4

People have been commenting "off the record" for ages. However, the Internet has made pseudonyms a major meme. Indeed, anonymity on the Internet may be the default choice for the majority of people who venture online.

The obvious problem is that speaking or writing anonymously or pseudonymously could be regarded as inherently dishonest. Part of the problem is a lack of transparency; is the person who's making some political statement on Facebook an authentic activist, a propagandist or a fourteen-year-old troll?

There are, of course, pros and cons to online masquerades. Some can be compared to "little white lies," for example.

Are you aware of any references that do a respectable job of analyzing online anonymity and/or suggesting some guidelines?

I'm also interested in knowing what pre-Internet philosophers had to say about people who broadcast their ideas anonymously. (Were there any notable philosophers who were anonymous themselves?)

The Philosophy of Anonymous The Philosophy of Honesty

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Geoffrey Thomas Mar 1 at 13:03
  • @GeoffreyThomas Like I told the Mohel, "I only said to take a little off the top!" You over-aggressively deleted several perfectly on-point comments. Moderation is one thing, outright destruction of valid comments is another. I ask you to restore all comments that did not violate Stackexchange policy. – user4894 Mar 17 at 20:28
  • Habermas is a place to check for answer: people unable to judge/think critically need some author(ity). Academic peer-reviewing is doubly anonymous. – sand1 Mar 17 at 22:11
  • 1
    There is the matter of personal safety to consider. Is it safe and/or recommended to use one's real name on the Internet? Someone could expand this into a full answer. – Tautological Revelations Mar 18 at 6:06
  • Yes, posting under one's real name can be dangerous. On the other hand, there can be no political reform without some risk taking. I have more respect for people who not only stand behind what they say but, especially if they're authors, offer a thorough resume. In politics it's called transparency. – David Blomstrom Mar 18 at 6:28
2

John Locke tended to publish anonymously though the identity of the author soon became known.

I use my own name on line, as you use yours. But two points : in the first place, someone might want to write, to publish online, anonymously in order to try out ideas or to offer an explanation or to give a first-pass answer without wanting their contribution to be linked with their professional work. There can be perfectly good reasons for this. It might be that one gives an answer or makes a comment which is fine for the particular medium but not what one would give in a formal capacity because there is not enough room for full exposition or finessed qualification.

Secondly, even if one gives one's name, that's an unreliable guide to whether 'the person who's making some political statement on Facebook [is] an authentic activist, a propagandist or a fourteen-year-old troll'.

I might add a third point. I can understand how there might be some fun in adopting a pseudonym. 'Dr Zombie', 'Thor' and 'Orca' have an edge that 'Joe Blow' or my own name doesn't. And a fourth: use of a pseudonym such as 'Lost', 'Sceptic', 'Know Nothing' - my inventions - can indicate the user's state of mind or angle on the world, and this can help with knowing how to respond.

Not sure that there's any 'inherent dishonesty' in 'speaking or writing anonymously or pseudonymously'. I take your point seriously, as it is meant, but I'm not inclined to say there's intrinsically any deceit, fraudulence or insincerity, say, in anonymity or pseudonymity.

References ? Here's one :

Anthony Kelly, 'In Defence of Anonymity: Rejoining the Criticism', British Educational Research Journal, Vol. 35, No. 3 (Jun., 2009), pp. 431-445. The article, if you can get access it to it, has masses of citations of other work.

2

I'm not sure if this is what you're looking for, but it seems to me relevant. There is a question in epistemology and philosophy of language concerning what one is epistemically committed to when one says something. That is, should what you say be true? Should you know that what you say is true? Is it sufficient that you believe that it is? There's a parallel question of what can one infer from what is said: can you infer that the speaker believes their claim? That they know it? etc.

Recently, Sanford Godlberg has focused on anonymous assertion in light of these questions. He argues:

anonymous assertions do not carry the same ‘promise’ of the speaker's relevant epistemic authoritativeness that ordinary assertions do. If this is correct, the phenomenon of anonymity provides us with a lesson regarding ordinary assertions: their aptness for engendering belief in others, and so for communicating knowledge, depends in general on the very publicness of the act of assertion itself.

There's also a short discussion of anonymous assertion in the SEP entry on assertion.

2

As already noted there can be legitimate reasons for writing anonymously, and there are considerations regarding the content... I'll just offer some further thoughts along these lines:

Firstly an author may feel that their argument may be unduly bolstered by their name being attached to it, that is they might want the argument to be evaluated in an authority neutral environment. The converse can also be legitimate: a writer may feel that their name (or lack thereof) can detract from the value of their argument.

As for content, an argument using generally accepted facts can be judged on the basis of the argument alone, in other words without reference to authority. However when facts are new or controversial the author should stand behind their statements by their own authority (their name) or by external reference (recognized subject authorities).

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.