Anonymity, Accountability, and Credibility in Blogging

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

One literal definition of anonymity is "without a name". In many contexts I respect people's right to anonymity and privacy if they so choose. However, producing and consuming information is a moral activity [ET], and as such, author identification is critical to the subject's credibility and evolution.
"Publicly attributed authorship indicates to the readers that someone is taking responsibility for the analysis, conversely, the absence of names signals an evasion of responsibility. Readers can follow up and communicate with named sources. Also, names may have reputation for credibility - or not." [ET]

I was motivated to write about this subject when I knowingly engaged in a discussion with an Anonymous commenter on the MXUnit blog. My general rule of thumb is not to engage any Anonymous dialogs, but there was something about this one that caught my attention. Regardless of the reason, I began the discourse, and I am glad I did because it got me thinking, but not so much on the subject of the discussion, which is irrelevant, but rather on the subject of anonymity and credibility. We went back and forth, me and Anonymous. I was looking for proof or citations on some small point and I also wanted to know with whom I was speaking, but I never asked or demanded, which was my failed responsibility. I now conclude that the points the commenter made are 100% invalid. They're invalid not because of their intended or intrinsic merit, they're invalid because Anonymous is not willing to be accountable, and accountability is a precondition for the credibility of information.

This speaks to the broader question of anonymity in the context of the blogging and the web, too. As an information producer or consumer does anonymity do anyone any good at all? Could anonymity possibly do damage? When it comes to discourse, such as expressing ideas on technical issues, today I believe that anonymity doesn't have a place and should be discouraged. So, anonymous comments are now disabled on the MXUnit blog.

I suspect that if you're not willing to take ownership of what you write or say, that maybe you shouldn't say it.  This may be the simple litmus test we should follow.  If we're concerned about backlash maybe the answer is not perpetuating anonymity but creating a stronger culture of acceptance, open mindedness, and freedom.

bill shelton

[ET] Edward Tufte -

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