Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Anonymous Poster: Or is it Anony-mouse

Back when Moneylaw appeared to be an up and coming blog, I think it was Jim Chen who used to respond to anonymous comments with the salutation Dear Anony-mouse. I thought about that when two of the commentators on my last post remained anonymous although not saying anything controversial and saying what was said in a completely civil way. This made me wonder about the reasons for anonymous comments.

One  reader informed me that a person is in the private sector who says things  that could result in formal or informal sanctions in his or her job may well prefer to remain anonymous. That one maskes sense to me as long as the comment is substantive. When they get nasty, I'd say the commentators just want to  snipe and the private sector excuse is inapplicable.

I suppose untenured people might also have good reasons to remain anonymous.  Law profs can be very petty and taking someone on who may be reviewing your work or voting on your promotion, even in civil fashion, is probably not a good idea.  I wish it were not so but we are talking about law profs.

Add to the list of those who can justify anonymity disgruntled students. They bought into law school advertising and many are without jobs but do have debt. Putting their names on anything that could come back in haunt them in a job search would be foolish. Plus they may have more standing that any group to get a little upset.

But let's get to the nub of things. I am willing to bet that a fair percentage of anonymous comments are from tenured law professors.  Sure, I cannot prove it but, if you can prove otherwise, I am all ears and I will pay your way to Disney World if you do prove it.  So what is up with this? Are they afraid they may not be invited to the next conference or asked to contribute to yet another symposium consisting of someone and his or her pals?  What are we to make of people who want to send a strong message and then hide behind a rock after sending it?  Are they afraid the person they complain about will not want to be friends if their  their identity is revealed? Do they actually think people attribute as much weight to views that can only be expressed if no one knows who is expressing them? If the author has so little conviction, why should the listener pay attention? Or is this just wide spread paranoia.  The biggest problem is that they are free riders on the understandable need of others to remain anonymous so the reader does not know how to separate those with legitimate concerns from the hyper-cautious prissy law profs.

Don't get me wrong. I realize, perhaps more than most, that there are sanctions for being outspoken but isn't it better to deal with them than to creep around with a mask on when you feel strongly about about something? I'd feel sneaky.

My hunch is that it is closely related to law professors' obsession with deniability and cost/benefit analysis.

But really, I am quite  curious about the explanation and am open to comments  that would help me understand. Anonymity is fine -- I don't have enough readers to be picky.


Anonymous said...

Still not sure what the "numb" of things is. You refer to free riding by the "hyper-cautious prissy law profs" -- by way of welcome? -- but don't say what's being impaired. What is the harm caused by anonymous comments, if they are civil and topical, and don't invoke unsubstantiated expertise? ATBE, I'd think you would be happy with taking comments on their merits, and divorcing them from what you normally pillory as claims to status.

Anyway, as to why I personally choose anonymity, probably timidity has something to do with it, and the fact that I'm not sufficiently invested in this medium to bother otherwise. But one reason you haven't mentioned is that the field isn't level. Bloggers can moderate as they choose, but commenters can't defend themselves to the same degree. Others remaining anonymous will retain the right to contradict themselves under various IDs, to keep demanding answers (but walk away themselves), to speak uncivilly, etc. If everyone were under real names, or if people would only achieve anonymity by disclosing themselves to the blogger, that'd be different -- for me, at least.

BTW, no idea how many anonymous commentators are tenured law professors, but at least on other blogs I'd bet it's a minority.

Jeffrey Harrison said...

I think Numb is the world's worst proof reader trying to write nub.

Good points. I thought about my rants against institutional authority when I wrote this and the same point occurred to me. I think what bothers me is the sincere believe that those who talk and a write about civility are among the nasty posters. They play the civility card to silence others and then let it all out when they can hide.

Plus, I know that sometimes the anonymous commentators are the bloggers themselves fighting back against the commentators but wanting it to appear that they have support. As one early blogger told me when I was complaining about a commentator years ago, "You can be an anonymous commentator too."

As for what it takes away. To me it takes away any sense of having a conversation. Every person who is anonymous is identified as the same person. You cannot really tell if it is one person or ten or whether they are just trolling. And, as you say, they can contradict themselves. Frankly, it's almost as bad as a faculty meeting.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous bloggers are pussies!
[see what I mean]

Former Editor said...

I think there's a useful middle ground. LGM, for example, just instituted a registration policy for commenters, but one that still permitted anonymous posting through use of a consistent handle (like the one I use).

I'd also like to suggest one additional area of good cause anonymous commenters: government employees. Government folks (be they in a political branch or the judiciary) may want to remain anonymous because they are concerned that something they post will be (improperly) attributed back to the agency/court/department/office that they work for.