Thoughts about anonymity etc.

For my first post I thought I’d go with something easy, so why not anonymity? I’m a big advocator of free speech, putting it above pretty much anything else. Without it healthy discussions wouldn’t be able to exist, people wouldn’t be able to test their thoughts and it’s vital for progression if you ask me. Jordan Peterson is a very good representative of this stance and he’s definitely worth checking out. But I’ll probably post my own thoughts on it as well at some point. For now I’d rather want to talk about the basis of free speech: Platforms to express it or rather their qualitative differences. In other words anonymity vs pseudonymity vs clear names.

Using ones real name or identity has some very good advantages. For example, I could only recommend Jordan Peterson, because he always uses his own name or speaks in person. Plus his opinion on subject is heavily backed by years of research and practical knowledge. He doesn’t need to cite every one of his comments, he can point at former speeches, comments or works. However that’s more the exception to the rule. If you look at Facebook or many other platforms, discussions aren’t that deep. Sure, some interesting discussions arise, they’re interesting, sometimes very informing even. But there are also a lot of times, discussions degrade into name-calling or bad analogies á la Godwin’s law. That can be because of prior discussions, someone’s background or even some spelling errors. Suddenly you’re getting called out, because you’re white, black, man or women. “You’re not a woman, so you have no idea” is a great example about these cases. Not only is it unimportant for most discussions, it’s also greatly annoying to be brushed of from several discussions about a certain.

That said, what about the other two? Surely debates are much more fruitful if you can’t see someone’s identity or history. I mean, all you have are arguments of each other with no clear agenda at first. Theoretically you could back and forth about any subject with your worst enemy without knowing. They could be man or woman. Black, white, asian or any combination.

One approach is pseudonimity. You think of a new name and go onto a forum to talk about all kinds of thing. Although there’s an important difference between names. Depending on what you choose or if you keep your name across many sites, your identity could still be very clear. For example I use mine for almost 10 years now, so you can find out a lot just with that. You can probably google even more than with my real name, since I never use it. On the other hand, the former admin of 4chan (gonna come back to it later) used his alias for more than five years without anyone finding out who he really is. So technically you could pretend to be a fictional person for years without anyone finding out. You can change it any time you want and restart. That’s cool isn’t it? It sure is, but at the same time it also bears some problems. Never mind the fact, that people can still browse your older post to make a picture of you. Most of the time, they don’t even need to do that to come to false conclusions. Oftentimes having a certain opinion on a given topic suffices for others to call you out on something you’re not. This has been around for ages now. If you so much as say a word against immigrants, you’re immediately branded as a nazi on some occassions. Not all, but if you are it needs a lot of effort and nerve to sort it out, if it works.

Lastly there is anonymity. While pseudonimity can be both, identifying or less identifying to a person, anonymity is perfect to hide your identity altogether. The most famous example for that is 4chan. Anyone can post any time. You can join a discussion on a board you like and withdraw any time. You can play devil’s advocate without anyone realizing it, just to get another person’s point of view. Plus, since no one has an identity, it’s very difficult to assign a political view on such a large community. If you ask me, this environment can lead to very diverse discussions. You just don’t know who you’re dealing with, or, if you start a discussion yourself, who’s gonna respond. They could have the same view or a vastly different one. They could even live in a warzone, who knows. Sadly it still has the same problems as the ones above. It still fails to human failure. If someone thinks you’re a nazi or communist, you probably won’t change his opinion.

Both anonymity and pseudonymity have some more problems though. Most importantly, since no one can backtrack you, a single person can shift a discussion by himself by impersonating different roles. So even alone he can become more convincing just by being in the majority. That’s only the minor problem though, as the arguments stay the same, so it shouldn’t change the discussion so much. Even more problematic is the political power behind this issue. To market a candidate in an election, all you need is a small agency to start big controversies. A small lie or fake news can drastically alter the impression of one or the other candidate. The last presidential election put this issue in the front. Fake news in itself isn’t too bad if no one reads it. But with enough outlets, it can become something huge even without any proof. Some instances involve bullying a certain person by what seems like a group, but hasn’t to be one. Even a handful can create the image of a mass on social media, taking out certain people from a site if they don’t like them.

Personally I like anonymous discussions and I like the internet as a place for them. Compared to verbal discussions, they are a lot more accessible for introverts. You can check citations and quotes, search for your own in a short time before forming your argument and you aren’t restricted by geographical boundaries. So idealistically for me a place where you have to verify your identity to make an account, but where you’re anonymous afterwards is the best ground for most discussions.

Lastly I want to give a comment about the bad reputation anonymous posting gets. It’s often said people are less virtous when posting anonymous, insulting others more than in person. That may be the case –even though you could argue, that they’re just as insulting in person if they’re with friends– but that’s not all. Being anonymous doesn’t only mean you can post anything you want without consequences, it also means you post anything without merit (which is technically a consequence as well). Meaning, if you want honest critique and you aren’t sure the people you know tell you you’re good because you’re actually good at what you do or if they do to comfort you, unknown people will most likely be honest with you, as they don’t have any reason not to. Of course, how their responds comes out is up to them. They’re still able to openly laugh at you, but they can also provide really good constructive criticism. And if they tell respond positively, then it may be even more valueable than the opinion of a friend as harsh as it sounds.

Written on February 10, 2017