Thursday, May 18, 2006

The Scourge of Anonymity

My exchange with Mary Wilbur on canonist.com

She wrote:

Misquotation, misrepresentation, disinformation, stupidity and ignorance spin the web of the world.

Anyone who has ever used credit, opened a bank account, or been employed (unless their documents are forged, falsified, or stolen) was, is, and always will be monitored. Privacy was finished the moment the fed started to collect income taxes (Taft) and issue Social Security cards (F. Roosevelt).

I wrote:

True enough. And so, credit card companies, for instance, have made it their policy to accept customer fraud claims first and ask questions later. As inconvenient, even damaging, as it is to vendors, they must accept this, or face the worse alternative, which is the loss of customers’ trust in their credit card companies and credit card purchasing.

Likewise, I believe, in the marketplace of ideas, because of the vast possibilities for fraud, we should believe the accused and not the accuser, as our initial response. We should suspect claims of misconduct coming from anonymous sources. We should discard such claims when they’re not swiftly followed by official complaints to the authorities.

As we’ve learned from the Gafni and the few other abuse cases currently in the news, complaints coming from real people, in real police stations, are being treated seriously. This is why we opened those police stations tro begin with. But when we encounter anonymous accusers, we should opt, out of hand, to discard the accuser and believe the accused. Otherwise we end up with renegade institutions like the so-called Awareness Center, which makes its living on publishing anonymous pornographic notes in an endless parade of shame and ruin.

Anonymity, like secrecy, has a way of becoming toxic and malignant with extensive, habitual use. Quickly enough, it becomes a powerful destructive weapon, instead of a means to protect the weak.

A 20-year veteran of the Internet, active in online publishing since before Al Gore invented it, I care a great deal about the cumulative effect of toxic anonymity. In my opinion, it has long since departed from the region of free speech and has entered the area of cowardly terrorism.

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