responsibility”. Your logic seems to follow that because we have the right to post anonymously, we have the responsibility not to, and to do otherwise on the basis of personal judgment is therefore unethical. I think that saying ‘the level of anarchy’ is akin to the notion of ‘half pregnant’. I would rather read a well-considered comment from an anonymous poster who actually seems engaged with the key words on which their argument depends – e.g. responsibility, ethical, reprehensible, anarchy – than a self-righteous and un-conscious demand for an unjustified morality from a poster who attaches their name, address, and place of birth.

  26. typingisnotactivism – Generally fair criticisms. I take this issue very seriously, and perhaps I let my emotions get away from me once or twice.

    Anonymity is presently built into the system of the Web. IP addresses and emails are inherently easy to forge and redirect, names can come and go at a whim, websites can be put up for free with a poorly programmed bot, etc. This needs to change. Why? Because for every person who legitimately uses a pseudonym or needs anonymity, there are probably 100 people who are simply jerks and have some psychological need to spout venom. Worse yet, the anonymity of the Web enables crimes such as cyberstalking, trade in child pornography, assault, etc. Because you and I are able to hide our identities, there are precious few social limitations on our behavior. So we act without thinking about the consequences, and in the process, people get hurt. Livelihoods are ruined, bloggers are driven off their blogs by death threats, people have nervous breakdowns.

    Fundamentally, our legal system is based on a simple principle – your rights end where my rights begin. There has always been tension in this, since there has to be compromises between the rights of one individual and the rights of another, and between the rights of a society and the rights of the individual. In addition, our legal system says that, if you use your rights to infringe upon mine, then you are responsible for the socially-defined consequences of that infringement. In the case of free speech, you have the right to say anything – so long as it’s not libelous or threatening. Fundamentally, our responsibilities are defined by the explicit and implicit social contracts which we are beholden to as citizens of the United States and our various communities.

    This fundamental relationship between rights and responsibilities has been totally thrown off kilter on the Web. Because anonymity is so easily acquired and so difficult to penetrate (we can change our identities every time we post or send an email if we wish to), we effectively have rights without any requirement that we use them responsibly. Theoretically the Web could police itself, and to one level it does – the obvious idiots get ignored and the trolls get collectively stomped on. But the Web as a community appears unwilling or unable to police itself when it comes to things like posted death threats, cyberstalking, and pedophilia.

    If the Web collectively is unable to police itself, there are two solutions – give everyone the tools necessary to perform the policing, or take away the right of self-policing. However, if the Web collectively is unwilling to police itself, there is but one solution – take away the right to self-policing. From what I’ve read in this thread and in countless others on similar topics around the blogosphere, the Web collectively lacks both the ability and the will to self-police, leading me to a single conclusion – it’s time for someone else to enforce order. And one of the first logical steps is to eliminate the easy anonymity that the Web offers.

    Ultimately, I’m a bit of a responsibility fundie – if you have a right to something, you have the corresponding responsibility to use it, well, responsibly. If you have a right to online anonymity, you have the corresponding responsibility not to abuse it. And right now, it’s being abused left, right, front, back, and center. So if you or your various fellow Anons can give me a way to stop the abuses and outright illegalities without eliminating anonymity nearly entirely, I’d be willing to listen to it. I haven’t been able to come up with a means to that particular end, but maybe someone else can.

    But if not, the Wild Wild Web is going to have to be tamed.

  27. Orwell – the solution to the problem you describe is not IMO anonymity, but rather laws and rules that don’t penalize you for thoughts you might have had in your (theoretically) misspent youth.

    Everyone reading this thread should read the following: Sex, Drugs, and the Internet. It’s provides much needed perspective, and even if it’s premise isn’t necessarily entirely solid (just because something is logically consistant doesn’t mean it’s factually correct, for example, although I tend to agree with his perspective in general terms), it points out some of the serious problems with anonymity taken to an extreme.

  28. I say require even stricter accountibility in the paid media (which is, after all, someone’s active choice to pay to support), and none in the blogosphere (where people can simply ignore opinions if they disagree with them).

    Eric, how do you deal with the people doing things that are downright illegal if there is no accountability?

    IMO this is the holy grail of this entire debate. I could care less about opinions if they’re rude. But there’s a difference between rudeness and sincere threats – and until we figure out how to turn the anons who pose a serious threat into the police, we’ve got a fundamental problem.

  29. If you are a dissident writer in China then you have every requirement to protect your real-world identity. However, as Salam Pax proved, you can protect a real-world identity while still having a consistent and believable media identity. The majority of online writers are not whistle-blowers or dissidents.
    I consider Americans who declare that their need to protect their identities arises from their living in a fascist state to be laughable and ludicrous. I’ve lived in a real police-state. You have no idea what it’s really like. Sanctimonious and harmonious bullshit has never been more in-eloquently expressed. You are no more than anarchists. You use your anonymity to throw virtual bricks at virtual windows. You have no intention of engaging with the system to correct the wrongs that you believe exist. All you want to do is behave like skin-head thugs targeting everyone else.
    When I read any opinion, anonymous or other, I ask myself, “Is the intention of the person merely to cast unprovable claims, or are they intending to engage and offer constructive guidance on what can be done?”
    Anyone who is intending to be constructive (even if their idea of constructive is gas chambers) usually intends to be known, or at least connected to a particular identity. Any “real” name is simply an icon until such time as you build consistent credibility over time.
    In the US – at the very least – if you believe that your idea is credible and important you may, like Sam, present your platform to the public and ask to be elected. People don’t vote for the soap-box, they vote for the real person on top of it.
    Gavin Chait

  30. BA – I hear you, thanks for engaging, Whythawk has really put perspective on the notion too. I do think though that ‘anarchy’ really means different things to different people. To some, it means dissidents bombing civillians, to others it’s the chaos of a natural disaster or violent looting, but if anarchy means ‘absolute freedom, absolute responsibility’ then it can be a paradigm in which things would actually be looking up. Teething troubles, sure, but preferable to calls for further Big Hand intervention imho.
    cheers to ya Dr. D.

  31. Dear all,
    Expressing opinions freely is a fundamental right of this Nation. I have looked carefully at this right and I see no caveats such as “Sign your real name”. Ever hear Kill the messenger kill the message? Or how about Who gives a crap about the messenger its the Message. Anybody who discredits a message solely on the messenger is just rationalizing to absolve themselves of responsibility. If you have doubts about the veracity of the Message there are plenty of avenues in which to educate yourself. Education, thats what its all about, eh Dr Slammy? Those who oppose the people posting without revealing their true names are elitest prigs. As to NSA knowing all about anybody regardless, who cares? Prove it. I won’t even get into people who post that live under authoritarian regimes(where we are headed)

  32. Dear Mr Chait,
    You wrote:
    “I’ve lived in a real police-state. You have no idea what it’s really like. Sanctimonious and harmonious bullshit has never been more in-eloquently expressed. You are no more than anarchists. You use your anonymity to throw virtual bricks at virtual windows. You have no intention of engaging with the system to correct the wrongs that you believe exist. All you want to do is behave like skin-head thugs targeting everyone else.”
    WTF? Which police state is that?
    Anybody who makes exagerated claims in comparison to people who wish to remain in anonymity. Are they like Hitler? Sure thats it, people who post under pseudonyms are like Hitlers youth. Anybody who makes the claims you do are full of B.S. Sanctamonius? Mr Chait your post should be in the dictionary as the definition of such. In fact its the laziness of people like many of the posters here that is one of the problems with this Civil society. Question, research, contemplate, meditate, decide
    Ubi Dubium ibi Liberatas

  33. Jim Jones – If you don’t see the caveats (in general), you’re not looking very hard. As I said in prior comments here and in other comments on other rights, there is not a single right guaranteed in the Constitution that isn’t subject to limitations. Speech? Libel and threatening speech laws. Assembly? Cities may require permits to gather and hold parades out of concern for public safety. Religion? You can practice your religion freely only so long as you permit others to do so as well, like not being allowed to “freely practice” when your religion says to kill gays or sacrifice black cats. Bearing arms? You’re not allowed to own machine guns without a very expensive permit, and even then they’re only older weapons, no new ones.

    Messages matter, but they are always more effective if you’re willing to stand behind them and claim them as your own. That’s called having credibility, something that someone with a long-time pseudonym can build up, but that someone who posts anonymously has a MUCH harder time with.

    As for being elitist, fine. You call me (and people like me) elitist prigs, I call you (and people like you) immoral anarchists, we both get angry, discussion ceases, and nothing changes. Gee, that was helpful.

  34. Hello,
    Maybe I am just talking to an empty room, but if anybody out here can explain how we went from being anonymous in posting opinions, pro/con to Internet, Sex, Drugs, running for office or “and until we figure out how to turn the anons who pose a serious threat into the police, we’ve got a fundamental problem.” These are “Straw Man” arguments.
    The issue is, Can anonymous posters offer any benefit? I say they can, within the context of lawful and decent behavior, all the rest is just chaff.

  35. Hello Mr Angliss,
    Is this a joke site? You called me an immoral anarchist because I called those who put more weight on the messenger then the message? Because I said they are Elitist prigs?
    a person who displays or demands of others pointlessly precise conformity, fussiness about trivialities, or exaggerated propriety, esp. in a self-righteous or irritating manner
    You, with your post, I believe validate my claim. How am I immoral?
    As to limits, you are the king of Straw men, your analogies are so lame as to be ridiculous, I wrote(paraphrasing myself:) nowhere in any law or the Constitution is free speech determined by the name of the person giving the opinion. Have you ever heard of the Federalist Paper published under a pseudonym of Publius? whose authors I think you know quite well, and because of the times did not want their identities known. Stop comparing illegal activities with violating my right to free speech.

  36. Jim Jones – as Typingisnotactivism said last night in his excellent comment above, there are multiple issues involved with anonymity on the Web, from credibility to cost/benefit trades.

    You’re pet issue is “can anon’s offer any benefit,” and the answer is obviously “yes.” I don’t believe I’ve ever claimed otherwise. My pet issue is “does the benefit of having anon’s on the Web outweigh the costs, especially regarding illegal activities,” and in my estimation the answer is no. And my solution is to make anonymity available, but more difficult through a variety of methods.

    Would you care to explain how this is a “triviality”? The fact that the comments have hit 36 (including this one) in 24 hours indicates that no-one thinks this is a trivial issue. And I’ve said, and will say again, that I don’t have a problem with anonymity for “damn good reasons.”

    I call you (and people like you) immoral not because you “put more weight on the message than the messenger,” but rather because your insistance on an unfettered “right” to anonymity makes you an accomplice to crimes like child abuse, assault, stalking, and hate speech.

    Finally, I’ll try one last time to make my point about your right to free speech. The First Amendment says that “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech”. Nope, nothing in there about having to use your real name. Fair enough. But there’s nothing in there saying that Congress is allowed to make laws barring threatening speech, or preventing libel either, yet it’s happened. Which means that either a) libel and death threats should be protected as free speech or b) the right to free speech is not absolute. If you believe a), then I’ll stand by my “immoral anarchist” assesment and our conversations on this issue are done – you’re beyond help on this one. But if you agree with b), then we have an opportunity to come to an understanding – not necessarily an agreement, but at least an understanding.

  37. Mr Angliss,
    This is a fascinating discussion, you and others seem to want to continually link perfectly legitimate speech with all kinds of other illegal activities. You called me immoral. That is slander, if I thought your way and I had gobs of money and lots of time (and i posted under my real name) I could sue you. Heck anybody can sue anyone, this is a litiguous society. As has been posted, nobody is truly anonymous on the internet, the net was created by the DOD. I thought we were discussing anonymous Opinions. Not anonymous pedophiles, stalkers, flim-flammers, etc. So you want to make my free speech more difficult because of these other unconnected illegalities that are realities. Don’t you think if this government wanted to reduce the incidents of these heinous activities that you and I abhor they could? As to threats etc it is absolutely your right to say “you want to kill me” These are words, your intent would be the deciding factor, if you said it whilst holding a loaded 44 pointed at me that is different. If you said on the internet I want to kill you mr jones or I want to have sex with your 10 year old son, that is free speech. I and every one who read it would think your nuts but I would blow it off. Intent sir. It is kind of like free will sir, it works both ways and sometimes theres a heavy price. Once you have lost it or step on the downside of the slippery slope there is no going back.

  38. Not to speak for Brian here, but I think the point he and others are making is less personal than it’s being taken. The issue is more about the SYSTEM than it is your use of it specifically. We have a system that says anonymity is fine, period. And sure, you have that right, as does everybody else. Some folks are well advised to exercise that right, too – something nobody has disputed.

    The thing is that if we imagine a system where anonymity weren’t taken as a default okay thing, it would afford those who misuse it fewer places to hide.

    I think my views are on the record here. I get that the right exists and I wouldn’t act to legally restrain that right. But at the same time we insist on our rights, we frequent refuse to acknowledge that in a functioning society those rights are attended by responsibilities. Not that the state has the power to make you behave responsibly – whatever that adds up to in the context being discussed – but that people who truly value their freedoms FEEL those responsibilities and believe that acting on them, of their own free will, makes the society a better place.

    In practice, few things are more dangerous to rights than the irresponsible exercise thereof. God may have granted those rights by Man will damned sure take them away, and the irony in this debate is that you and Brian, though you differ, are ultimately concerned about the same set of rights-snatching people in our culture. I am, too.

    I’m more than willing to afford people the benefit of the doubt. But when I look at my online experience – which began in 1993 and has been pretty active in those years – it’s like I said: anonymity is about one part good to 99 parts bad.

    I’d like to see more people like us acting to improve that ratio.

  39. Hello Mr Smith or should I call you Dr.? 🙂
    First off “Rights” are Not responsibilities. I have a right to breathe clean air regardless if I smoke. I have a right to drink clean water regardless if I go pee-pee in the lake.
    You wrote: “I get that the right exists and I wouldn’t act to legally restrain that right.” Thank you,We have myriad and numerous laws preventing people from doing illegal acts.I don’t understand your distribution 99% bad and 1% good? In surfing the net, unless I specifically seek out these sites with Intent and I don’t, I never have to deal with any of the crap. Regardless of who offers their opinion, and in fact especially if they are prominent, unless I am in agreement before hand, I question everything. I think it is a given people should be responsible, in fact we have 100s of thousands of laws attempting to keep them as such. This is the System. When people want to tie fundamental rights to the responsibilities of the people I believe this is a mistake. There might be a law preventing me from peeing in the lake if I break the law and act irresponsible do I lose my right to drink clean water? What about “Hate Speech”? Who defines it? What is a “Hate Crime”? why should that deserve more punishment then a similiar crime supposedly not commited with”Hate”.(is that some type of oxymoron?) A man loves a women deeply, unfortunately he finds out she has cheated on him and used him, so he plots and schemes and kills her. She was someones daughter, someones sister or aunt maybe. The man is caught, tried and convicted. Another man is drinking in a bar, a homosexual man comes up behind him and gooses him, the man being not all tightly wrapped, freaks out and screaming he whirls on the guy and kills him. Now because he was screaming faggot just prior to killing the guy he was additionally charged with a “Hate” crime which carrries an additional 10 years. Its all very subjective and the System is too unwieldy and becoming more so every day. How about NAMBLA? Here is an example of Group claiming an individual right(free speech) to promote a right which the individual does not have(Man-Boy love). Why are they allowed to exist? If you want to set your sights on making irresponsible people responsible I believe there is plenty out there short of the anonymous opinionated soul or blogger. Rights are not legislated, in fact its the other way around all legislation protects rights.(or should). Getting out my tin-foil hat and shaping it to my pointy head I firmly believe the establishment fears that anonymous intelligent opinionated blogger most of all.
    Best to you all

  40. Jim,

    If you insist on the technically accurate salutation, it’s “Dr.” But “Sam” works just fine – if you cared about my PhD you’d be about the only one these days.

    I was thinking after my last reply that I’m probably not doing a good enough job of essentializing my argument and cutting to the proverbial chase. So let me have another whack.

    As noted, you, Brian and I all share some concerns about those who’d attack our civil liberties. I personally think those concerns are WELL founded. There are people in the world who hate us for our freedoms, and a lot of them were born and raised American. So I get how people might feel safer saying what they have to say anonymously. And as I said before, I’m not here proposing that we legislate that right away.

    But I’m a utilitarian. I don’t always care much about the means – my ultimate concern is the ENDS. I want us to get to a point where nobody would ever even have to consider posting anonymously. They’d feel perfectly free to sign their names to everything they said. Properly educated, all those thoughts would be, well, thoughtful. And the rest of us would do as the Constitution intended – consider the ideas on their merit and discuss things intelligently. That’s my utopia.

    But how to GET there? I’m painfully conscious of the fact that in a public debate, numbers matter. It does me no good to speak for a silent majority – there’s one of me that’s willing to stand up and be counted and thousands of the rabble. As Yeats said, the best lack all conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity. In fact, if you look at the last 30 years of this nation’s history you’ll see an ungodly influence being exerted by the noisy fringe. The rambunctious few stood publicly and dominated the process while the anonymous majority had its fate decided for it.

    We wouldn’t have a “Moral Majority” running amok in the US if the real majority had spoken its mind. When the best stand and speak and put their reputations behind their convictions, that when good things happen.

    It would be interesting to sort of quantify my sense of the value of anonymous comment online. I’d be willing to bet that if you did some hard analysis you’d find that the signal:noise ratio among signed commentary was 30-40% better than among the anonymous legions. Don’t know – maybe more, maybe less.

    All I know is that anonymous blog posters aren’t going to deliver us from under the boot of the oppressive Wide Right. They’re not hiding who they are, and if we do then we cede a lot of moral high ground.

  41. Mr Jim Jones

    The police state I grew up in was South Africa – I was 20 in 1994 when we got universal suffrage for the first time. My family, while members of the communist party, were only peripherally involved. Friends of my family were less lucky.

    The US is NOT, even slightly, on the way to becoming a fascist dictatorship. If it was Bush would never have lost control of not one, but both houses.

    I also note that you pulled the Hitler stunt. Wrong place, it doesn’t scare us and it doesn’t stop the debate.

    The point about having opinions is being accountable for them. So, you want to have opinions and then not be held responsible for them. That’s nice.

    So what’s the point of them? The opinions you disagree with are voiced by real people. If they become the dominant opinions it is either because most people support them, or because most people can’t be bothered to stop them.

    No radical new idea has ever taken on the world when its proponent hides all by himself in a cave and simply carps at the outside world. You may – since that is your approach – attempt to disarm this wing of the debate by declaring that Osama bin Laden hides in a cave. Sure, he does, but his Lieutenants head out into the world and blow things up. They’re even prepared to become martyrs doing so. They don’t care who knows who they are.

    Your opinion is being listened to here simply since we, as a collective, want to stimulate debate. We are not interested in being dictators.

    No real autocrat is ever interested in stimulating debate. Your anonymity is a wonderful opportunity simply to ignore you. After all, it’s not like you’re ever going to be brave enough to confront me in a public forum. For shame, you may have to take that bag off your head and let everyone know just how shallow your argument really is.

  42. Hello,
    Thank you for your response Dr. an Mr. whthawk. I hope neither of you will mind I would like to address both of your comments here. While disparate in some ways, I believe we all share the same objective in the mean. However, I would like to highlight a few points.
    Dr. you wrote:
    “if you cared about my PhD you’d be about the only one these days.”
    If you are a geologist or a chemist or water Dr. I would very much like to ask you a question. Otherwise your opinion is read as thoughtfully, I hope, as any that I read. It is the thoughts of other people, that I am interested in. Believe it or not I can ascertain within a reasonable ,acceptable level of accuracy, who is full of shit and who is not. How, you might ask? Age, experience, education whatever, who cares?
    “There are people in the world who hate us for our freedoms,”
    Please oh please this can’t be. There are envious people everywhere, Do you hate the Swedes, How about the Japenese? Lame
    “But I’m a utilitarian.”
    so on the slippery slope you walk,eh?
    you: I’m painfully conscious of the fact that in a public debate, numbers matter.
    But this isn’t a public debate. Last night on Fix they held a public forum Public debates take place in the public. Hello, I don’t know where your sitting when you type your thoughts, if your at work and this ain’t your job that is not very utilitarian, shame on you. But if your home in your house… Now if you want to have a policy “no comments unless etc etc is provided” whoa, hey that is different.
    If I go before my local County Commission I have to give my name address etc. These are all on the record. I have done this dozens of times, we all must agree these blogs hardly rise to even the local level. Now I have stated the Establishment fears intelligent opinionated Anonymous bloggers. Not because the world will be saved by them or the overthrow or whatever, considered thoughtfully many people have important ideas to share regardless if they use there “Real” name or not. You all here at this site choose to identify yourselves, How am I to know? Should I google you? Why do I care? An opinion stated, a view expressed, a nugget of knowledge gained or a waste of pixals. The internet is a tool, yet it is a function of communication like a newspaper, as such should not be regulated as to content period, With the exception of those things which are currently outlawed by the thousands upon thousands of laws currently governing our lives.
    Mr. whythawk,
    I imagine it was more a matter of skin color no? Did the white population suffer the same oppressions? I do not want to quibble, I am glad you are in the safe bosum of good ol America. I am saddened that you want to hasten this countries rush to the fascist state, your extreme distaste of and your importance too, thought identification is preventing you from becoming the more rounded Individual of which you are capable. Look carefully it was You who likened anonymous postings to Skinheads. Perhaps you were not aware being from another country and all and a Police state to boot, but here in America , Skinheads are most, if not always identified with Nazis. Ok? Now When I mentioned Hitler, I was being sarcastic, go ahead check it out, it should only take a second. Many times, unfortunately my sarcasm is lost, not always to the detriment of the one who received it. Ease up Mr whythawk, there is a place for everything.
    You wrote:
    “The point about having opinions is being accountable for them”.
    What? Actions, your accountable for Actions. This one might be old but ever hear Opinions are like assholes everyones got one? or how about the old “Yeah, that and fifty cents will get you a coffee at the local resteraunt. So you see? I don’t care whether you value my opinion or not. Would I like you too? Sure, why not ,see above, but if you do not agree I will not lose sleep. The point is we are seed planters not enforcers and manipulators, Ya?
    “For shame, you may have to take that bag off your head and let everyone know just how shallow your argument really is.”
    One guy calling me immoral, another a coward now I must be Shamed. Guys this is way over the top ok? I am in my house I am not doing anything wrong if you think it is, you a woo-who koo-koo
    Doesn’t matter anyhoo we have way bigger problems coming and the net will soon be dead as we know it. EMP
    Todays special flavor cherry.

  43. LOL… My boy scout troop master’s name was Jim Jones.

    He wrote neither as elegantly, nor as polite.

    To be sure, Jim (for I’m not nearly as beholden to patriarchal concepts that demand titles – the new Lords and Barons are Dr’s and Mr’s), you’ve expressed yourself quite completely.

    Albeit on the wrong subject.

    Not every discussion relates to some inevitable slide into fascism.

    To ponder is not to censor, by any means.

    Once, I thoroughly posited that Plato stole the character in someone else’s play named Socrates so as to create a mentor out of thin air. This mentor could then bestow upon Plato the status of heir and scholar. The actual argument is not for this topic. A respected Professor involved in the debate retreated to the argument “It’s not the person saying the idea that’s important – the idea sometimes transcends the speaker.

    I see veins of that argument in your writing – mixed with the typical paranoia where any sort of societal structure is intended to destroy your free will. Another argument not for this topic.

    I once wrote an opinion piece inspired from a shampoo bottle. I have no idea who the person was that came up with “Lather, Rinse, Repeat” so in a true way there is value in anonymous ideas.

    From a simple utilitarian perspective – roads are designed to provide lanes, traffic lights, and stop signs on which millions of people can be transported in a relatively efficient manner.

    Not all comments are useful. Many are simply redundant. Others are spam (as any blog owner knows from the bots that attempt to drop messages about the newest wonder drug for baldness).

    To ponder – again the topic was worded such to incite not fascism, but debate – what valid lanes and traffic lights could be applied to anonymous speech, precisely to eliminate the non-utilitarian comments so as to maximize the sharing of ideas, is both useful and -dare I say it – utilitarian.

    That being said, and I apologize for being wordy, there is a place for anonymity – not solely for fear of persecution, no matter how restrictive the current administration is (nor for that matter how economically bad off you are) you are not the property of a cotton plantation owner nor a corporation.

    Anonymity can simply be convenience – writers use pseudonyms for such banal reasons as to create a brand identity outside their primary genre so as not to dilute either identity [ex: Stephen King].

    But on topic, specifically, is whether a person’s ideas would be more forceful and respected if they came attached to an identity?

    Again, fears of fascism, communism, totalitarianism, socialism aside (another longer argument about them all being the same – not for this discussion – damn you, Plato!), anonymity has it’s benefits – but it’s main detriment is that it’s progenitor doesn’t even want to claim it.

    Utilitarianism itself calls it spam at that point. Something to read when you may be bored, but surely not as important as ideas backed up by their believers.

    Two days late and way too long to be pithy, but I said it. And I claim it.