Anonymity and Personal Responsibility​

But I say unto you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall render an account for it in the day of judgment (Mat 12:36).

Obviously, there are some legitimate reasons for bloggers and those on social media to utilize anonymity and pseudonymity, which for brevity’s sake I will not rehearse here.  No one seriously disputes their use under every circumstance.  So let us get to the heart of the issue, which is the demand of justice.

Justice is not optional under any set of circumstances, though weighing the competing interests at hand may not always be easy, and men of good will may disagree over their solutions.  There are legitimate reasons to protect the identities of whistleblowers, who otherwise might suffer from the unjust use of power.   On the other hand, every man has a right to his good name and to have his accuser take personal responsibility for his potentially life-harming assertions.

All the legitimate advantages of anonymity and pseudonymity do not trump the demands of justice:  neither the benefit of the information democracy nor the breakdown of discipline within the ordinary structures of society nor the fact that some people (certainly not all) tend to discount accusations that are made by unidentifiable persons.  The argument that drastic times call for drastic measures is consequentialism.  Catholic bloggers who make it their business to defend the faith all know that for a human act to be morally good, it cannot fall short of goodness either in intention, object or circumstances. If the means we use to obtain an end are bad, then the act is morally wrong.

An analogy to anti-discrimination laws does not hold precisely because of the demands of justice.  The protection of individuals from unjust employment decisions, for example, is not comparable to the expectation that bloggers identify themselves when they freely choose to reveal information that could potentially ruin the good name of someone else.  It is a strange inversion of the burden of justice that seeks to defend the “right” of some to destroy others’ reputations against the right of every individual to protect themselves from their attacker.  The question of who is right or wrong on a particular matter under dispute is not this determining factor.  A man holds his good name in possession.

I would suggest that anonymous and pseudonymous bloggers have a more realistic and modest view of their role in the order of divine providence.  No one must blog, and the fate of the Church is not dependent on the work of bloggers.  The contrary view is part of the illusion of virtual communication.  This is not to deny the real value of all types of social media.  It is just that the “habitus” of electronic communication is not a virtue.

And let us all be honest about our cognitive biases.  Let us be aware of the echo chamber we choose as the limit for our information gathering and the framework through which we discern meaning.  Repeating what is said by a “trusted” source is not the same as due diligence.

All this being said, let not the hidden ones’ cry foul over this criticism.  They are free to do whatever they want and are likely to continue to do so.  No one is going to stop them. Hoorah for the information democracy.  In any case, this criticism (even if it were overwrought and caustic, which it is not) does not, and by definition cannot hurt anyone. The nameless ones, unlike their victims, are wholly protected.

Note to Internet:  bloggers are not journalists, and for that matter, many journalists are not good at their job.  The defects of the news media do not make bloggers and do-it-yourself “news” suppliers journalists—not even if the blog takes the form of an aggregator and identifies itself as a news source.  A real journalist does due diligence, strives to be fair and honest, checks his sources, does not repeat mere gossip, reveals (instead of supresses) exculpatory evidence, and so forth.  Most people need to make a real effort to do this. This is why we expect reporters to be trained and qualified, and even then the results do not always meet our expectations.

We all make choices.  As far as I am aware no one has the duty of blogging or of posting a single piece of damaging information on the Internet.  That is a choice for which each us is accountable, and no cause, regardless of how righteous, will absolve us of the responsibility we have for the choices we have made.


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