Of late, I have been reading Justification by Tom Wright. I have now finished it and my review will be published before long on this site. However, near the beginning, one little passage jumped out at me and I could not help but be drawn into engagement with it. It reads thus:
“Go to the blogsites, if you dare. It really is high time we developed a Christian ethic of blogging. Bad temper is bad temper even in the apparent privacy of your own hard drive, and harsh and unjust words, when released into the wild, rampage around and do real damage. As for the practice of saying mean and untrue things while hiding behind a pseudonym – well, if I get a letter like that it goes straight into the bin. But the cyberspace equivalents of road-rage don’t happen by accident. People who type vicious, angry, slanderous and inaccurate accusations do so because they feel their
worldview to be under attack.”
I like the idea of a christian ethic of blogging. Though I wonder how it might differ from a christian ethic of any other form of communication. As a fairly regular blogger with an online presence on Twitter and Facebook also, how we communicate our faith to one another and to those who are not christians is a topic of great interest to me.
I agree with Wright that we ought to remain courteous and gracious in all our dealings with one another, whether that be conducted face-to-face, via handwritten letters, writing books or composing blog posts and commenting thereon. Though it strikes me that these are all just different forms of communication; so maybe we could generalise to a christian ethic of communication. Though I think this was outlined quite well by James in what has become known as chapter 3 in his letter to the dispersion.
What really struck me about this snippet was the phrase, “hiding behind a pseudonym”. I have written a little on web anonymity before but it may be worth restating some things. I blog under a pseudonym to keep my normal life and my working life separate. I’m not sure how many of my employers, past or present, would like what I write. I do not claim to speak as a representative of anyone other than myself, which would be compromised if I openly blogged in my own name. Aside from that, there is nothing duplicitous in what I write. I would hope that any readers here have found me to be open and honest.
What I aim for is what I think of as credible anonymity. To avoid such fallacies as the argument from authority or the argument from no authority, I think it is important to assess a person’s words on what they actually say rather than any secondary information which may be dug up by researching their real name. After all, what is a name if not a label by which someone is known. To be simultaneously credible and anonymous, one ought to maintain a self-consistency. I wouldn’t claim I always attain this, though it is something I aim for, and I hope you might recognise this.
The trouble with anonymity is that there are those who use it, as Wright points out, as a mask to hide behind while abuse is hurled out from behind it. Yet to characterise all such anonymous bloggers as such would be (though Wright doesn’t quite go that far) a terrible slur. Of course, people don’t like being told that they’re wrong, especially when the accusation is false. That doesn’t just happen to famous authors, bloggers do that to one another.
In my opinion, it is only by setting an example of being both anonymous and credible, with others following en masse, that attitudes towards anonymity may be helped. I don’t think it will ever be free from suspicion, as the likes of LulzSec and the “Anonymous” collective continue to use the web for purposes perceived (not always unjustly) as nefarious.
I also, wonder if, given that this blog is anonymous, Prof Wright would even read this piece, all other considerations aside…