On Anonymity

So Mike Rothman thinks that anonymity is for cowards:

During the discussion last night, one guy pointed out that sometimes things are too sensitive or controversial or unpopular to say, so anonymity allows folks to do that. I call bullshit on that. Anonymity is the tool of a coward.

And while I agree with Mike that the treatment that Kathy Sierra has received is reprehensible and highly unacceptable, it makes me awfully glad that he’s not in charge of the company that I work for or a member of our government. Just because the tool has been abused does not mean that it is inappropriate. Our founding fathers felt the need for anonymity when they wrote the Federalist Papers and I don’t think anyone would consider them cowards. At the extreme end, anonymity is often the only way that people can speak out more than once in oppressive regimes.
Anonymity also serves other purposes. Say for instance the ability to travel freely without having to show papers. Or to keep things in the vein of speech, I post not out of a need to protect myself, but rather to give my employer plausible deniability. By not using my real name here, I remove the association of my personal opinion from that of my bosses. This allows me speak my mind freely and openly without having to worry about what my PR people will think or be concerned that the press might pick up what I say and inadvertently make me into a involuntary spokesperson for my company.
Well, at least Mordaxus and I are in good company.

8 thoughts on “On Anonymity

  1. To be clear “Arthur,” neither you nor Mordaxus is really anonymous. Shostack and many others know who you are and if you did something wrong, the Feds would shine a light in his face for about 10 seconds and he’d give you up. Perhaps it would take a bamboo shoot or two, but they’d figure out who you were.
    And we don’t live in an oppressive regime. The folks that I’m talking about are cowards, and I still think that it gets back to accountability. You need to be able to stand behind the things you say and write, and I assume you do that.
    If not, then well… If the shoe fits…

  2. Mike, don’t be silly. I won’t give up your privacy until our non-oppressive government declares me an enemy combatant and waterboards me at a secret prison.

  3. I use anonymity frequently to comment on various blogs which could backfire on either myself or my employer (by my association) – who then deals with me with a lart tool.
    Yes it’s cowardly (I’m too chicken-Shyte to stand up for my opinion when it counts). And sure anonymity can easily be abused by scum.
    But without anonymity then my incredibly well thought out and valuable opinions (technically known as “crap”) would not be shared with the world.
    In my case that may be a good thing. But overall I think that anonymity is important

  4. There is much value in anonymity, from the need to whistler blower protection to the ability to comment without prejudice, that makes it worth protecting. While what’s going on with Kathy Sierra is disgusting and potentially actionable from a criminal standpoint, it’s also within the toolbox of law enforcement to subpoena IP records and break the veil of Internet anonymity when they need to.
    But anonymity serves another purpose – it forces us to evaluate arguments and comments without context of the sender, which is why nom de guerre and nom de plume are parts of our literary heritage. Out of context, the writings of the Unabomber weren’t completely ignorant, but some of the statements made by Bill Gates, without attribution, are moronic. Anonymity lets us review the idea, not the person.
    Perhaps I should have commented anonymously…

  5. We can make strong cases for and against anonymity, and the philosophy and politics will go on forever. At the end of the day, I’d suggest that the question will be settled by economics. IOW, if it is economic to allow anonymity, it will win. If not, then it will fail.
    So for example, publishing leaflets anonymously is protected because it is so easy to do and so hard to stop. Yet libelling online is not protected because we can chase your IP numbers and sue you. Or something similar…

  6. Making it an economic argument is sidestepping lots of messy details around human rights. At the current rate, the economics of tyranny would win because no one in power will go for real free-market economics; they might be out of power if that happens.

  7. Mike, “we don’t live in an oppressive regime,” but you suggest the Feds could coerce Adam into revealing information by using a “bamboo shoot or two.” Err… ?

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