Thursday, December 22, 2005

a few thoughts about anonymity

A couple of anonymous-blogger friends emailed me recently, concerned about statements I'd made about anonymous blogging...

so, here is what I *really* think of anonymous blogging: alot of people have reasons for anonymous blogging. Usually very good ones. Their anonymity, however, does not stop them from having honest, truthful, clear voices on their blogs. They still comment on others blogs, take comments on their own, and participate in this whole communal thing. Their anonymity does not prevent them from being civil. And they contribute alot to the blogosphere.

We have the right to be anonymous. And most people who blog anonymously support the positive and necessary aspects of anonymous blogging.

However, there are people who like to hide behind anonymity....They like to bully others-- and I don't mean the kinds of bullies who provide counter-point to high-profile public or political figures who can definitely take care of themselves. The anonymous ones that trouble me are those who seem to exist solelly to bully their peers--who like to say that they are protecting themselves by being anonymous, when all they are really doing is hiding so that they can be as nasty as they wanna be. They aren't protecting anything at all--and their incivility can end up hurting all of us.

I'm sure some of y'all are thinking "that's preposterous! how can negative, incivil bullying hurt an entire community! just ignore it!"

Why ignore something that can be used as leverage against the whole? Consider the Forbes Magazine article that was published in November, 2005. Examples like those in the Forbes article have damaged reputations of people as well as products. The bloggers are protected by free speech laws, even though they have significantly hurt others--and hurting others was their main intention.

So, how can negative bloggers who attack business end up hurting the wider blogging community? Because when the focus in MSM (still the main portal of information for the general populace) is on how bully-bloggers use anonyminty, the general public (and even some bloggers) begin to believe that negativity is all of what blogging is about. If people see blogging as negative, they will not participate in what could turn out to not only be a vibrant new Town Square but also an incredible forum for bringing people of like minds together in ways old media never allowed.

It all seems to be a form of self-hatred on the part of anonymous bullies. What is it then about people who appear to hate blogging but feel the need to use blogs as forums for their hatred and incivility--and who foster communities that thrive on incivility and negativity? They can say that they are exercising their right to free speech, and are helping others to exercise their need to free speech without exposing themselves, but it seems that they are manipulating the ideal of free speech and of anonymity to further something that has more to do with feeding the ego than with defending either ideal.

What to do about this? Who knows. Censorship? Doesn't work. Ends up making the concerned parties look like Nazis. Ignore the negative ones? Not really--ignoring a bully feeds the bully's ego. And the bully will only move on to others until it wins some pyrric ego victory.

So, perhaps the solution is to support anonymous bloggers whose blogging furthers the understanding of this as social media and who truly support our right to use the medium to share information and ideas as well as foster conversation and community.

Just a thought.


Jon Garfunkel said...

Tish-- you wrote:
"What is it then about people who appear to hate blogging but feel the need to use blogs as forums for their hatred and incivility--and who foster communities that thrive on incivility and negativity?"

You weren't thinking about these wisecrackers, were you?

My input will be the same as always. The blogosphere-as-we-know-it was not the first electronic civic-space and it won't be the last. I don't doubt that the Town Square is "vibrant" today; I don't think anonymity is really a threat to that.

What I am interested in, and perhaps you, is whether the electronic space bears any constructive use for the real civic space which we operate in. And I don't think it's possible to construct such a civic environment with anonymous voices dominating the conversation.

As to the solution, I'm not sure what you mean by "support anonymous bloggers." What I do is simply build software-- with the architecture of manifesting identity built in.

Tish Grier said...

actually, people like the folks you point out, and the likes of Snappy the Clam, IMO, aren't necessarily looking to create community--by that I mean they're not particularly to create or foster a community. That's why, when I see sites like that, I might laugh at the verbal acumen of the poster, but would never think of interacting with them.

Maybe it's something I learned years ago when I tried to riff with a "class clown" type and got thoroughly shut down--some guys just want the spotlight for themselves. I let them be who they want to be, don't feed their egos, and move on.

I do indeed think the eletronic space has a constructive use for our f2f civic space--look at the phenom of internet dating, where so many would never have met were it not for the machine on their desks.

So, to use internet dating as an example, the people who are often the most successful are those who are NOT anonymous--the members who give a face and/or with a name (yeah, I've heard the "fake" profile argument, but if you know anything about photoshop and how to read facial expressions, you can figure out who's "fake" and who isn't...not to mention figuring out a fake profile, or a fake response. It ain't all that difficult, really.)

As to supporting anonymous bloggers--well, that's kind of a cheeky little comment on your part--and you know I'm not an engineer nor have any interest in that. From a community standpoint, the support I'm talking about is interacting with those who appear to want interaction. and sometimes support comes from reading them, but letting them be (as in not linking nor interacting). Depends. I usually read the blog for a bit to figure out what the blogger's looking for. That's what determines my level of interaction (support).

Dawno said...

I've read your post a couple of times now and today,the above comments all the while trying to figure out my take on things. I prefer 'semi-anonymity' You get my first name, you get my real face, you get my general geographical local - but that's it until I decide to open up to you (or you decide that you want to know more and use your sleuthing skills to figure it out - knock on wood nobody seems to care, yet)

Back on point - sorry to drift - I see the support Tish talks about in her choosing to visit my blog and comment every now and again, and to have my site in her blogroll (which, btw, is an honor). If I get spam or malicious posts, I will delete them. I hope to build a community on my blog but community, not a megalopolis. Anyone who has hundreds of people commenting can't really know them all (can they?) and yes, they're a kind of community - but would that community stay cohesive without the original blogger?

OOOH I have an example!! *smacks head* I don't want to go on and on - Tish, if you want to know more about my example email me and we can work out the details - I think it's a good example of a blogosphere community that survived (morphed and a bit different but survivied) beyond the changes it was subjected to...

Tish Grier said...

Dawn! now I'm curious! email me about that community...I'd love to know!