“…is that it’s anonymous, and it has no memory. There’s no archive, there are no barriers, there’s no registration…That’s led to this discussion that’s completely raw, completely unfiltered.”
–Christopher Poole, founder of 4chan.org, on the popularity of his site
“You have one identity. The days of you having a different image for your work friends or co-workers and for the other people you know are probably coming to an end pretty quickly. Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity.”
–Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook
It has the potential to be something of THE existential question of our times. Identity or anonymity when interacting on the Internet, especially the parts that I like to call “wild and wooly”. Is there greater power in having your identity there for all the world to see, and having the strength and confidence to back your words, as Zuckerberg argues? Or does the greater power lie in being anonymous, and allowing oneself to become completely unfiltered, and, in effect, perhaps getting to a person’s truest essence, as Poole asserts?
While that particular argument could probably take up pages of text in either direction, the purpose of this post is to focus on the advantages, disadvantages and risks that online conservative activists take when they go in either direction, identity or anonymity.
Oddly enough (I know, right?), I’ve found myself on both sides of this argument, and suffered the advantages and disadvantages of both. In the time since I became politically active on Twitter, I have used two different handles. The first, @FWMReporter, was when I first started getting heavily involved in online political activism, but attempted to tie my Twitter profile loosely to my job. The advantage of having my work identity associated with my Twitter profile was pretty straight forward: access.
In tweeting at profiles associated with local agencies when my work identity was still tied to Twitter, I found that Twitter essentially became another medium through which to conduct interviews, and also get other various forms of information. Along with this, having my name and work associated with my Twitter profile seemed to trigger more responses from “celebrity” tweeters, such as Jake Tapper, the late Andrew Breitbart, and others.
So, identity equaled respect and trust. Unfortunately, because I’m me, I ended up reverting to my trolling ways one day in a fight with Alec Baldwin over the Keystone XL pipeline. Some random Baldwin supporter saw this, (and unluckily enough, because I had JUST re-associated my name with my Twitter), deduced where I worked, and sent an e-mail to both my publisher and editor. Thankfully, I have a VERY cool editor, and this passed by with not much hassle for me on my end. Below, you’ll see the email this troll sent.
Regardless, my editor did advise me to drop any mention of work from my Twitter, and that’s how it’s been ever since. Unfortunately, even when it was EXPRESSLY stated that @FoolishReporter was a personal account, I still had people wanting to get in touch with my work over my tweets.
@foolishreporter That is just offensive, misogynistic, and terrible. Who do you write for again and how can I let them know what u said?— tacomamama (@tacomamama) November 19, 2011
@foolishreporter OH it's a *personal profile* that means one in which you can post disgusting libel about 20 year old girls.— tacomamama (@tacomamama) November 19, 2011
The offending tweet is a story for a whole ‘nother time, but I will still admit that it probably did cross a line. ‘Nuff said.
So from then on I was @FoolishReporter and tried to keep my real identity as completely disassociated with it as possible. And for the most part, it’s been successful. I’ve been able to operate on Twitter mostly unimpeded since. However, and here’s one of the biggest arguments AGAINST anonymity, is that months after the change, I was partially doxed by a former writer of The Trenches. In an apparent fit of pique, this former member of The Trenches tweeted out text messages between me and them which had MY FIRST AND LAST NAME in them. Awesome! Shortly after those tweets from this person, this showed up in my @ column:
Needless to say, my heart started pounding, and, given who I thought was the likely source of this tweet, my future job security seriously felt like it might be in doubt. Thankfully, though, it appears nothing too sinister happened because of this, although I did receive some fun text messages earlier this month, as reported on here.
And that, right there, is the biggest disadvantage of anonymity. It gives anyone who wants to come after you a BIG stick, if you will, to hold over you if they do discover your identity. It can be used as leverage, or it can be used to essentially set the Internet hordes loose on you and those around you. By choosing the route of anonymity, you give opponents/enemies ONE BIG THING to go after, namely, your identity. Take that power away from them, and they lose that attack vector, although, as noted already, identity opens up other attack vectors.
Anonymity is a calculated risk that can yield great rewards but also bring on disastrous results. Never forget that.
In both my time having “identity” associated with my online political activism and being “anonymous” while participating in my activism, I have reaped the benefits of both, but also experienced the downside of both. Identity is powerful, and opens up avenues that anonymity doesn’t such as access, trust, and fame, for lack of a better term, while carrying its own forms of risk. Conversely, anonymity is also a powerful modus operandi with its own advantages, such as (possibly temporary) security, absolute freedom of expression, and its own unique forms of access.
Of course, it all comes down to your own personal situation. If you work a job where your identity being associated with your online activities can be damaging to said job, then anonymity is probably the route you should take. If you work a job where you believe you don’t have much to worry about having your identity tied to your online activities, then letting the world know who you are is perfectly acceptable. Other considerations like family and friends are also important in weighing the decision between identity vs. anonymity.
Well, that’s about it for now, my friends.
See you around.