Thursday, February 10, 2011

Lemming Tracks: Anonymity, Blogs, and Making a Point

What do the Governor of Louisiana, the next eruption of the Yellowstone caldera, blogging, and anonymity have to do with each other?

Not much, actually. But an anonymous comment on a post in this blog got the Lemming to thinking. It was this post:
A little earlier today that prolific correspondent, Anonymous, left this comment:

"Who is the moron that wrote this article? If you are going to write an article about the volcanic activity in Yellowstone, you should at least know that it is the NW corner of WYOMING...not Colorado. It makes you look stupid!"

Anonymous was right, by the way. That post (or article) had Yellowstone in the northwest corner of Colorado. The Lemming corrected that error, and acknowledged Anonymous' contribution.

Anonymous was also right in asserting that factual errors "make you look stupid."

The Lemming - Unmasked!

I've taken to writing in the third person for this blog, and referring to myself as "the Lemming." Mostly because I think it's fun.

I am not trying to hide my identity. My name and a brief description are in this blog's sidebar, with a link to my Blogger profile.

Since I live in the United States, and don't feel that shape-shifting, space-alien lizard-men are 'really' behind what I don't like - letting folks know my name and a little about me isn't a problem.

Besides, I live in a small town in central Minnesota. I love it here - but in a place like this 'privacy,' in the sense of faceless anonymity, is nearly impossible to maintain. And that's almost another topic.

For the rest of this post, I'm dropping into 'first-person' writing. It's easier, and - well, I'll get to that.

Being Anonymous: Good Reasons

Not everybody lives in America. Most folks don't. Some folks, wherever they live, are afraid that some malevolent force is out to get them.

Sometimes those fears are, in my opinion, unfounded. That's because I don't think that space-alien lizard-men, the Illuminati, or the CIA are trying to control by brain with subliminal messages - or whatever the latest fad in conspiracy theories is.

Maybe I'm wrong about that. But I don't think so. And that's another topic.

Sometimes those fears are, again in my opinion, all too reasonable. Some folks living in Egypt, for example, seem to be trying to end a regime that's made a point of removing folks who won't play the president's way from society. Others in Egypt like things the way they are - and that's yet another topic, for another post.

The point is that folks living in places like Egypt have very good reasons for hiding their identities: if they don't agree with whoever's running the country, and want to express their thoughts. Without dying unexpectedly, or simply disappearing. Egypt's not the only place that's run by opposition-averse leaders. Iran and Burma/Myanmar come to mind as examples. In my opinion, again.

Those links are to my Another War-on-Terror Blog, which is also 'apathetic:' in the sense I've defined for the 'apathetic' Lemming.

Being Anonymous: Not-So-Good Reasons

I think some folks use the (apparent) anonymity of online correspondence as a way of venting spleen without fear of reprisal. It's 'honest,' in the sense of the term used by pop psychologists in the '60s and '70s: but I don't think it's a particularly effective way to communicate.

I rant online occasionally. This post is, in a way, a rant. But - and this is an important distinction, I think - I don't rant anonymously.

If I did, my words would have little or no context. Someone reading them wouldn't know what sort of person had written them.

And that's important. In my opinion.

Not in the sort of 'socioeconomic class distinctions' way that has been - and is - a part of many cultures. I don't think that what a person says is more or less important, based on how much money the person has, or who the person's ancestors were.

I do, however, think that a person's status and experience makes a difference.

For example, someone who has worked as a delivery clerk might reasonably be expected to have more practical knowledge of that occupation than someone who hasn't.

Then there's the possibly-still-contentious matter of whether or not dealing with people for decades brings with it the potential for developing some understanding of how folks behave.
Personal Safety: Important
As I wrote earlier, some folks need to maintain anonymity online - because they live in a part of the world where dissenting opinions are severely sanctioned.
Spitefulness Without Consequences: Not So Important
For someone whose goals are similar to those of a person who throws doo-doo at passing cars - anonymous comments may also be appropriate.

For anyone trying to make a point - and be taken seriously - I think that anonymous comments may not be the best option. Particularly if the comments can be interpreted as being offensive.

I've written about this sort of thing before:

Want People to Take You Seriously? Drop the Attitude

Whatever a person's view on "Afgainistan," the Taliban, and whether the CIA or Al Qaeda represent a greater threat to American citizens, I think it's a good idea to remember a few things:
  • People aren't all alike: We don't all
    • Dress alike
    • Look alike
    • Prefer the same foods
Deal with it.

Since anything online that's written in English may be read by people in over a hundred countries, I think it's a good idea to leave terms like "towelhead" or "ignorant westerner" at home.2
" 'Towelhead,' 'Retard,' and Talking Sense in a Global Society"
Another War-on-Terror Blog (February 24, 2009)
Bottom line?
  • There are nearly 7,000,000,000 people alive today
  • A remarkable fraction of them understand English
    (April 4, 2008)
  • My experience has been that folks don't like having offensive terms hurled at them
    • Generally
      • There are a few who thrive on abuse
        • Still one more topic
It's my considered opinion, as someone who's been dealing with people for over a half-century, that hiding behind a screen and hurling insults isn't the most effective way to make a point.

But that's just my opinion.

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