The Importance of Anonymity

Anonymity on the internet is as important as it is in any medium. The freedoms which we hold can only be secure if there is no artificial penalty on them. If the actions which are not crimes could still retain a penalty then very important things to us may be criminalised. We may allow our freedoms to slip from us. New technology should not mean we abandon our principles.

Anonymity and pseudo-anonymity allows for better discussion. It also allows for worse discussion. The important matter is that it allows a greater freedom to act as one would wish. Old media institutions will often recognise this in a restricted sense. One example is the Guardian which states “We recognise that people will often speak more honestly if they are allowed to speak anonymously”. This is true. Without fear of penalty people will act with what their greater liberty allows which that ending with them being more honest is often sadly the case. Fear of political backlash binds us in chains. I would even argue that pseudo-anonymity when not handled correctly can lead to to similar results.

Pseudo-anonymity, despite still not necessarily revealing the identify of the pseudonym's user, is an identity itself. Users of pseudonyms may develop an online persona. They act as heightened beings styling themselves as a better person than they really are. Maintenance of this persona becomes difficult for them especially when they act in an environment where everybody is behaving with a 'holier-than-thou' philosophy. Data retention contributes to this problem. Data retention is not here the legal requirement for very personal data to be kept for the purposes of the state or government agencies to with what they please. No, here data retention is simply the retention of data by companies concerning their pseudonymous users. With the long term retention of whatever fatuous comments a user makes, they get to craft the persona. Here the concern of the retention (they have) becomes not for their privacy but instead to keep their online persona well-managed.

Anonymity can have issues of it's own. While pseudo-anonymity has issues related to being not close enough to anonymity, anonymity turns this on its head. Anonymity in its worse form reverses the problems previously mentioned. A 'holier-than-thou' philosophy becomes an 'unholier-than-thou' response. The aim of the game ceases from the fight for the persona but instead becomes the fight for the lack of it. Individuals will act as outrageously as possible if only it were their goal to defame the non-person which they are. By the defamation of this non-person they can then keep it a fleeting pleasure because then no-one would want to put themselves forwards as this non-person and cease anonymity.

Why do I then bring up the outrageous behaviour of those acting anonymously if I seek to defend anonymity. Aside from trying to paint the scene as it is, outrageous behaviour allows for right behaviour. Outrageousness is something which is societal and to restrict behaviour based on shock-value rather than other principles is silly. To act outrageously is often necessary. This includes revolutionaries and members of the establishment. Satirists and subversives alike have needed outrageousness. Pamphleteers from the American Revolution published their words anonymously. Jonathan Swift published both anonymously and with his name. He believed his satire A Tale of a Tub damaged his advancement as a churchman.

Without the freedom to express ideas which are bad we do not have the freedom to express ideas which are good.