Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Anonymous Blogging

Over recent years there's been an increase in the number of blogs that form little anonymous communities of comment on various issues. Some bloggers go to great lengths to conceal their own identity. Others (not necessarily themselves operating under the cloak of anonymity) promote anonymous and therefore unaccountable comment on their site. Some do both. As we all know, many of these sites give rise to the propagation of factual untruth, defamatory comment, and bullying. It's really rather vicious for a whole body of people to comment on named individuals or publicly identified situations without clearly declaring their own identity with all it reveals about their motivation and ability to be in possession of facts. Such comments are often then spread out across the internet as other bloggers, Facebook, Twitter and journalists pick them up. Endless links are formed and these may contain lies, 'alternative facts' and defamation. It's a kind of sport where pleasure is taken in adding weight to unsubstantiated, unowned opinions of like-minded commentators at the expense of people or situations who are entirely unable to defend themselves or put their own side of the matter.   

There's no defence for anonymous blogging in a society where freedom of speech exists. It is simply unnecessary. In a society like ours which enjoys free expression, whatever we say publicly whether on the internet, in writing or in speeches and broadcasts should be said in a spirit of openness and with complete willingness to take full responsibility for the consequences of what we say. Where the words and photographs of others are used to support opinions, sources should be clearly cited. Anonymity and misappropriation of others' material immediately call into question the motives of the person blogging or commenting. If someone is not prepared to put their name to what they write, is this because there is no solid evidence to back up what they are saying? Or is it perhaps because they know that their words will harm a person or a cause but they do not wish to accept the consequences of the harm they do? To say what they say may get them into trouble or lead to public outcry and criticism but that does not get them off the hook. The fundamental basis of debate in a democratic society is that of honest persuasion by identifiable agents. Yes, sometimes it's costly, particularly if you belong to an excluded or oppressed minority or if you yourself are subject to attempts at bullying or silencing. However, to retreat into anonymity only exacerbates the problem - the anonymous author often becomes part of the bullying and oppression.

In a free society where human rights are protected by law, anonymous blogging and commenting is a form of literary and moral cowardice. It undermines and does huge damage to those who are trying to work in a transparent, accountable manner (sometimes even toward similar ends to the bloggers and commentators). Journalists are not averse to reading these blogs and being influenced by what they glean from people who are not willing to put their names to what they say. An analogy with hunting is not inappropriate here as victims of comment are sought out, publicly identified and pursued for a headline-generating story (which of course will not be reported under the protection of anonymity.)

Please think twice before you write or comment anonymously. Why do you need to do it anonymously? What are you afraid or ashamed of? Why are you hiding? Who might you be harming? 

'And Jesus said to Pilate, "Sayest thou this thing of thyself or did others tell it thee of me?"'
John 18.34

1 comment:

  1. A timely post, as I was about to draft a piece on the use of pseudonyms in the Comments sections of blogs &c. At Law and Religion UK, Frank Cranmer and I have a policy of discouraging the use of pseudonyms in Comments on the posts we publish.

    From our point of view, we are obliged to prevent the publication of abusive or defamatory comments &c, and a knowledge of who wishes their views to be aired is necessary.

    From the point of view of the commenter, it is of little use to post anonymous comments on an academic blog such as ours.