All this week, the subject of internet anonymity kept popping-up everywhere before me.
First, on the Times ethicist blog I read about Liskula Cohen - the supermodel who dragged Google to court in the US to find out the identity of an anonymous blogger who called her a “psychotic, lying, whoring … skank” among other pretty things. She wanted to sue the blogger but had to sue Google first to find out who the blogger was. The court decided that if someone calls her a "skank" publicly, she might as well know who that person is.
Second, I picked up the Guardian, and there was David Denby, my favourite film reviewer, talking about how most public conversation in the US has gone snarky - mean and unconstructive in the garb of funny and witty - and listed internet anonymity as one of the reasons. The piece was connected to his recent book titled Snark (helpfully subtitled It’s Mean, It’s Personal, and It’s Ruining Our Conversation).
And today, my very funny friend and fellow blogger - Anon - has written why despite all the temptations to reveal her true identity, she continues to remain Anon(ymous) in her blog. (Of course, Anon has a clever blog name - Going Anon and On - that I would consider reason enough for her to remain anonymous. )
Which made me question, why am I anonymous? After all, my blog name will not suffer if I reveal my identity.
For assistance, I went through the discussion on the Ethicist blog to find out what makes me and my fellow anonymous bloggers hold on to our precious anonymity.
a) There are crazed whackos out there who are waiting to do unthinkable things to me. And the only thing keeping me safe is my anonymity. (Comment 4)
Err... As a journalist in Mumbai for five years, I've probably met more crazed whackos in person than most people meet in their lifetime. None of them found me exciting enough to do unthinkable things to me. I am somehow not convinced that my blog entries will ignite that desire in them.
b) If I was being sexually harassed at office, I could write blog about it and seek the cyberspace sisterhood for tips and tricks, without the fear that anyone from office would find out? (comment 41)
I have already had that pleasure. It was difficult. I decided to take it to the management and flog it out with my full name and face showing. I am sure that my cyberspace sisters would have given me the same sensible advice, had I blogged about it anonymously. I am 29 and I hope that if I need help, I will have the courage to seek that help in my name. And I encourage the whole sisterhood to do the same. Learning to deal with problems in our own name is a part of the empowering process.
c) Revealing my name would inhibit my freedom of expression. (comment 11)
The only thing revealing my identity would inhibit is the desire to take irresponsible digs at people that I wouldn't with my real name showing. Writing in my own name, doesn't stop me from writing anything that I think is the truth.
d) Because if my political views were something that my colleagues and clients didn't like, I could still express them without facing a backlash in real life. (comment 5)
And be hypocritical to my colleauges and clients? Besides, expressing political views eventually lead to political action, which would be visible to my esteemed colleagues and clients. So either I can act differently than I anonymously speak and be hypocritical to myself and fellow bloggers, or I stand to be outed eventually anyway. I would rather be outed from the beginning and take my chances.
e) Because.... I can be nasty without being accountable for it :-)
It all comes down to that eventually, doesn't it?
So towards more responsible public conversation - as requested by Denby - I am Chetna Mahadik. And you are...?