Internets anonymous

There are a few things that Eric and I disagree on, one of them being the merits of Rush–I mean, seriously Eric, how can you listen to that crap. Another thing we disagree on appears to be whether it’s OK to argue phonology anonymously on the internets. In the Opacity Kerfluffle chez Mr. Verb, Eric got miffed at Cassaday whatshisorhername for not coming out of the shadows:

I was apparently inappropriately offended at Cassaday’s combination of willingness to be just as nasty as I was and unwillingness to be identified.

Not that I want to participate in a ‘group hug’ with Cassaday; I still think s/he’s a sniveling pseudonymous stooge. I have a list of people who I’m guessing might be Cassaday, and I plan to perfunctorily reject all of their conference and journal submissions, paste their visages on my dartboard, and snub them at LSA parties. (Just kidding — I don’t own a dartboard.)

I can see where Eric is coming from. If someone is giving you personal guff, it’s nice to know who it is. (I wish it was me being a sock puppet–that would have been comic gold!) However, the whole opaque/transparent personality thing is a minor point compared to the rest of it. And really Eric, let go let CON.

There’s a lot of reasons someone might want to be anonymous on the internets. And especially here on Phonoloblog. Students, for one, might not want to say certain things in public, especially given the academic job market. The same goes for new PhDs and junior faculty without tenure. And on the other end of the spectrum, an established name might want to avoid giving their words undue weight just because they are their words (hey, it could happen).

So where am I going with this? I just wanted to suggest to the contributors here that Phonoloblog not be a mandatory non-opaque environment. That we allow some people to post as themselves and others to post under pseudonyms. If an asshat comes along and causes trouble, I’m sure that can be remedied easily.

7 thoughts on “Internets anonymous

  1. Eric Bakovic

    Although we used to share a brain, Ed, it’s times like these when I’m reminded that we no longer do — at least, not so much as before. My feeling is that if you’re someone who “might not want to say certain things in public”, then you just … well, shouldn’t say those things in public. Or, if you’re too eager to say something (e.g. because you’re convinced of its validity), go ahead and say it and accept whatever consequences.

    Now, I’m not so naïve as to think that it’s all that simple, that especially for those in more “junior” positions this is a tougher choice to make. (Having been blogging non-anonymously on both sides of the tenure line for a few years now, and having written some pretty stupid/outlandish things in that capacity, I know.) That’s why I included the second paragraph you quoted above, about the dartboard and all that. My point (other than to be a little funny) was that if I really were such a vindictive person (and I’m not), the consequences for Cassaday would potentially be worse than if s/he had commented non-anonymously: I’d have a whole list of people, possibly including Cassaday, that I would be bringing my wrath down on. Who wants to be responsible for that?

    I’m also not naïve about the vagaries and difficulties of the job market. What if you don’t get a job because of something you said on the internets? Again, my fall-back position here is that if it’s something you think might cost you a job, there’s always the option not to say it in the first place. If you really believe it and just have to say it, then it’s presumably an honest representation of your academic commitments, which will presumably also be reflected in your actual academic writing, so … well, you get the picture.

    I have a couple of analogies that might help to explain my position.

    E-mail. Suppose you disagree with someone’s work and want to write them an e-mail message to tell them just how much you disagree with them. Would it be kosher to do that anonymously? I’m assuming the answer is “no”, but why not? At least in that case it would be entirely between you and that person, not all over the internets for everyone to see.
    Peer review vs. publication. We all expect our work to be reviewed double-blind by at least some subset of the journals out there, but none of us would expect that a positive result (that is, acceptance and publication) would remain anonymous. (Geoff Pullum even argued in his Stalking the Perfect Journal that the names of the reviewers who were responsible for a paper’s acceptance should be published with the paper, but let’s not go that far.) Why should we expect to be able to say academically contentful stuff on the internets (which is not publication, of course, but which reaches a potentially wider audience than submission of an anonymous manuscript to a journal) without divulging our names?

    I’m not 100% opposed to anonymous posting on phonoloblog — anonymous comments are accepted, after all, and I feel the same way about those — but I’m not convinced that it’s necessary. I’d love to hear more opinions on this (anonymous or not).

  2. Ed Keer

    Again, my fall-back position here is that if it’s something you think might cost you a job, there’s always the option not to say it in the first place.

    My only concern (oh yes, I’m SOOO concerned) is that a person might not know whether a particular comment is career-limiting or not, but might in general feel it’s better to be safe than sorry.

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