Anonymity is a Privilege Not a Right

A few notes on why I generally don’t respond to anonymous people on twitter or in comments.

Anonymity is a privilege. Words are powerful and if that power is not to be abused it must be accountable.

There are some cases where granting the privilege of anonymity is necessary and warranted. Primarily this is where direct harm would befall someone if he or she were identified as the source of the words. Such is the case with whistleblowers, insiders or someone in a vulnerable position. If these people are identified, they face the immninent threat of losing their jobs, their livlihoods or their well-being. They may face personal attack (physical or legal) for speaking out. They may be breaking corporate confidentiality even though what they expose is in the public interest.

Others need anonymity to be able to voice inconvenient truths, or to simply tell their stories. Women posting about driving without a male overseer in Saudi Arabia, for example, need anonymity to avoid being arrested.

The primary justification for anonymity is provable harm.

There are other occasions where people use anonymity to take on a different persona in order to explore different parts of themselves or simply for fun. I don’t see a problem with this so long as they aren’t hurting anyone.

But the idea that anonymity is a right and not a privilege is wrong. There needs to be good reason to avoid being accountable for what we say or write, particularly if what we say affects other people. Too often online, anonymity is the tool of the bullying coward, a means to avoid responsibility for publishing threats, abuse and lies.

That doesn’t mean writing only anodyne, inoffensive drivel. It does mean having the courage of your convictions and the ability to withstand criticism. If you believe in what you say, put your name behind it. People may disagree with you. That’s fine. But if they launch an anonymous ad hominem attack that is not fine. It reveals a weak argument made by someone who is a coward, a fool and/or a nasty piece of work.

One Response to “Anonymity is a Privilege Not a Right”

  1. heather says:

    Let me get this straight: You’re arguing against what I’ve written in my book without having read my book? Seriously?

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