The debate over privacy is dead. It isn't really, but apparently, in order to be "cool" on the internet, you must declare something "dead." The debate over privacy though is dead, as there is no privacy on the internet, or in smart phones, and anyone who cries about it, is a moron. Write something, text something, put anything on the internet or in to your phone, and assume someone not intended to see it, will. As lawyers love to say - GOVERN YOURSELF ACCORDINGLY.
But the debate over anonymity is not dead, it is growing, and it is divisive.
I think anonymity is important. It's important when reporting a crime, and can serve other important purposes - like when the statement made can put someone in jeopardy of harm - real harm.
Anonymity is also important to those that are cowards. Without anonymity, blog comments would be vast wastelands of intelligent conversation and vigorous debate by people willing to put their name to their statement/argument/lucid thought. Instead, we get comments about people's appearance, ethnic background, and made up shit that is just written to generate a response.
Anonymity is also important to liars. Without anonymity, someone couldn't comment - without the fear or retribution - on a blog post or news article with something that the writer knows to be false.
Some of it is just silly, and some of it is downright scandalous.
When it comes to lawyers and law students, anonymity is simply pathetic. We are, or are going to be, members of the bar, advocates, leaders. Instead, we are no better than the flip flop wearing, basement dwelling, unemployed and angry citizenry who spend their days protected by their fake name or "Anonymous" on the internet, saying whatever they want, and claiming that they are simply fulfilling their patriotic duty under the First Amendment.
There are two reasons I am not anonymous. I am not afraid of letting people know what I think, and I don't come from an upbringing where I was led to believe it was appropriate to lie about people, and otherwise say things publicly without putting my name to it.
Not only is there a feeling that anonymity is OK today, people believe it is a God given right and dammit if they are going to come out of hiding and speak their mind. Anyone who doesn't think much of online fear-based anonymity, is a dangerous person.
So went the debate a few days ago between myself and a law student. The debate began when this anonymous law student was (like many anonymous keyboard tappers who have found a nice home at Above the Law (ATL)) upset about the new comment policy allowing columnists to decide whether to accept comments. I think the policy is stupid, (ut oh, are they gonna fire me?), I think that people who can't take it are pathetic, but it's the new policy.
This anonymous law student was telling one of the ATL columnists who invoked the policy to "rise above it" and continue accepting comments. I thought it hypocritical that an anonymous law student was telling a (not-anonymous) lawyer to allow comments (the bulk of course which are anonymous), so I stuck my nose in it, and here's the relevant portions of how it went:
First, this anonymous law student announces that a columnist has chosen to no longer allow comments, and then says:
@LawStudentDiary hiding isn't the answer.
Brian Tannebaum - But you're anonymous.
Then after the typical nasty shit that happens when someone like me tries to talk to someone like her, @lawstudentdiary says a couple interesting things:
You either allow people to be anonymous and thus be honest, or you have real people, who have to self-censor.
If no one was allowed to be anonymous, you wouldn't have hardly any commentators.
Then of course, as twitter goes, someone else jumps in and claims that this is about something much more important:
@clarinette02 @btannebaum @lawstudentdiary May I ask you : Who were the very first drafters of the US constitution? haven't I heard they were anonymous?
Yes, and I've had Tang, just like some of our Astronauts.
And then of course, I finally got the "you stupid old man" comment:
@LawStudentDiary @ @btannebaum Haha, okay. Most of the internet is anon. Some of your fellow ATLers are too. It's how things work. I'm sorry you don't get it.
That's me, Mr. he doesn't get it.
I do though. I get it.
I just don't like it.
I don't mind that people are allowed to be anonymous. There's no requirement for people to say who they are while mindlessly typing things that make total sense to them and the world in which they live. But this entitlement (there's that word again) that society has, that law students and lawyers have, that not only can I be anonymous, but I have to be because if anyone knew what I really thought, I'd be homeless or have the shit beat out of me, is disgraceful.
Think about it - you, reading this. Lawyer, law student. Is this what you wanted? To become an advocate and then spend your days in hiding on the world wide web, in fear not just of your own stupidity and hate, but more importantly, in fear of your cogent thoughts, ideas, perspectives on life?
That's who you are when you are anonymous - no one.
Anonymous comments are welcome as long as they say something relevant and half-way intelligent and aren't a vehicle for a coward to attack someone. I trust you understand.
Located in Miami, Florida, Brian Tannebaum practices Bar Admission and Discipline and Criminal Defense. He is the author of I Got A Bar Complaint.