The Internet: A Good Place to be Anonymous

by cheri block sabraw

One of the most serious problems with the Internet is that it is bulging with anonymity. (You’ll remember last month’s disclosure that a popular lesbian blogger followed lovingly by many lesbians was, in fact, a man.)

Sure, anonymity can be useful in delicate matters such as reporting how much time one’s erection lasted after taking Viagra or in revealing to the FBI that your neighbor is a member of the Mafia.

I find that taking the anonymous route on the Internet is for cowards.

That harsh statement should generate a host of reasoned pleadings for the plusses of anonymity.

I have begun to wean myself away from the Internet and blogs, in general.  I’m picking up the local newspaper more now, along with an occasional news magazine. At least there, Letters to the Editor must be signed. I’ve upped my reading of books where the author signs her name.

Bloggers with cute pseudonyms no longer seem cute to me. Their authenticity leaks.

In fact, they seem like hidden loners, looking for either an online affair or friends they will never meet in person.

My grandfather told me “to get up and get out.”

More people addicted to the Internet ought to heed that advice.

Get up, get out, and get away from a medium in which most of the time you do not know whose opinion you are reading or what the writer’s true intention is.


About Cheri

Writer, artist, cable television host, grandmother to four!
This entry was posted in Life and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

38 Responses to The Internet: A Good Place to be Anonymous

  1. I agree on so many levels, Cheri. Infact, I’ll go you one better; turn off those TV’s and go make your own news on the street. It would porobably be better news!

    • Cheri says:

      Hi Kayti,
      Our TV has been off of cable and network “news” for several years now. We still enjoy watching college football and golf, so still pay the high satellite TV fees.

  2. zeusiswatching says:

    The Internet isn’t really that anonymous. Look around long enough and one can figure out who is behind the cute blogger names (none is more cute than Zeusiswatching), so it pays to behave online. More than one person has lost a job because of recklessness on the web.

    As for our opinions, they are just that. Pseudonyms online should serve simple purposes, to establish the “brand” just like any product name, and help establish the “personality traits” and tone of the site.

    Our local paper has made the transition to truly focusing upon local news, not trying to compete with online and TV news outlets for national coverage. We took today’s paper to the beach with us this morning, and we read it to find places to go right here in town.

    • Cheri says:

      Your local paper has a good idea. When I was the journalism advisor at the local high school, my students wanted to cover the big news of the day. By the time the paper came out, such news was old news. We, too, began to switch our focus to our local high school news. Readers read the paper, looking for NAMES…their names, names of people they knew..not anonymous names. I suppose I am sensitive to this issue because of my time spent as a journalism instructor.

  3. ccsaw says:

    I had a blog for five years or so that included my observations about trends and problems in my profession and recommended solutions. My writing style was edgy but never offensive and I enjoyed using everyday experiences outside my business to better understand human nature and my business. As the Supreme Court would surely say, my writings were well within the marketplace of ideas.

    Sadly, having joined a larger organization, the individual, like me, does not have as much freedom and is institutionally censored to further the organization’s arguably legitimate desire to “speak with one voice”. Of course, that eliminates the individual voice, the diversity among our numbers and , frankly, is boring.

    The point is that sometimes the use of a by-line is required to keep the writer out of trouble. This is especially true when discussing topics that one not dare raise publically in one’s own name without being targeted by the thought police.

    My Best,

    Pete Moss

    • Cheri says:

      HI Steve,
      True. Having just finished Kafka’s The Trial, I would agree that the thought police come in the night and take you (or your independent thoughts) away. Still, one can hide (and be very snarky) under the safety of the anonymous internet.

      Could you get away with that in court?

  4. Cyberquill says:

    Bloggers with cute pseudonyms lack in authenticity unless their pseudonym is clickable and affords an easy way to establish their identity for anyone who’s interested, provided their website isn’t shrouded in anonymity as well.

    What annoys me are (is?) these anonymous guttersnipes who are just in it to vent and call people names without accountability, especially on political websites. You go to a place like Fox Nation, frequented predominantly by right-wing loons, or equivalent forums for left-wing dunderheads, most commentators there hide behind random pseudonyms and cryptic avatars so they can spout their loopy twaddle without having to worry about potential repercussions or losing face when they crawl out of their basements. Calling these people cowards is an understatement.

    • Cheri says:

      Forgive me for being distracted by your tremendous use of language here in the comment, but I must compliment you, Peter, on your word choice. Guttersnipes, loons, and dunderheads…my oh my. Not to mention shrouded, clickable, and cryptic avatars. If most American students had 1/10th of your working vocabulary…

      I thought using the word coward was a bit harsh.

      • Cyberquill says:

        I actually used it myself the other day in precisely this context and directly addressing the referents themselves, but only because—in spite of my extensive working vocabulary—I couldn’t think of a stronger one.

        First line of my second paragraph above: is or are?

        I think is.

    • Philippe says:

      “…….What annoys me are (is?)……….First line of my second paragraph above: is or are?…….

      You were right you use “is”, since “is” always goes with “what” (singular). As in “what………is”.

      However, I wasn’t an English major (ie the academic kind), so what I’ve just said has no academic authority. Since Cheri might have been an English major, she may wish to give her authoritative verdict on this important matter.

      • Philippe says:

        I believe I erred in something I said in my previous comment. One can, of course, say, “What are……”, as in, “What are these people doing here?”

        What if you had talked of only one guttersnipe? It would have been correct to to say, “What annoys me is……this guttersnipe…..”. However, since you spoke of “guttersnipes”, it, now in hindsight, seems correct to say, “What annoys me are ……these guttersnipes……..”, because the “what” that annoys you refers to “guttersnipes”, not just one “guttersnipe”.

        This discussion shows how difficult the English language is, and therefore how cursed native English-speakers are, compared to (with?) native-speakers of most other languages.

      • Richard says:

        I would be happier with those anonymous guttersnipes. Still, you must judge.


      • Cyberquill says:

        I think the verb must always agree with the subject. In What annoys me …, the what is the subject, i.e., the entity that’s doing something to the object, which is me.

        But when you say What are these people doing here?, the people are the active party, i.e., the subject, and the what is the object.

  5. Good advice Cheri–a means has become an end for too many people.

  6. Philippe says:

    While many who write under pseudonyms may well be “……hidden loners, looking for either an online affair or friends they will never meet in person……..”, not all are. Most bloggers do write anonymously, most for good reasons, as put forth in some of the comments to your posting.

    As for writers of the past, what of the pseudonymous ones, like Mark Twain, Lewis Carroll,
    George Orwell, George Eliot, Saki, O Henry, Yukio Mishima, Molière, Stendhal, Ayn Rand, Anthony Burgess, and C. S. Forester? Were they
    all hidden loners, terrified of exposure?

    As long as what is written is worth reading, why is the name of who wrote it important?

    • Cyberquill says:

      You’re confusing the use of pseudonyms with anonymity. This isn’t about names. It’s about identity.

      Most of the folks you listed probably didn’t choose pseudonyms for the sake of remaining anonymous, but for aesthetic reasons. That’s usually why writers use pen names and actors use stage names—not because they want to practice their art incognito, but because their chosen names have a nicer ring to it than their given names. Cary Grant wasn’t a “hidden loner looking for friends” who preferred to operate out of the shadows. It’s just that he and/or the movie studio decided that “Cary Grant” looked better on a marquee than “Archibald Leach.”

      Those who choose pseudonyms for reasons other than aesthetics, do so either (a) to protect themselves or (b) to get their message out if they couldn’t get it out using their true identity, like teenaged Ben Franklin, who famously had his pieces published as “Silence Dogood,” because they wouldn’t have been published had it been known who wrote them.

      Why is the identity—different concept than just the name—of who wrote something important as long as what is written is worth reading?

      As far as the Internet, that’s because if people mouth off incognito, it inevitably raises the question whether they’d have sounded off exactly the same way if readers had an opportunity to find out who they were. That’s what affords online anonymity its cowardly air.

    • Cheri says:

      I don’t know how to answer your last question. I suppose that in my reading of blog commentators over the last 4 years, those who leave clever but snarky responses (often like Mr. Crotchety) have annoyed me to the nines. So maybe, it’s more about the nature of the responses (or the blog entry) than who is doing the writing.

      It’s easy to be mean and harsh when you don’t sign your name. It’s a risk to identify who you are. I recognize that fact; I am old enough to understand the myriad excellent reasons why one should keep anonymity. But somehow, my tolerance for those who say outrageous things under the shelter of a fake name has lessened. I believe that this feeling I have will be the reason I stop writing publicly. It never occurred to me back in 2008 when I started my blog to use any other name other than my own.

      Perhaps it is I who is mistaken.

      • Philippe says:

        Cheri – “……..It never occurred to me back in 2008 when I started my blog to use any other name other than my own……..”

        Could this be because, being of a Certain Age (I’m of that Certain Age too) this is what you found it natural to do? However, because of the internet, it is far riskier now to write under one’s own name than under a nom de plume – riskier not only for oneself,
        but for one’s family too.

        Many Facebook users found this out also. The internet is a good example of new technology forcing people to change their habits.

        I read your blog for how and what you write. Whether or not the name you write under is your real name is of no concern to me. You could call yourself Joan of Arc, and I would still read your stuff.

  7. Richard says:

    This is a direct and thought-provoking post.

    You do not say that genuine friendships cannot be formed and sustained, or that they must be decorous, or without jesting or teasing. You do not say that those friendships are not life-enhancing or a source of knowledge or enlightenment we carry into the rest of our lives.

    They are, after all, founded upon the exchange of words and words form a large part of our life’s experience as long as they convey genuine meaning. Otherwise there would be no reading of novels, no correspondence course, no poetry for our loved ones, no bedtime stories or fairy tales.

    How are we know that the utterers of words are genuine or sincere in what they express? You identify anonymity as that which separates the true from the untrue and you give this as the reason for your disillusionment. This must carry much weight, but it is not conclusive.

    There must be something else which causes blogging to pall. Is it the continuous sense of unfinished business, of concurrence or agreement perpetually suspended, of misunderstanding, of endless repetition in different words, of a saturation from which there appears to be no relief? In desperate pursuit of an answer, some resort to personal insult towards persons they can only partially know. None of these is, though, especial to blogging.

    So how may blogging be redeemed? Only if we recognise that it is the exploration of ourselves, and ourselves alone, for which it provides a facility. To abandon it in whole or in part is to abandon a part of ourselves. That, of course, is something we do in every aspect of our lives and we do not do so without pain. That pain is the pain of the delusion of failure.

    • Cheri says:

      Eloquent comment about not only blogging, but also of the human condition.
      For me, blogging is a place to put my writing where others (or not) might react to either the form, the content, or (if the words work) both.
      Your last paragraph is thought-provoking.

  8. ccsaw says:

    I do agree with Cyberquill; I would add Al Jazeera, MSNBC (and most big box media outlets) to the Fox Nation for attracting vacuous chuckleheads who would never get a letter to the editor published in the print media.

    Since we are just talking among friends here, I wanted to let you know that I have changed my pseudonym from Pete Moss to Hugh G. Rection.

    Cheri, I think you should be Ann Chovie.

    Best to all of you.


  9. Oh huh, the blogging blues are catching. My recent fit of them led to a couple of useful insights, as you suggested. Going to write about it soon.

    The thing that bloggers et al miss about not using their name is that openness provides its own protections and its own power. Being anonymous takes effort and energy that could otherwise go into the writing. It also generates a certain level of fear in the blogger … of exposure, of being found out, etc

  10. Don says:

    Fascinating. I too have followed an arc across internet anonymity. This is an especially interesting time for this post of yours.

    Years ago I embraced anonymity while playing on usenet. Not really knowing who our playmates was added a special flavor to the game. The game was focused on writing, and some folks wrote under real names, even names they had been published under, whereas others protected themselves carefully.

    When blogging came along the game changed because blogging can be so much more revealing, and true identities began to emerge. Within a couple of years I was blogging under my real first name. Then Facebook forced a choice: whether or not to link the pseudo-anonymous persona with the real FB persona. I do not link them directly, but a great many of my contacts in both places know me in both places, they simply respect my little — very little — barrier wall.

    What makes this an interesting time is that right now I am spending the weekend with a very close friend who started out as just another anonymous usenet fiend, and who became a friend initially through the power of written communication alone, and then through various stages of incremental revelation. Now there is no barrier whatsoever between us.

    There is simply no personal value or growth in being dishonest or untrue or sniping from the sidelines at news stories. Truly, those are very unhappy and incomplete people who do that. I long since lost interest in usenet. Fussbook and Google+ don’t draw me much anymore either. But I don’t think I will ever stop blogging. It is very rewarding if, as averred above, one is true to oneself and one’s readers, and uses it above all for self-discovery through self-expression.

    • Cheri says:

      Hi Don,
      Well put, in every paragraph, especially your last sentence.
      I don’t know about any of the sites to which you refer. There are the pros and the cons, as you observe.
      Unless impossible to do, I still think getting out and away from the computer screen is a good idea.

  11. I began commenting in 2007 and blogging in May 2009. I never felt the need to go anonymous and even resented the anonymity of others. I find, though, that, at least on the blogs I follow, more and more people are shedding the incognito and signing with their real names or surnames.
    Could we be collectively becoming more confident or adult?

  12. Cheri says:

    I haven’t been Aardvark for Grammar Girl in a long time, so Peter, you posed an intriguing grammar question.
    My hunch is this:
    In your sentence you wrote ” What annoys me is…………..” That construction calls for a singular verb because you have also said “annoys”. “What annoys me is”… correct…but the object (the antecedent of the relative pronoun “what”) should be singular in this construction.

    Your original sentence should have said “What annoy me are guttersnipes…”

    Does this make sense?
    I admit I did not look these things up in my 20 different grammar books in my study because….well….because I am retired. There! I have said it publicly. One more semester to teach one hour of grammar per week and then, I am hanging up my spurs.

    • Cyberquill says:

      “What annoy me are guttersnipes…” sounds odd, as it thingifies the villains. We use “who” to refer to people, not “what.” I guess “Who annoy me are gutternsipes…” would be correct.

      As I stated earlier, “What annoys me is guttersnipes…” seems to be the only other correct solution, for “what” is the subject of the sentence, and the verb must agree with the subject.

      Why am I in the permanent moderation queue? Are you moderating all your comments now?

  13. Cheri says:

    You do make a cogent point about safety under a fake name. I’ve thought of this point as well.
    I do appreciate your readership…
    I guess my real beef has to do with those who make reckless comments under the shelter of fake names.

  14. Cheri says:

    You have an incredible memory.

    • dafna says:

      yes richard has a memory like a steel trap.

      please don’t stop blogging. blogging is as don said “revealing” and i have very much enjoyed getting to know you.

      getting out more is great advice, but don’t underestimate what your blog means to the readers.

      don may have had a one in a million experience, “a very close friend who started out as just another anonymous usenet friend” but it is nice to know it can happen.

    • Richard says:

      Incredible? Steel Trap?


  15. Cheri says:

    Thanks for your encouragement, dafna.

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