"No, you don't know me... at least I hope you don't..."
Welcome to installment #11 of "The Unrav'ling Thread" where we explore the dynamics of interactions that begin when a diary is published and open for comment. Today, we're dealing with the issue of anonyous posting, a fundamental element of life at the Great Orange Marketplace of Ideas.
There's a certain comfort in being anonymous and being able to share your thoughts, feelings, observations, hopes, and fears with others here. While some of our Kossacks post under their own name and willingly share their identity, many of us prefer to keep our identity a secret and to be judged on the merits of our writing and the way that we interact with others.
There are some very compelling reasons for remaining anonymous:
We write about controversial subject matter, and our views could subject us to the undesired outcomes from hate mail and crank calls to stalking and retaliation. Safe (we imagine) behind the confines of our username, we are (more) free to express ourselves without fear.
We write about powerful people, often in unflattering terms, and would prefer not to enable their minions to hunt us down and silence our voices, literally or metaphorically. Powerful people with money have a tendency to want to squash their detractors... because they can.
We work for employers or organizations who could take issue with our political leanings (or in some cases, employers who have explicit social media policies that could result in disciplinary action including dismissal).
We want to shield our family members from possible retaliation or publicity. While they might be grateful that we've found an outlet for our theories and rants here at DailyKos, they probably don't want to be picking up the phone or answering the door and finding an irate person with an axe to grind.
We want to protect our reputation from on-line searches by future employers, potential romantic interests, family members, or the "thought police". Trust me on this: companies are now doing a lot more on-line sleuthing about potential hires and the trail of information, writing, posting, blogging, and uploading they've been doing.
We want to uncouple our identity, gender, and demographics from our writing, and be judged solely on the merits of what we post, without preconceptions or prejudices.
When we write a diary or post a comment or a reply, we give away information about ourselves. Some of our disclosure is intentional; some incidental. Follow along below the gap in the firewall for the more...
What you chose to disclose is up to you. There are some compelling reasons for sharing bits and piece of your identity, provided that you exercise caution. Sometimes, information about your background will help a reader or commenter understand "where you're coming from". Consider a few examples:
When severe weather strikes, you might post something about conditions in your neck of the woods.
If there's a meet-up, rally, or political event, you might mention whether you plan to attend.
If the thread involves jobs, you might provide information on your employment situation.
Heading out for a vacation or a weekend trip? You're disclosing your location and personal interests.
Even a discussion of pooties and woozles will prompt most people to describe their pets and post pictures of them.
Most of this is probably not going to compromise your identity. Still, it's worth considering the cumulative information you've provided about yourself, your spouse, your kids, your job, your location, your finances, or your professional credentials. While you're thinking about this, check your DailyKos profile, and see whether the information posted there - including links to your Facebook page, LinkedIn profile, your home page, your personal blogs, and other data - might be something to scale back a bit.
Sometimes we share information voluntarily; sometimes we let people draw it out of us. This can happen in the most ostensibly benign "conversations" in the comments of a diary. As humans, we delight in finding connections that validate our perspective. If someone else writes and thinks as we do, it's natural to want to keep the discussion going with more specifics. Keep in mind that, unless you and the person you're communicating with have met in person (and unless you happen to be Earth's best judge of character), you really don't "know" one another.
That's not necessarily a bad thing, and it needn't stand in the way of respecting each other and enjoying a productive, informative, and rewarding dialogue.
In fact, maintaining your anonymity allows you the freedom to say more about some issues.
For instance, if I'd told you who I was and where I worked, then told you (as I have) that I was laid off as a result of management consulting advice from Bain & Co., I'd have to be very cautious about disclosing much more. The terms of my "separation" agreement include provisions limiting what I can say about the company. However, if I don't identify them, I might be able to share some insights about how Bain & Co. operates; useful information in unraveling the continuing malfeasance of the Romney Evil Empire.
Let me leave you with one more thought:
When you meet people in real life, who do you find more intriguing: the person who immediately shares (or overshares) information about themselves, or the person who has cultivated an air of mystery? Which of these styles best reflects your interactions here in the Great Orange Marketplace of Ideas? There's nothing wrong with maintaining an air of mystery. It's not about creating a false persona; it's about providing limited glimpses into your true persona.
Maintaining your privacy needn't keep you from sharing your thoughts, your hopes, your aspirations, your fears, and your true feelings, all of which make participation here so rewarding.
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For those of you who may have missed previous installments of this series, here are the links for Parts 1 through 10 of "The Unrav'ling Thread". Ideas for future installments are always welcome!