Larry Kestenbaum dropped me an email in regards to his thoughts on my comments on anonymity in my N.Z. Bear Name FAQ, and I encouraged him to post them on his blog, as I suspected others might be interested in our exchange.
So he did, and now it’s my turn to reply back.
Larry describes his own experience in public life, in which he came up through local politics and then early online communities, establishing a widely-known presence in each. The choice whether to remain anonymous was essentially made for him, as obviously an elected official doesn’t really have an option to not be known.
And of his early online experiences, he says: “Speaking out under my own name, background, and reputation also means I’m taken more seriously.’
I think Larry is correct: sometimes, the force of your opinions and statements on the web is reinforced if you have a credible real-life background to back them up.
This is not surprising, but I’m not entirely sure that’s always a good thing. Because it can dilute one of the nicest things about the web conversations: the fact that you are judged, first and foremost, on the ideas you convey. “On the Internet, nobody knows you are a dog,” and all that. Or, indeed, a bear.
I will admit, in writing pseudonymously, there is a certain appeal to me in the idea that when I write an opinion piece, because people essentially have no context at all of who I am, my piece will be judged solely on its merits and its logic. If it makes sense, then people will (I hope) consider its ideas carefully; if it doesn’t, then they won’t be fooled by any credentials I wave around in their face.
On the other hand, background and context certainly do play a part even on the web, and it makes sense that they should. Devout readers of this site know that I’m a software development manager, which I’ve mentioned in context at least once or twice, I believe, when I was talking about issues that related to that field — in other words, I stated my credentials so folks would be aware I knew what I was talking about.
I have noticed, however, that the blogosphere in general (or at least, warbloggerland ) seems to look slightly askance and folks who do maintain an pseudonym. Which I find interesting; I’ve never quite understood the rationale for that (apparent) disapproval. In the discussions of the war, and of the course ahead for our nation, I find a particularly good example of a subject that background and experience should play very little part in judging ones opinions. Barring any actual counterterrorism experts who happen to be blogging, I think the opinion of a soccer mom in Maryland (back to those soccer moms) about what tradeoffs are legitmate to make between security and freedom (for example) is exactly as important to me as the opinion of a pro journalist whose been covering military affairs for a decade.
And that may point to the answer, for me, at least: when you are attempting to provide facts; to convince someone that your statements are logically and in some sense, scientifically or historically accurate — then your background and training may play a reasonable part in your readers’ judgement of whether to accept your assertions. But in the case of pure opinion; of stating your thoughts on what is right vs. wrong; what is “best” for our society in more general senses — in that case, I think the ideals of democracy say that all opinions bear equal consideration — whether they are stated with a name attached, or anonymously.