In defense of anonymity in web comments

Sunday, May 24, 2009

My comment to this post on PajamasMedia wherein the author casts as cowards those who he disingenuously claims “hide behind screen names.”
The thing is, Mr Rosenbaum, you make your living by expressing your opinions. Whatever you say, you get paid. The rest of us commenters have risk attached to commenting. Personally, I try to never say things I wouldn’t say in a crowded room and I try never to hurl insults and I wish everyone operated the same way, both left and right.

That said, I live in Canada, am self-employed and there is a recession going on, in case that had slipped your attention. Regardless of how “open minded” Canadians are purported to being, holding (never mind espousing) conservative viewpoints is to invite opprobrium. Doesn’t mean the viewpoints are wrong, just politically incorrect in the country in which I live and make my living. On the other hand, if I were making my living by, like you, writing opinion pieces, then you can be sure I’d be attaching my name. As I’m sure you are aware, when you make your living writing opinion pieces you need a following. If you don’t have a following, you don’t get paid.

For commenters, though, we make no living from this. However, we do become known by the consistent use of our “anonymous” names or “handles.” (Personally, again, I always comment under the same handle on every site where I comment.) There are some commenters whose screeds I don’t even read because I know, by their handle, that there will be little value to what they have to say. Others, I read with pleasure and hope that they will throw in on the conversation because of their perspectives that I have come to appreciate. I would mention names in this category, but there are so many whose opinions I’ve come to respect and I would really not like to leave out any of these commenters. And they, too, use anonymous screen names.

If your point was that anonymity breeds disrespect, then you do have a point. But it is also the case that the consistent application of handles removes the true anonymity that posting as, say, “anonymous” has. As a loyal reader of the comments on this site, I can assure you that when people say things that are out of character (the character we come to know because they always post using their usual handle) they are questioned about it, so whatever anonymity is gained by not revealing one’s real name is diminished or negated, while the income is protected. Finally, I, too, wish for serious and civil discussion of ideas which is why I frequent this site and comment here. The discussion become uncivil, though, when the liberal firebombers come here looking to derail the conversations and disparage the other commenters.

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