This piece has been adapted for submission to The Straits Times, and was originally from a reflective post (here), penned after I had appeared on Channel News Asia’s BlogTV.
The Straits Times letters “Banning Pseudonyms Online” (August 18, 2012) by Mr. Lim Wei-Qi and Mr. Jeffrey Law: I am inclined to agree with Mr. Lim on his proposition that a ban on pseudonyms online should not be the way forward, on justifications of plausibility and desirability-necessity. Given the accessibility of the Internet and the hassle of moderation, the aforementioned restrictions are not the most ideal; furthermore, it is important to take into consideration the valid justifications for remaining unidentified.
Socio-political bloggers have the right to decide whether they would like to remain anonymous; even so, their credibility – I believe – would not be compromised in any way. The content is key, and it is the message over the messenger. Take for instance: would you readily dismiss a piece of good writing just because it is anonymous? Along the same tangent, no educated individual would readily take information at face-value or for granted just because there is a name attached to it. The onus is very much on the reader to determine whether a piece of writing should be taken seriously, as reliability and accuracy can be evaluated based on an assortment of elements: from their archives, readers’ comments, what others are saying et cetera.
However, the line is crossed when bloggers resort to vitriol, and degenerate their articles into unconstructive diatribes that are have the potential to be derogatory and inflammatory. Ultimately, the bottom-line is that we should not be quick to generalise anonymous bloggers, and judge the material for what it really is.
Why do some individuals or writers choose not to reveal their identities? First, some individuals might be in the civil service, a line of profession that has its own set of guidelines and regulations in terms of political writing online. Second, private employers might not be comfortable with the idea of activism on the Internet, especially when a majority of the material on the World Wide Web is anti-establishment in nature. Family and friends can also be slightly conservative in thinking. Pseudonyms can be a form of creative expression, which allows writers to be less inhibited in their writing styles.
With identities, the problem with prejudice might also surface. Paul Krugman is a liberal economist who writes online and offline for the International Herald Tribune; and his columns are equally critical of the Bush and Obama Administration, Republicans and Democrats alike. However, a lot of the conservatives and ultraconservatives who leave comments on his blog often deviate away from the content, and make ad hominem attacks on Krugman. Under such circumstances, substantive debate gives way to petty bickering and unconstructive attacks.
A version of this article was published in The Straits Times.