Professor Peter Friedman of Case Western Reserve University Law School recently posted an entry under the above heading. Professor Friedman’s entry was in response to a bit of back and forth between Dan Hull of What about Clients?/What About Paris? (an international legal blog focusing on client service) and the writers and commentators on Popehat (complaints about law & liberty. Small l Libertarianism) which can be found here.
I’m re-posting my response to Professor Friedman at his blog (and my thoughts about anonymous commenting in general) below:
Well this is certainly an interesting conversation.
Obviously there are differing opinions as to whether or not anonymity is valuable in the context of posting on the interwebs. Currently, as is readily apparent from my blog, I choose to post and comment under my real name because I want what I post on my blog and elsewhere to be associated with my IRL person. That being said, there are a variety of circumstances in which there are things I would not share under my own name.
Not sure about everyone else involved in this brouhaha, but I’ve been on the internet for a loooonnnggg time. I can recall dialing in to my local BBS with my 9600 baud modem in DOS during the 80s – I was a nerdy kid. No one used their real name. Through the nineties, things sped up and more people jumped online but using one’s real name was still thought of as odd. I grew up on messageboards and forums, and very, very few people ever used their real names. Any authority or respect that was given to people was based purely on the veracity of their words and their seniority (time registered on the board/post count).
I started my first, personal blog back in 2000. I used my real name. However, the circle of people that were aware of it numbered in the dozens. I kept it going for a few years before I let it fizzle out. At that time in my life, while I was open with my real name online, I also wasn’t trying to say anything meaningful.
Since the early-to-mid 00s more people who have some level of “authority” or “seniority” IRL seem to have come online, especially with blogs. These people want their IRL status to transfer to the interwebs. As such, it’s valuable for them to utilize their real name as it carries some level of weight.
I don’t think it would be a stretch to say that my generation growing up on the internet and subsequent explosion of Facebook, etc. has led people (particularly older people) to become comfortable with using their real name online. However, this ignores the past twenty years or so of the internet in which anonymity was the norm. This is particularly true in places like messageboards and forums. Maybe a person is a devotee of World of Warcraft or some other videogame but doesn’t want it to be known in their office. They use a pseudonym, in order to keep their true identity private while being able to enjoy their pastime (in game, boards, posts, blog, etc) while engaging with others. I don’t see anything particularly wrong with this as that’s how I’ve always known the internet to be. There is definitely a trend to people being more open about who they really are, but demanding it comes across as odd.
So when I come across the words of an anonymous poster, I give them due course as I would if it was written by someone I know. That’s one of the benefits, and perils, of the internet: everyone is on an equal playing field. Very few people are able to transfer any sense of “authority” or recognition to their writings online. You must be judged along side everyone else, even if you use your real name and are a Rhodes Scholar and the next poster, “Marcus Agrippa,” is really a 16-year old kid posting from his parent’s basement. If what either has to say has weight, give it credence. If not, not.
As a caveat, I will say that I do have a higher degree of respect when in regards to people who post under their own name. When someone is willing place their words up to scrutiny with their real name attached, it does elicit a heightened sense of regard. But, for those who choose not to do so, I am not going to discount what they have to say out of principle.