Friday, March 30, 2012

Anonymity and the Internet

A scandal regarding blog comments posted by federal prosecutore Sal Perricone has come to light in recent weeks here in New Orleans. Perricone's blog comments, posted under a fake name, trashed local government, judges, and aspects of certain cases in federal court. While his conduct wasn’t necessarily illegal, it was certainly unethical. This story sheds light not just on ethics but on the trend of many people posting on blogs anonymously or under a hidden identity.

I was listening to WWL 870 AM radio station today. The host of a local talk program noted how ugly some of the text messages are that come into his station. He remarked that because there is some anonymity in texting in comments that people will say things they would never say on the phone or in person.

When I first started working for the Vineyard Church of Kenner we would occasionally get letters sent to the church that were very critical of me and my worship leading. However the most hateful letters were never signed and it really sucked getting them. I remember talking to my pastor about it and he told me a great word of wisdom, “If you get a letter that isn’t signed and with no address then just through it in the trash because if the person who sent it isn’t brave enough to sign it then you don’t need to read it.” I have been so thankful for that advice in the years that followed.

What do you think of anonymity on the internet?
Do you agree with the advice my pastor gave me?
Have you ever commented on blogs, or through text, or emails in a way that was anonymous? Why?


greenturtle said...

I learned the hard way that you have to watch what you say on the internet, even if you think it's anonymous. Because you can, and often will, be found out.

I learned this when I sent a private message on myspace to a few of my coworkers, complaining about the management at my job. I had no idea that one of them was going to PRINT it out and show it to them!

It wasn't even a public post, so I didn't even think about the possible ramifications.

That was the predecessor to facebook. Where once again, I learned the hard way, that just because someone is not on your friend list, doesn't mean they can't read everything you post!

Of course I've made many anonymous posts. You can say that I post here anonymously, as "greenturtle" is not my real name.

Although it wouldn't take a genius to figure out who I am, if you were to look around. Twitter for example, identifies me. In fact, I'd be really surprised if you don't already know.

I used to post anonymously on purpose, using multiple fake names, in order to conceal who I was. Myspace, for example, does not have my real name, but I don't use it anymore.

I guess I'm just not afraid for people to know who I am anymore.

I am who I am, and if I get banned simply because they find out who I am (and it's happened), well, they're still going to have to figure out what they will do with themselves once we're all in eternity.

I'm sorry to hear you got anonymous hate mail, and yes, just throwing it away was probably the best thing for you to do. I can assure you that none of it came from me, though.

greenturtle said...

And for the record... yes, I am on facebook too, and not anonymously. I'm listed as my married name.

My block list is a mile long, though. Anybody who I suspected might block me, I blocked them first.

Granted, blocking is not fool proof for the computer savvy, but most of the people I blocked are just average end users.

Darren said...

Hey Crispin:
A few thoughts.
1)I largely remain anonymous on the internet, although my friends all know my alias. Although, I blog, I use a pseudonym and I never use my wife or children’s names.
2)I am anonymous because my role demands it. Clients will occasionally google my name and if they find all of this content attached to me, it might impact my ability to do my job.
3)I am anonymous to protect others. I talk a lot about church issues and about my experience at an unhealthy church on my blog. I didn’t want my blog to be about me calling people out.
4)I am anonymous to protect my family. Strange that someone who blogs should be concerned about security, but I have concerns about discussing my children and family online. I have also deleted my facebook account.

Maybe I will feel comfortable enough to openly share my full name online, but that day is not there yet. Interestingly, I’ve found 17 year old comments that I’ve made on the internet, which is to say that once your unplug the genie, you can’t put him back in.


Darren (DB Beem)

greenturtle said...

There are lots of different reasons for wanting to be anonymous.

You just have to remember that nothing is fool proof. Pseudonyms can be figured out.

Even though they can't see your face, people with past dealings with you can still recognize your writing styles, patterns, personality, references to events.

Facebook is a completely different ballgame; Due to the constantly changing policies and general practices of facebook, it requires much tighter security.

Facebook is my means of communicating with my family and friends.

The reason my block list is so long: Apparently some people feel compelled to have my primary means of communicating with my family and friends, stripped from me.

Simply because of who I am; purely out of vengeance and spite. (Wow, what a "Christian" thing to do).

Apparently someone, and I'm pretty sure it was someone from my former church, falsely reported me to facebook, severely putting my account in jeopardy.

And for me, it's not just an "account." It's my lifeline, my means of connecting with the people who love me.

So, ANYBODY I suspected it might have been, plus many people closely associated with a suspect-- blocked immediately.

Then changed to my married name; None of them know what that is.

I'm sure they smugly think they succeeded, since they can't see me anymore.

I'll be happy to see that smugness get slapped back in their face once they see me on the other side. And then they'll have to make a decision.

Pi Man said...

What do you think of anonymity on the internet?

I think that overall it’s a good thing. The problem starts when one hides in his anonymity and makes hurtful/untruthful/strife-laden comments. It’s like anything else: nice to have at your disposal yet you know that some will take advantage of it. My opinion is that you have to put up with the latter to enjoy the freedom of the former. But many need to learn that with freedom comes responsibility, no?

Do you agree with the advice my pastor gave me?

For the most part, yes. However, let’s be honest. Unless you’re super-good at intellectually/emotionally letting things go, once your eyes have seen and your mind comprehends, it’s difficult to then not think about what you’ve read, especially if it’s negative.

Have you ever commented on blogs, or through text, or emails in a way that was anonymous? Why?

Overall I remain anonymous, though I’m not completely sure why anymore. I mean, when I was working full time, well, you know how it is – you have to not stray too far outside the carefully defined lines that were created to minimize potential problems. But yes, I have and for the most part still do comment anonymously. I wish I could say that I have never “let if fly” when I was really upset about something. But that would be a lie. And it is nice to be able to knock someone back into reality when they are so full of crap in what they’ve said, and not fear that they will come burn my house down in retaliation. So that is a perk. :-) The biggest challenge for me personally, and I alluded to this above, is to make sure I’m responding in a way that is respectful and truthful, and yet allows me the personal satisfaction that I’ve clearly made my point.

Hope that makes sense. Thanks and peace, TA (anonymous for Tim Allen, y’all – ha!)

John Pankey said...

I wonder what name comes up if I post here? Oh, yep...that's not anonymous.

I got tired of hiding years ago. I generally won't post anything that is critical of another person, but I certainly don't mind being considered heretical for some of the theological beliefs I hold. It opens doors to conversations with people I wouldn't otherwise connect with. Those who disagree with me are certainly free to, although I'm not a big fan of those who don't have a reason for their beliefs other than "Pastor said so..."