Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Anonymity and Blogging [by Cindy Landrum]

It's very common in the blogging world for bloggers to write anonymously.  I thought about this a lot before blogging myself, and decided carefully that anonymity didn't serve my purposes and that I would take the risks of being open with my identity.  But it does have risks.  While I decided to be public from the beginning, it was with understanding that it might limit me, make me be less bold, less willing to confront authority.  And it made me vulnerable to critique, to hate mail, to attack.  At the time, the UU "blogosphere" was populated with a lot of anonymous blogs, although some of their identities were known.  Here's a couple of those early bloggers -- Philocrities & Lizard Eater -- discussing anonymity in early blogging on the VUU (at about 14:35).

Today more bloggers have their name attached to their blogs, but it's still not unusual for bloggers to blog anonymously.  And this may be particularly true for seminarians, who may be testing out their beliefs or their new ministerial identity, or may just not want their writing easily accessible to the Ministerial Fellowship Committee or a search committee.  Back in 2007, when Philocrities last updated his list of UU blogs, there were a number of anonymous blogs among the seminarians (see http://www.philocrites.com/archives/000587.html#seminarians).  Six of the seminarians listed among the bloggers then were listed by their full names; nine were listed by first names only or by pseudonyms.   

There is a difference, though, between an anonymous blogger and one or two anonymous posts.  With a blog, you learn to trust the blogger's voice over time.  You begin to know what their take on things will be.  When they give a critique, you know if it's coming from some constantly critical or someone largely supportive of the institution.  They've built their credibility with you over time, just as an individual you know in person does.

We don't know the credibility level of the anonymous seminarian posted here -- well, maybe Tom does, but I don't, and our readers don't.  But in this case, this is not so much the issue.  Let's stop discussing the anonymity and start discussing whether what the posts describe is right or wrong, and if right, what should, if anything, be done.  As Scott Wells says over at Boy in the Bands:
The value of an anonymous disclosure and complaint is to get the item in public discourse, something that’s easier in the Internet era than ever before. It tests the general merit of the complain, pulls out disputants who don’t wish to be anonymous and flushes out devil’s advocates. And this testing and discourse shows if it’s safe to be more public and candid. 
 Personally, I'm described that the anonymous seminarian felt that what they were saying was so risky and daring that it needed to be anonymous.  It sounds a lot like things we've been talking about for years.  But the response, on the other hand, argues that maybe anonymity was warranted.  Let's prove that wrong, shall we?  Can we create a climate where more seminarians feel they can be open in discussing issues?  It may be worth trying.


Judy said...

Thank you, Cindy. It seemed to me, as well, that the issues brought up here by "Anonymous" are pretty much the same as what was going around 25 years ago when I was in seminary. Even then, I wondered whether those concerns were valid or not. I'm still wondering.

I wish that someone would tell us of specific instances where their careers were actually negatively impacted because of something they said/criticized. Having been on both sides of both the seminary experience (as a student and a Board member at SKSM) and the credentialing experience (as a student and as a member of an RSCC), I readily acknowledge that there is an appropriate imbalance of power. Further, that those who wield more power (faculty, trustees, credentialing bodies) are extremely careful and conscientious with that power, and are very open to an honest conversation with anyone who has had a bad experience.

BTW, I've had trouble with this platform recognizing me, so I'm going to sign my name here in case the only way I can get through eBlogger is by telling it that I am anonymous.
Judy Welles, SKSM '94

Cynthia Landrum said...

Thanks, Judy. You raise some good questions, that I don't have the answer to.

Steve Cook said...

So far, in the defenses I have read from Tom and now you, Cindy, in regard to the anonymous blogger, I have missed any consideration of UUMA covenant and how this might bear here. Maybe I have missed it, maybe it's just being waved off as less important than the issues raised. However, these posts and blogs to do not exist in any old blogosphere, but in the UUMA online world. Do our canons concerning honest communication not count when a few (very few, I guess just one) gatekeepers take it upon themselves to publish these things because they happen to think it important? The whole idea of open and honest communication among colleagues, in my view, is to be accountable, even if it is perceived to be risky. I know all about the risks of a paper trail. As an interim, I am "on the market" every couple of years, yet I believe I owe it to my colleagues to stand behind what I have written and to be responsive in an honest way. How do we do this with "anonymous?"