Sunday, February 11, 2007

Blogger Anonymity

My last post seems to have raised the ire of one Cynthia Coyle. It seems that she has taken umbrage at blogger anonymity. In fact she has gone so far as to label the practice of blogger anonymity as cowardice.

I disagree.

Anonymity in public discourse is an honored tradition in this country. One need only look to the founding fathers of our country to understand this. The Federalist Papers, the 85 essays that successfully argued for the ratification of the Constitution of United States, were all written anonymously. Names such as "Publius" and "Cato" masked the true identities of Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and James Madison. These writings may have been the most influential documents in the formation of our country. I would hardly characterize these gentlemen as cowards.

So why do I choose to blog anonymously?

There are a variety of reasons mostly personal. My opinions are my own and not a reflection of my family or my business. In the past people have taken potshots at others associated with me because of something I have said. I don't think that is fair.

That being said, I also do not take great lengths to hide my true identity. Others have easily discerned who Wordbones is. I am often seen about the county sporting a black ball cap with "wordbones" emblazoned on the front. As it stands, my blogger profile already offers more information about me than most local bloggers.

So why don't I just come out and say who I am?

Well for one, I would never do that just because someone like Cynthia Coyle doesn't like it. Personally I could care less whether she, or anyone else for that matter, takes offense with it. Someday I may publicly reveal myself but I will do so at the place and time of my own choosing.

How do you feel about blogger anonymity?


Anonymous said...

I am completely against it.

But seriously, there are many valid reasons for people to sometimes choose anonymity when participating in very public discourse. The sharing of ideas, good or bad, allows us all greater perspective on issues of the day. The merits of those ideas, good or bad, should best be judged, not by the holder of the pen, but by the content of those ideas.

Sure, one can look for motivations for why someone would state a certain position or idea, but isn't the position or idea itself far more important? Or is it just more expeditious for any of us to resort to impuning the messenger rather than the message?

Is it cowardice to choose anonymity at times to express those ideas? I would tend to label it more as cautiousness ("To be cautious is often to show wisdom.")

Wise people, when discussing sometimes controversial issues, carefully choose the time and the place, as the bell curve of human behavior abounds and, for some of the issues being discussed, there are very high personal and monetary stakes for some parties.

Your mention of the Federalist Papers' anonymity was enlightening.

Anonymous said...

Let us accept there are those who because of a lack of education and or poor character development will not understand the meaning or value of the word anonymous.

This is Jim Adams signing on as anonymous, just so I can cover all the bases.

Eldersburg1976 said...

I've found that by listing my email address in my profile.. i sometimes get an interesting comment or two not posted on the blog......

but agree anonymity is a good thing.

seldom seen smith said...

(cross posted at tale hayduke)

As an anonymous poster I do think there is one additional factor that hasn’t been brought up. The group of folks generally and specifically affiliated with the Coalition are so convinced that their stance is the only true stance of the community – hell it even says so directly in their position paper. They continue to talk to each other and then use those conversations as proof that they represent the community “Everyone I talk to believes as I do.” Of course there are also their laughable 200 signatures. So, while that position may be sanctimonious at best, it is their use of it as a weapon that is far more nefarious.

Because in their minds they are the community ANYBODY who takes a different stance must be either ignorant or taking the side of something NOT “the community.” Therefore they must be discredited, alienated or defeated.

Two quick superficial examples: In the Flier article about “Bring Back the Vision” Mr. Knowles’ immediately calls them a developer front group even though the Davis’ and Emily Lincoln have been integral parts of this community for as long as I can remember. To him it just isn’t possible for people in the community to have a different stand.

Second example – for those of you who subscribe to the HCCA listserv you no doubt noticed the message from a prominent member of the Coalition – revoking her membership contribution because HCCA is having a joint meeting with Howard County Tomorrow and Jud Malone. To me (and the people around me I talked to) – her message read as CRAZY. That one joint meeting, not a HCCA position change or policy decision, but one freakin’ meeting, would cause her to take her ball and go home. To those in the Coalition it makes perfect sense – Malone’s anti-community stance is as infectious as it is repetitive and wasteful.

So what does this have to do with anonymity in blog posting? The truth is many of us are interested in being active in our community, and have seen what happens to those who disagree with the Coalition. The carnage on the side of the road of those who disagreed or, worse in opinion, those that simply didn’t agree enough is staggering – Malone, Santos, Feldmark, Greenwood and I suspect we are about to add Maggie Brown to that list. Even more staggering are the public figures that are scared shitless of this group and find themselves bullied into corners – Sigaty, Ulman, and Terrasa.

I have heard enough from the likes of Bobo, Klein, Pivar, Coren, etc to believe that this action isn’t truly intentional. I do actually believe that they don’t see how their actions stifle good public dialogue. Ignorance of the ramifications of their behavior seems like a week excuse to me though – as they wander about much like white people blissfully unaware of their privilege and the power they wield.

I have a friend who lives in Takoma Park. As I was telling her our situation here in Columbia she kind of laughed and had a theory. She said that the folks that run the community groups are of a very similar ilk and she connected it to that generation of liberals who, with no sense of the irony, generally deplore and show disdain for new visions, young voices, and have made it generally impossible for any other generation to get a foot hold. They worked way too hard to create their Utopia for some rascally kids to come and f it up.

They say all the right things about wanting young people involved (mostly because that’s what their ethos tells them to say) but really only want their involvement if the young folks are “smart enough” to regurgitate all their same crap. Apparently they even have one women who is in her early thirties who serves as their go to young person since she will echo everything they say and give them an escape to their lack of generational diversity. I wonder if we have someone similar here in Columbia (Stockholm Syndrome indeed)?

With some light searching I found similar musings in three communities – Ann Arbor, Santa Fe, and Boulder. Apparently, based on my superficial research, this is the SOP for communities of over the hill hippies desperately trying to hold onto their power.

I’ll end with this – Dennis Lane in his Biz Monthly column rambled a bit about some old theme park proposal in Columbia back in the day (actually pretty enlightening and I love the great acronyms) and ended with this:

The main lesson is that no one group can – or should – claim to speak for the community at large.

If the Coalition could understand and appreciate that, it would be a hell of a start. Maybe they could even go on to understand and admit that there is a distinct community voice saying some things quite different from them and that those folks actually do have the communities best interest at heart so that maybe crucifying anyone in that “camp” is not great for community spirit and participation. Maybe those who have been on the wrong end of their wrath could stand up and say NO MORE – your accusations be damned we will start counter-organizing and pushing you to the margins where you pushed us. Until any or all of these things happen though, I find myself woefully unable to do anything but post my rants anonymously and remain unapologetically –

Seldom Seen Smith

Anonymous said...

"– as they wander about much like white people blissfully unaware of their privilege and the power they wield."

Huh? Privilege and power?

I guess I didn't get that memo.

Who the hell are you talking about?

wordbones said...

Seldom Seen Smith:

Thank you for sharing your insight. I think you hit the nail square on the head.


numbers.girl said...

I pledge allegiance to Seldom Seen Smith...

Anonymous said...

yay seldom seen! you nailed it!

PAUL said...

I don't see any compelling reason to post a blog anonymously. As a former journalist, candidate for public office and now a blogger, I don't feel I have to hide my identity. If one believes in what he or she is saying, one should come out publicly. I think there is cowardice involved.
Those who run for or hold public office lay themselves out for all to see--warts and all, and I don't think it is fair when anonymous bloggers use their pulpit--one which is free and takes nowhere near the commitment or risk or determination, to spread their opinions-whether done responsibly or irresponsibly. Hey-if there is some fear involved, tell us what it is! We are not a police state--yet. This is not Soviet Russia or North Korea. Enjoy the power and freedom afforded to us! Don't shirk away from it. People have risked their lives for freedom of speech in authoritarian regimes and these bloggers sit comfortably with their anonymity and then defend it saying they need to be cautious?
Your situation here is that of running a blog anonymously and getting a complaint from a person who identifies herself. I have the exact opposite issue with my blog. Now that's cowardice! I put my name out there and these cockroaches insult me without letting anyone know they are.
If you label this anonymity as being cautious, I must again ask--of what are you afraid?
Does Bob Woodward have something to fear? Seymour Hersh? Al Franken? Or even blowhards such as Limbaugh and Coulter who elicit such hatred? They could not do what they do if they were anonymous and here we have small time bloggers thinking they have to be cautious?? And then, to liken themselves to the authors of the Federalist Papers is, well presumptuous. Thomas Paine, whose work had to be set in lead type and reprinted with ink and distributed by hand while a revolution was going on did not hide his identity. Sorry, but if it is not cowardice, is it fair to say it is just being cautious?

Anonymous said...

People who criticize anonymous bloggers are trying to avoid actually talking about the issues.

It is a time-honored tactic: attack the messenger.

When they don't know who the messenger is, they can't attack.

What do they do?

Attack the messenger for keeping his identity silent.

Honestly - what difference does it make who says something?

If you are judging a message based on the person who delivers it, then you are biased. You should be able to separate message and messenger.