Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The Purpose and Dangers of Anonymity

Anonymity grants the ability to provide information without risking the loss of life or reputation. Websites from WashingtonFlorida and all over America are specifically designed to reveal the benefit of anonymous tips and how they have helped solve criminal cases. Yet, it is argued that anonymous or pseudonymous comments should be banned from the platforms of digital journalism. It is believed that, while anonymous, people are more likely to write or speak without thinking. This then leads to issues of offense, hostility, and fear, which digital journalism desires to free itself from.

Before digital journalism superseded print, anonymous remarks were not deemed credible. Even a letter to the editor required appropriate contact information, and still does today. However, pseudonyms were acceptable because it was understood that opposing the status quo could cause great harm to the person. Hence, the acceptance and publication of the Silence Dogood letters written by Benjamin Franklin. Through his many pseudonyms, Franklin had the ability to express his thoughts, concerns, or ideas without having to face ridicule or prison. Some might say using Benjamin Franklin as an example is unfair, since he lived during a time when the government ruled through tyranny. If that is so, then let me point to a more recent account taking place in our liberated, independent and democratic society.

In 1971, the government fought to conceal the leak of the Pentagon Papers in regards to the war in Vietnam on the grounds of national security. All 7,000 pages were release in 2011. If that is too distant, then let's look at 2013 when Edward Snowden revealed the truth about the government's role in surveillance through phones and the Internet. He was later forced to flee the persecution of the United States and remains in Russia to this day. If a major purpose of journalism is to fulfill the role of a watchdog, keeping the public aware of political discrepancies, then why when fulfilling that role are they incarcerated and charged with compromising national security?

On the other hand, there have been countless examples of digital comments resulting in serious issues of harassment. When former baseball player Curt Schilling tweeted about his daughter's success, he was met with vulgar remarks about men raping his daughter. Instead of ignoring it, he tracked down the very men who hid behind the screen and those who apologized were left alone, but others were fired from their jobs or expelled from their universities. This generation of online users demonstrates a lack of control and thought when posting opinions. This comment section from an article written in response to the Baltimore Riots shows a greater need to censor certain choices of expression from its readers.

Overall, as I continue to learn in my Media Criticism course RTV4403 at Florida State College of Jacksonville, I do not believe that anonymous or pseudonymous comments should be banned. Anonymous and pseudonymous ideas permit the people with the right to propose an idea that goes against the grain. I believe that pseudonyms are safer than anonymous writing because claiming a name and sticking to that name creates an identity, which builds the credibility of the user. Fear will always rise during times of war and national security will always be threatened. When we, as a people, have the right to express our views in a dignified manner, we have the ability to cause our fellow people to think. It is not my job to force you to believe anything, instead I desire to present you with enough information that will cause you to think critically and allow you to form a conclusion.

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