Friday, January 06, 2006

On anonymity

There have been a number of posts recently questioning the practice of anonymous blogging. The growing numbers of these posts have a cumulative affect of nagging. I would say it is akin to the off line question often faced in Jordanian taxis and government offices: where are you from? Of course, the subtext of this obnoxious question is: I want to judge you based on your lineage, not on what you have to offer.

As an anonymous blogger, I would like to take up some of the ideas raised in order to at least put some balance on this issue.

First of all, I believe that ideas should be judged on their merit. In Arabic, we say "khudho il hikmeh min afwah il majanin" (Take wisdom from the mouths of lunatics). Therefore, the criticism by Jihad Khazin referred to by Haitham on the religious policemen evades the real issue. Are religious and social practices in Saudi Arabia compatible with today's mores? Are the issues raised by the mutawa worthy of discussion? To me, it doesn't really make a difference whether the author is Al-Hamedi Al-Anezi or Saul Rosenbloom. The failure to discuss the substance of the thoughts presented and the fixation on the identity of the author is a sign of intellectual bankruptcy.

Haitham places a lot of emphasis in his argument on the issue of credibility. This is a point that needs to be clear. Bloggers are not news agencies. Rarely do bloggers actually offer information that is not available from other sources. What most bloggers do is comment on information available from other sources, usually with appropriate links. People don't read blogs to get news. They read them to try and understand the various points on view on various issues.

So, there is no issue of credibility, unless a blogger makes an unsubstantiated statement of fact. This is rarely an issue. Haitham questions whether people should trust anonymous blogs for "Questions of politics, religion, social, safety and so on. I think the readers want to know who you are". Why? Can't ideas be judged on their own merit?

Another interesting statement by Haitham is this one:

Imagine that elections arrived to your town, and an anon people were allowed to cast their vote. They claim that they are from your party, your country,maybe your religion and neighborhood. Would you accept their vote? I guess not. So why do we accept an anonymous commenter or blogger words and give them credibility?

Sorry. I myself don't presume to tell anybody what to do or how to think. If you want to trust somebody to tell you what to think, go to a mosque or a church or whatever authority figure you feel you can trust with your wellbeing and happiness. I give my opinion, and I don't presume to try to change public opinion or to lead.

Finally, Haitham says:

Because bloggers that have enough fortitude to put it out there, knowing that their identity is on the line have far more credibility than those that want to remain anonymous. When reader look at a blogger/commenter of a person who is afraid and refuses to reveal who they are, most of the reader will wonder, if these anonymous bloggers/commenter are going to spend their time to affect public opinion and public policy then why not be man/woman enough to identify themselves?

In real life I express the same thoughts that I blog quite freely. However, in real life I have the ability to judge what to say to whoever I am dealing with. In real life, my audience is not anonymous. On the internet, my readers are anonymous, and so am I. If people want to accept what I say, fine. If they don't, that’s fine too. My only ambition is to make people think. They don't need to know who I am to do that.


At 1:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for finally countering the "need to identify yourself" argument. It's a shame that people have the need to know your name, and more so, see your face, to give your ideas some consideration or weight.
Anonymously, on anonymity

At 2:52 PM, Blogger Ziad said...

As far as discussing ideas and issues, I agree with you. But blogging can also be a tool for forming communities and friendships, which are made harder by anonymity. So it depends on what kind of blogging experience you prefer to have.

At 3:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Khalaf, perhaps your arguments are valid; they certainly make sense. And I read your postings in the manner that you suggest, as a source of provocative analysis to help assess "what's up in Jordan". Therefore I thank of your postings, regardless of your identitity. Nevertheless I would be insincere to indicate that who you are is not of interest. This is particularly so because of the type of postings you write.

Allow me to elaborate briefly. Surely, you have underlying values which lead you to your selection of topics, and to your judgements. Secondly, as a quality analyst and writer, you presumably have the opportunity to spend your time and effort in more renumerative ways. Therefore I must conclude that there are some underlying interests and motivations for you to consistently contribute these postings.

So the questions for me are not your specific name and identity, but your values, motivations and the specific circumstances which lead you to host your blog. By understanding the source, I can better understand what leads you to your perspectives, and the background that I should bear in mind when assessing your postings and judgements.

It is fair enough if you do not wish to reveal any personal details. This is of course ultimately your personal choice and no one should hold it against you. Certainly i would still find your postings of interest, and would still thank you for them. However, should you be able to detail more your profile, it would certainly add value for me (even if I am to you an anonymous reader) in terms of appreciating your views, conclusions and suggestions against your specific perspective and values.

Of course, even if you provide additional details on these or on your exact identity, the reader would still have to consider with caution whether you are sincere in expressing these. In the end, a judgement needs to be made by the anonymous reader on the merits of the content of your postings, regardless of the personal details you profess.

It is important to bear in mind that the internet, as an easily accessible public domain, does not benefit from editorial oversight and controls of its content, contrary to the case for many written publications. Yet this may be, at least in part, what makes the internet an immensely valuable resource; and I agree with you that the responsibility of what to accept and endorse, or not, lies ultimately with the reader and his or her best judgement.

Thank you once again, Khalaf, I am looking forward to keep reading your posts, whether anonymous or not, in 2006.

At 4:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Posting anonymously protects you against future analysis of yourself.

You see, in the near future, there will be services that offer prospective employers the opportunity to do a full background check on the Internet.

Imagine a service that crawls your blog, and makes a psychological, historical etc... assesments of yourself.

You have no idea of the amount of information that can be extracted from a single post.

In the past people used to post with their real name on the net. Had they known that Google would be able to crawl every nook and cranny of the Internet and even archive their USENET posts, they would have posted anonymously.

You have to think about the future. Your life will be an open book if you are not anonymous.

At 4:39 PM, Blogger Isam Bayazidi said...

Excuse me Mr. Anonymous Reader 3, I disagree with you. The issue of "future analysis" is all paranoia as far I think. There are people who saw that companies or health insurance could take a hair or something from you, and know your family midical history, and possibilities of you having what ever in the future from your DNA.
"Future Analysis" happens anyway.. there are people analysing others who had been dead for 100s of years. The issue as I see it is about people feeling more comfortable or less comfortable using their names. There are indeed credibility issues, taking a word from an unknown had been always an issue. As Khalaf said, mostly blogs are about opinions, but will I really take a breaking news or something exclusive from an anonymous? I highly doubt, but yet I could truly value the opinions of such anonymous.

At 5:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You say: Bloggers are not news agencies. Rarely do bloggers actually offer information that is not available from other sources. What most bloggers do is comment on information available from other sources, usually with appropriate links. People don't read blogs to get news. They read them to try and understand the various points on view on various issues.

While this can be true, but this is not the case everywhere. In fact such a blogs are not of a major effect on public opinion.

I don't know what blogs you are reading, but there are millions of blogs out there, and hundreds of thousand of them report on things that you don't see on traditional media. Therefore, Bloggers are journalist, yes. Do they have their independent sources, plenty of them does.

Based on that, yes, credibility is an issue, with this type of blogs. Need not be the case on blogs that you yes are only providing links to other news sources. In fact, these are called aggregators these days, regardless it is driven by human handpicked posts, or automated.

You say: "I myself don't presume to tell anybody what to do or how to think."

Read that paragraph again. What I'm saying that he is practicing same right as a known citizen. Not that he is telling you what to do and what you think. Does he qualify to share the poll with known voters?

You say: "On the internet, my readers are anonymous, and so am I."

Not necessarily. e.g. I'm not anonymous, yet as you can see, I agree with some and don't with other and visa versa. On the other hand, I practice my right to judge what I think is right, and what is wrong. Not necessarily that an known or anon agree. But, when a known agree or disagree, it holds more value to me. At least I know I'm talking to someone really sharing and concerned by what I'm discussing.

At 6:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think credibility is only tied to the validity of the facts a person uses when constructing an argument.

For instance, I could mention to you 5 different facts, tie them together in a certain way to form a conclusion and present you with the entire argument that sounds pretty damn compelling. Only thing is there is this one other tiny small fact that I deliberately forgot to mention to you that makes reaching the conclusion in my argument impossible. I believe that makes me less credible.

At 8:46 PM, Blogger Hatem Abunimeh said...

At this point in time I feel that I"m ambivalent, both sides presented the pros and cons about disclosing the identity and about staying anonymous, notwithstanding, I haven't been able to reach a sound decision by taking this side or that side.
I can only speak for myself, I have always used my real name, I do exercise self censorship, I don't always say exactly how I feel, but I like to stick to the issues and argue it as much as possible without getting personal.
I'm not sure that I want to be anonymous, but at the same time I'm not sure that being exposed will do me any good either. I think that no matter what you blog about, you have to have some sort of a motive in mind, be that to inform, to entertain, to persuade, or to provoke, God knows what is the real reason why some people decide to be known while others stay anonymous.

At 10:03 PM, Blogger Khalaf said...

Anon 1: Hello!
Ziad: I agree. It depends what you want to achieve.
Anon 2: Thank you for your compliments. You are correct in assuming that I should have better things to do with my time. On the other hand, everybody needs a hobby. I will take you suggestion into adding some details to my profile into consideration.
Anon 3 and Isam Privacy is an important factor. You never know how what you post might be used against you.
Haitham I hope that you didn't take my critique personally. I respect your decision of expose your identity. I am sure you realize that each of us live in different work and social contexts, which make us make varying decisions.
Hamzeh You are right in that selective use of information can lead to misleading conclusions. The president of the United States did it, so anonymity is not required to do such things.
Hatem: Even though you live in the States, you still feel the need to censor yourself. You must realize that this need would be even greater if you lived in Jordan.

All I am not as rigid about this as you might think. I might even show up at one of your meetings, if you promise to buy me a beer.

At 7:49 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"In his article "Data Mining 101: Finding Subversives with Amazon Wishlists," Tom Owad of Applefritter outlines a way in which one could build detailed personal profiles of hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens in a matter of hours. Reading habits, personal tastes and even political party affiliation could be inferred from the results, and through the use of Yahoo! People and Google Maps, one could even map out geographically where people with certain interests or affiliations live, down to their address. Most surprisingly, the process of doing this is completely legal, and doesn't even violate Amazon's Conditions of Use."


You see, when I said in the near future, I really meant it.


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