Is Online Anonymity a Respectable Expectation, or an Escape from Accountability?

The push to discredit online anonymity has gained some traction since everyone and their grandmother jumped on the social media craze.   For us millennial old-timers who grew up loitering around–or, more aptly, dicking around–on BBS sites like TOTSE through the 90s and early 2000s, the idea of showing due deference to another’s online moniker is seen as an almost unbreachable right of the internet (in short, doxxing is the cardinal sin of the internet).

Nowadays, however, where our online activity is evermore linked in with the various areas of the internet we roam (both to facilitate personal comfort, as well as make it easier to be targeted by advertisers about our interests and potential purchasing preferences), the topic of online anonymity has morphed into a more shady issue for some.  The concept of trolling, which (for the two of you out there who don’t already know this overused term) is essentially trying to get a rise out of people online by leaving any comment that you believe will insult, demean, or hurt them.  For people who use the internet as a legit medium of communication, trolling is always used as a pejorative, and always frowned upon as a major downside (if not the downside) of the internet.

The argument for eliminating, or at the very least minimizing, the presence of anonymous contributors online can, I believe, be characterized most fairly as the following:

Don’t you think that if you wrote under your real name your opinions would be seen as more respectable? Some would say that by writing under a pseudonym you are afraid to attach your opinion to yourself as an individual, because you know that what you are posting online is either wrong, misleading, or outright malicious.

When I first started writing this blog I took a few moments to consider how much I wanted to reveal about myself to readers.  At first, I flirted with the idea of excluding any direct reference to my gender or nationality, but this seemed disingenuous on account that it denies the reader the opportunity to get an honest idea of the factors that shape my perceptions about my surroundings.  There is still a part of me that ultimately beliefs that if arguments and commentaries are to stand on their own, then the identity of the individual providing them should be irrelevant to the reader.  However, there is something to be said about building a rapport with one’s readers by trusting them enough to disclose something very personal with them (like one’s identity, even if on an impersonal medium, like a blog).

But an equally valued argument can be made about how pseudonyms allow an individual to feel safer about expressing her/his true opinions, free of the daily restraints s/he might feel inclined to adopt in real life.  When it comes to using online monikers, I consider this to be a very salient point, and would like to add that if someone is honestly willing to engage the points raised by a writer, then it shouldn’t matter under what name s/he chooses to go by in her/his cyber-life (after all, would not a rose by any other name smell just as sweet…).

But I understand that this can seem like a cop-out to some; a means by which to rationalize one’s unwillingness to cease hiding behind the relatively safe anonymity of the internet.  Nonetheless, despite understanding where this sentiment is coming from, it’s a point with which I will cordially have to disagree, as I think the reasons for a person’s decision to remain anonymous online are too varied to be so easily dismissed.  Also, even if the stated reason is the correct one, I don’t personally see anything inherently wrong with taking advantage of “the relatively safe anonymity of the internet” in and of itself, because in a world where so much of our online identity is so readily available for determined, potentially deranged individuals to found out life-threatening information about us for no other reason that some random opinion we shared online didn’t sit well with their delicate sensibilities, having a wall of separation in place between the person and her/his freedom of expression can be a valued tool of communication, rather a deterrent of it.

All the best,

Sascha

P.S. Yes, Sascha is my name.

P.S.S.  Yes, I am in fact male, and living with what is a predominantly female name in North America.  Very trendy of me, indeed.

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