Anonymity. It’s common on the internet of course. I recently had an interesting exchange of views about it with an anonymous blogger who uses the pseudonym “jonolan”. He is articulate and his comments usually reflect intelligent analysis, albeit they are often laced with bigotry and defiant or derisive scorn. The exchange occurred on a liberal blog where jonolan had used the pejorative, “queer”, in discussing the issue of gay marriage. It went like this, where I said:
“Your comments are usually thoughtful and might be taken seriously by more people if you toned down the rhetoric, and even more if you abandoned the anonymity that enables it. (But that would take the fun out of it, wouldn’t it?)”
And jonolan replied (with a smiley emoticon),
“My face in the gravatar wouldn’t make a difference and anyone with a lick of skill could pull up my name – my handle is a concatenation of it – and location. Anonymity is myth. I know; part of my job for years has been tracking various sorts of people online.”
That’s a copout of course, and rationalization. While he’s right that an online identity can be traced with sufficient effort and expertise, such anonymity is likely to be effective in concealing one’s persona from family, friends and co-workers. While I respect his right to privacy I nonetheless think his method is bad for discourse, the principal missing element of that being civility. When opinions differ, at least in my experience, there is hope for resolution only when the parties show respect for one another despite those differences. He either doesn’t understand this or, more likely, declines to understand it. He continued the discussion by saying,
“As for “bigoted nomenclature” – Being straight, no matter what nomenclature I used, someone would claim it was bigoted, and “queer” is a word that many of them use to describe themselves and each other…and it’s short and easy to spell.
“Face it, there is NO “safe” descriptor for queers. Even the psych term, “homosexual” will get you whined at by some of them. Hence, I don’t bother to worry about it much.”
This left me wondering whether jonolan considers the pejorative n-word in the same category as “queer”. After all, even some black comics such as Richard Pryor have used it in their routines. But to the broader point here, his anonymity frees him from having to take social responsibility for his controversial opinions. That, in my opinion, is disrespectful to people whose opinions differ from his.
Anonymity has its uses. Criminals use it to avoid justice. The movie, “Strangers on a Train” used it as plot to effect a “perfect” murder. Soldiers have used the nom de guerre to avoid retribution and authors use nom de plume’s to foster a dissembling persona and enhance sales of their product. Crowds use it instinctively to riot in celebration of sports victories or to achieve catharsis in defeat. But is it not interesting that diplomats, having no anonymity, must employ tact instead? So how about it? I know anonymous online commenters are here to stay, but perhaps they ought to be denied the respect of thoughtful replies since they aren’t willing to risk social accountability for what they say. That is my instinct. What say you, dear reader?