This seems to be common knowledge. Anonymity is the scourge of the civilized connected world. Behind it’s veil of secrecy, persons of ill repute dish hateful messages or threaten bodily harm to those fighting the good fight. Trust me, you don’t have to look far to find this opinion. A quick search on google reveals many articles. Here, here and here are some examples. And ask your family, your parents, your friends. Chances are several of them (if not all of them) hold this opinion about the black masked denizens from the underbelly of the internet.
But what, if anything, can anonymity offer? Should you, dear reader, consider going anonymous? Will you immediately burst into flames and become a hateful beast? Quite simply, my answers to this questions are 1) The World. 2) Absolutely. And 3) Nope*.
Let’s quickly go over these answers before a mob comes storming over to my comments section.
What can anonymity offer you? Quite simply it frees you from your everyday constraints. It frees you from being punished at your job for holding an unpopular opinion. This freedom will let you explore ideas without fear, which means more discoveries. More ideas worth spreading. I don’t think anyone would argue that better ideas worth spreading is a bad thing.
Anonymity also lets you find your voice. When I started my twitter account, I wasn’t sure what people would think of my ideas. I wasn’t sure my employer would like my ideas, even though it was a great company to work for. My account (@SomniaStellarum) was started anonymously. I wouldn’t post my name or who my employer was, mostly to maintain that anonymity. While this made it difficult to get a following, it also granted me freedom. This freedom let me explore ideas more freely. I’ve since shed that anonymity, but I can say for certain that anonymity helped me find my voice.
Finally, you will open up like you’ve never felt you could. You can share your deepest feelings and maybe share connections with others. In a strange paradox, this is the strength of anonymity as well as the source of all the vitriol we all see when thinking of the anonymous. You see as we dig into our feelings, we see injustice. This comes in many forms, and the weird part is that to some what is justice to another is injustice to me. So we lash out and let those feelings of unfair treatment rule our minds and our fingers on the keyboard. And we seem to get away with it because there is no accountability.
Accountability. Ah, that seemingly boring word. It’s how politicians get elected. It seems devilishly simple, yet we all struggle to uphold it’s virtue. Why else do I procrastinate (and I know I’m not the only one…)?
How can I be accountable if no one knows who I am? I believe the answer is simple and complex all at the same time. You only have to be accountable to yourself. Be true to who you are. Because if you aren’t accountable to yourself, who are you accountable to?
So when I say you should embrace anonymity, I’m saying you should do it while being accountable to yourself. Hold yourself in high regard and create your SomniaStellarum account. And build trust with others online through good interactions. Really, it’s no different than building trust with people who aren’t anonymous. You get to know them by chatting and interacting with them. You share unique ideas that only your perspective can bring. You will be accountable, and you will gain trust, so long as you’re true to yourself.
But then there’s that third question, will I become a hateful beast? This is not an idle question as so many fall into this trap. Here is my advice. Build a pseudonym and practice self awareness.
Why a pseudonym? Because this online reflection of you will carry it’s own history. It will generate it’s own trust and you’ll care about it’s reputation. And it will let you be accountable to yourself. Avoid the throw away anonymity of commenting without a history. Or discarding an account that you sunk your vitriol into. These online cesspools aren’t helpful for you or anyone else.
Then, since you care about your pseudonymous reputation, you need to be self aware. I’m human and my reaction is natural. This also leads to the much harder to remember, the other commenter is human as well. We both have faults. But we all deserve respect. This is oh so hard to do sometimes, especially when someone is wrong on the internet. But if you want to be accountable to yourself, you need to remember to be self aware.
So now that I’ve convinced you to take on a pseudonym, go forth and panspermia your ideas throughout the internets. Or don’t. But in that case leave a comment (with your name if you must).
PS *I’m not advocating perfect anonymity. It’s possible to show no trace of yourself online at all. But I believe if you do something illegal there should be consequences. I just believe your job shouldn’t be threatened for an unpopular idea (that is a valid and legal opinion).