A seasoned blogger friend asked me a very good question: do I really want my name attached to my page, given that it can have professional repercussions? Certainly, as an academic, I am used to attaching my name to publications and grant applications. But I often advise students to be careful about their online persona. I rarely post comments even on topics of personal and professional interests partly because of that. I occasionally agree to media requests for interviews only because I think we (academics) have a civic responsibility to engage in and promote public dialogues – although I also worry that our clips when taken out of context can make us look like idiots rather than foster real discussions.
As a relatively private person, it surprises even me that I’m blogging. Certainly, the views expressed here or elsewhere are mine, not those of my employers. And I’m not blogging to a professional or an academic audience. And I doubt that many people will be reading this (but I appreciate all of you who do read this!). But still, wouldn’t I be freer to write whatever I want if I remain anonymous?
J. S. Mill famously argued that freedom of expression allows competing opinions to be aired. In the marketplace of ideas, communication that can be perceived as offensive may foster more dialogues that can help us to search for and discover the truth. Even self-censorship may stifle productive discussions.
I can imagine that there are people who may only feel free to offer their thoughts and engage in dialogues if they could remain anonymous, since some of their opinions can be perceived to be offensive. And let’s face it – some of us can get offended by many things. But more importantly, allowing anonymous posting may be necessary for those in marginalized communities to challenge the status quo. Their viewpoints are often silenced by those in the more powerful groups, and their act of rebellion or whistleblowing can cost them dearly.
Those exceptions notwithstanding, I would think that we should own up to our ideas and allow them to be challenged. While being anonymous may allow me to say whatever I want, the purpose of writing this blog isn’t about that. Saying whatever one wants can have great shock value, but it isn’t always a good way to promote open dialogues.
Some of you, particularly those living in the US, may remember the free speech controversy in October. Adrian Chen from Gawker unmasked a popular anonymous blogger who, hiding behind anonymity, created sub-forums on whatever he wanted on the online community Reddit. I have no interest in seeing images of scantily-clad underage girls and other nauseating materials posted by the self-described “creepy uncle of Reddit.” But I doubt that Michael Brutsch was trying to promote the search for any kind of truths, even if the context around the exposé has subsequently fostered discussions of whether unmasking his identity would truly compromise the free marketplace of ideas.
A friend who wanted to post her thoughts on my previous entry alerted me that my page required some sort of profile to post comments. I subsequently found out that I could allow readers to post anonymously, and I changed the settings accordingly. With that in mind, would that make you more likely to share your thoughts? I’m most curious to see how many of you would leave me a comment – with your identity revealed, or masked. :)