March 27th, 2007


on identity, public speech, and anonymity

via thetomkyteblog: very disturbing link about Kathy Sierra's blogging efforts. The previous link may be very disturbing, but it's probably worth reading Tom's post on the subject even if you dont click through. Some of the responses are totally mystifying to me, particularly the one quoting Dostoevsky.

I have very mixed feelings about even the minimal ways I maintain my "anonymity"- anyone who spends a few minutes probably can find out anything they want about me. The big concern is always for my own safety- there are always going to be people who don't like what I have to say, and use that against me, sometimes in nasty or uncalled-for ways. I write, sometimes, on difficult or controversial topics, or have beliefs or theories which are perhaps wrongheaded, or at least wrongheaded in the eyes of some. I write my opinions, which might not be an opinion that my employer or friends or even acquaintances want to be tangentially identified with.

Sometimes, people make your blood boil. Sometimes, you want to get violent. It's never an acceptable response: I always wind up regretting when I have those feelings, particularly when it's over something that's trivial or stupid. It's even stupider when violent thoughts arise out of misogyny, or racism, or any other variety of intolerance that seems to be in endless supply. When that kind of attitude hides behind anonymity, it is easy to identify it as cowardice. When such violence and cowardice silences people, it rises to treason against the principle of a open, democratic society.

I don't know what the solution is, but as best I can, I try to be open and honest at all times. More importantly, I don't say anything, write anything, blog anything, that I would ever consider "anonymous", because I think that it's important to be accountable in an open society for what you say. I don't think laws restricting speech, even hate speech, are the answer. But when you don't know who your enemies are, when people use anonymity and technology to pick you off at a distance, this is not protected behavior. When in court, the accused has a right to confront their accuser. This right is fundamental, in my way of thinking, even outside the court. And, it's the only thing to take the big bad wolf down to manageable size. More often than not, there's a scared, petulant, lachrymose creature on the other end of the weapon; be it a gun, or a pen, or an anonymous address.

Sometimes, you need to run and hide, and that's not cowardice. It's usually the person who makes you feel that way who is the coward- too afraid to let you have your opinion, too small to trust that only truth will ever endure bright light. But more importantly, if you can, don't run away, and don't hide your lamp under a bushel basket.

And when that does happen anyway, we are all a little bit poorer for it.

-Matthew E Harbowy
March 27, 2007
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