While I agree with almost everything Alan Jacobs has to say on the topic of Internet anonymity, I want to specifically endorse this section :

The problem is that over the years I have heard from many people who insist on anonymity in order to protect themselves from “reprisals” when in fact all they’re going to suffer is disagreement. And grownups ought to be able to deal with being disagreed with.

Moreover, every protest against injustice is far more meaningful when the person making it is willing to sign his or her name to it. As the literary theorist Mikhail Bakhtin pointed out long ago, in his early work Art and Answerability , to undersign a statement with one’s own name is a powerful act — an act of commitment, responsibility: one becomes “answerable” for it. This is a strong witness to others. Anonymous dissent, by contrast, is often empty to others because no one is answerable to it. Anonymous dissent requires numbers to have an effect. When many protest anonymously their position gains weight additively; the single anonymous protester comes off as a crank or a troll.

Anonymity on the internet may be desirable often but it is necessary only rarely, and surely in 98% of the cases in which it is invoked the conversation would be better when conducted by answerable individuals.


It probably won’t surprise you to hear that I don’t have a lot of respect for the opinions of people who won’t sign their name—their real name—to what they write. Sure, I may engage you, agree/disagree with you, thank you for your comment, etc. But I can’t honestly say that I respect such opinions or give them much thought—and why should you expect me too? I put my name to everything I write on the Web (however imprudent that may be). Why should I take seriously the thoughts of someone who isn’t willing to undersign the statements they make?

Anyone care to make the case for why pseudonymous commenters should be accorded a dispensation from having to take responsibility for their writing? I’m genuinely interested in hearing a reasonable explanation that doesn’t rely on the weak, “My boss wouldn’t like it if she found out what I really thought.”

Articles by Joe Carter

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