I’ve always been a staunch proponent of anonymity on the web. It seemed like the right to privacy and free speech needs to include the right to be able to say things free of the fear of repercussions. Sometimes, things happen that shatter this belief.

Kathy Sierra has recently been subjected to some hate speech of the ugliest sort. Why do people feel the need to resort to sexual references and death threats? Why do they feel the need to attack people who are nothing but genuinely nice? (Granted, I don’t know Kathy in person, but her writings are nothing if not full of respect and love for other people.)

I’m even more at a loss to understand how this can happen on websites that are associated with some major names in blogging. How can those people not stand up and protest this abuse of their sites?

Maybe we are indeed better off in a world where people are forced to take responsibility for their actions. I keep hearing the “fear of repercussions argument” – but in the long run, everybody who ever effected major change spoke publicly. Gandhi spoke out. Martin Luther King spoke out. Abraham Lincoln spoke out. Jefferson wasn’t exactly quiet.

I’d love to hear counter examples so I can go back to my more idealistic world view – but right now, I think anonymity serves no purpose except to shield perpetrators of crimes.

Addendum: Seth Godin just said it much better than I could

Commentary

  1. pauldwaite wrote on 26. Mar 2007

    People’s business is, well, their business.

    But once you speak, you’re communicating. What you say is other people’s business, unless you’re intending for no-one to ever hear it.

    Part of that is letting them know it was you who said it.

    Some people would like to shed anonymity, but can’t: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/03/22/AR2007032201882.html

    The answer to “fear of repercussions” is to remove the repercussions. I can’t see how you can do that without open, honest communication.

  2. llamatron wrote on 01. Apr 2007

    Anonymity is a double-edged sword, and will always be actively misused by a small but loud (and generally foul) subset of users.

    All I can do is offer up the obvious examples; whisteblowers who could lose their jobs and risk threats of violence; political dissidents, most particularly in the middle east, China, and Russia; any people who for one reason or another have an opinion which is legal, but which would impact on them negatively if it were linked to them. Hell, even gays and atheists could have a strong need for anonymity online in the wrong locations.

  3. truth machine wrote on 18. Apr 2007

    Whoa, what happened to your brain? You’ve always been a staunch proponent of anonymity, but suddenly can’t even imagine any of the reasons you might have? Since the anonymity of this very post is surely not for the purpose of shielding any crime, your claim that that is the only reason is absurd on its face. I have my reasons for not putting my name on my posts to the web (after having done so on the internet for decades before T B-L changed the world), and if you think really really hard you might be able to imagine some of them.

    And “How can those people not stand up and protest this abuse of their sites?” ain’t too bright either — those people did protest, and in some cases even decommissioned the sites.

  4. Robert Blum wrote on 18. Apr 2007

    Oh, I can imagine the reasons I have. I’m just thinking that it’s being abused too much, sometimes. If you paid close attention, you might also notice that I’m thinking about the issue. I was asking for counterexamples. In civilized circles, that’s called a dialog. Of course, for an anonymous drive-by-flamer, that’s hard to understand.

    Also, in case you missed it: The post is not anonymous – my name’s right on top of the entire blog. I am standing by my words. When will you?

  1. Anonymity in The Blogosphere « Digital Father on 26. Mar 2007

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