Daily Archives: February 18, 2017
In the last days, objections have been made to the fact that many of those who write about Catholic matters do so anonymously. As always, there is no scarcity of people who indulge in easy accusations of what they don’t like, and can’t control. Let us examine what this is all about and the many valid reasons for anonymity on the internet.
1) Anonymity is freedom. Unless one lives on Planet Pollyanna, there is no denying (not even by its detractors) that the protection afforded by anonymity allows information to be exchanged and discussed that otherwise would have never reached a wider public. This makes our societies (and more specifically the religious discussion) more free. This is important, as freedom of expression is an extremely important pillar of every democratic society.
2) Anonymity encourages criticisms of what doesn’t work within the Church. As Catholics, we have the duty to react to scandals and abuses we see around us, but we don’t have the duty to seek martyrdom (I mean here in a broader sense, as persecution or discrimination because of our convictions) if we don’t have to. Anonymity on the internet makes therefore not only democratic societies more free, but provides a better system of control for the abuses within the Church. If a Bishop tells you that he feels scrutinised by the anonymous internet bloggers, it’s because he is. This is good for Catholicism, and potentially vital for the salvation of the relevant Bishop’s soul.
3) The accusations of it being “coward” to hide behind anonymity are the most cowardly acts themselves. Repressive political systems are those who try to repress anonymity the hardest. The people asking bloggers to reveal their identity are not much different than, say, Saddam Hussein calling his opponents cowards because they stay hidden. There’s a reason why people hide behind anonymity and only stupid people, or people in utter bad faith, pretend not to understand them.
4) If you look attentively, you noticed that anonymity is one of the most powerful engines of progress. Whistleblowing sites could never exist without the protection afforded by anonymity, and they are a most powerful engine of correct behaviour and have now possibly become the most implacable weapon against criminal behaviour within corporations and public bodies. Why anonymity would be acceptable for them but unacceptable for misbehaviour within the Church (which, notabene, can include child abuse and the like) is beyond me.
5) The accusation of it being very easy to slander people from behind anonymity does not really stand scrutiny. It being very easy to slander from behind a wall of anonymity, the relevant information is heavily discounted. People have always written anonymously on walls, but this has never made what they wrote believed just because it was written. On the contrary, an accusation made from an anonymous person will need to be substantiated to even begin to carry any real credibility. This is exactly what happens on the Internet. Criticism of clergy is accompanied with facts and evidence, or it is easily discarded. This is another of the beauties of the Internet. If, say, a Bishop gives scandal by participating to the “ordination” of a “bishopess” or some Protestant ecclesial community, the information will be there with the facts: day, people present, photos, videos, the whole enchilada. It is obvious to the meanest intelligence what counts here is the fact, the provenance being fully irrelevant in the economy of the scandal.
6) It is undeniable, though, that insisted, repeated slander may – even if unsubstantiated – have some effect in the long-term on the person affected. Voltaire used to say something on the lines of “keep on slandering: something will stick”. There you are, you will say, but the best protection against such slander is, once again, anonymity! Every non addetto ai lavori (as journalist, or priest) who willingly renounces to his own anonymity when he writes on the internet is allowing his ego to play him the most dangerous of tricks. Be assured that there will be a price to pay, as recently seen in the case of a “commenterer” known to many of us.
7) It has always been known to people with some salt in their brains – a minority, I sometimes think – that a wise man picks up his own fights. It is utterly illogical (nay: it is outright stupid) to think that what we write will not have an impact on our future – allowing for countless forms of covert discrimination, never to be proved and impossible to trace or fight against – for decades to come. It is the very freedom of our societies which makes this unavoidable.
This may not be a problem for a journalist (who makes of it his profession, and for whom his own name is a brand and professional tool), but can be a huge problem for everyone else. A wise man will prudently decide himself if and when and under which conditions to face a conflict because of his religious convictions, but a moron will gladly expose himself to every kind of retaliation of which he might even never become aware (lost work opportunities, or business opportunities, or both).
8 ) Even anti-discrimination legislation wisely chooses the same way as Internet bloggers. Information about health, age, religion cannot be asked by a potential employer. There is a reason why, and it is that such information opens huge doors to discrimination. How stupid would it be to legislate against such form of discrimination, whilst demanding that bloggers voluntarily expose themselves to it, irrevocably, for all time to come. Make no mistake, religion is – and always will be – the biggest cause of hatred and conflict. It’s just the way it is and he who doesn’t see it is in serious need of waking up.
9) Stupid commenters were never considered less stupid because they are not anonymous. Intelligent commenters were never considered less intelligent because they are. I – and everyone else – will pick my sites and blogs according to the validity of their content, not according to the degree of anonymity of their writers. Just to make an example, “Splintered Sunrise” is an excellent blog. Is anyone concerned that it is anonymous? Not I.
10) We have recently had another example of how beautiful anonymity is. I do not know whether priests are allowed to blog anonymously (albeit, by definition if they really wanted they’d be able to do it anyway), but had Fr. Mildew written an anonymous blog, he’d have been much more relaxed against the bullying of Mgr. Basil Loftus. His blog is now closed. QED.
This is of course not meant to be a justification of my being strictly anonymous, for which there is no need. Rather a caveat to all those who still haven’t understood the potentially devastating influence of a sustained, prolonged Internet presence with their own names, particularly when the subject matter is not neutral (like photography, dogs, or gardening) but serious, highly emotional issues like politics and, most importantly, religion.
Wake up to the reality of the Internet. The immense freedom it harbours also hides dangers for your own professional future; dangers the more devastating because subtle and able to damage you whilst keeping you fully unaware of what is happening. And if you think that this problem only concerns people with extreme views or roaming the internet with illegal purposes ask everyone who works for reference checking firms, and think again.