Daily Archives: April 20, 2017

How To Make Anonymity Work

The recent events with “Anonimi della Croce” move me to write one or two considerations about anonymity. 

Anonymity protects the identity of the blogger. There are many good reasons to blog anonymously.  However, one must be aware of this: that being anonymous, the author will have no possibility to attach any credibility to his name, qua name. The only credibility he will have is the one of the argument he makes

Homer was a great poet (or poets). You don’t need to know his real identity. His poetry speaks for him. You read and love his poetry, and could not care less whether you know the name of its author or not. What count is what is in the tin. “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”. 

The same happens with an anonymous blogger. If a Catholic Homer started to write beautiful verses in defence of the Church people would be drawn to his site by the poetry itself, not the name of its author. If, more prosaically, a Catholic blogger like yours truly starts to write his own considerations on the net, his pen name will never have any weight. The only thing that will ever count is whether the argument makes sense. If that particular rose smells sweet, you don’t need to know what name it has. If it doesn’t, exactly the same happens. This is the reason why anonymous Catholic blogs (as well as all sorts of anonymous sites, from whistleblowing ones to Wikileaks) work. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. 

This does not work anymore if an anonymous blogger starts publishing things which, in order to be believed, depend on his name. If I say “I have it from a reliable source that Francis is going to dance in drags in Saint Peter” this is not an argument that can stand in itself: it’s a piece of information that can be true or false. The reader needs an established name, and an established history of true revelations, to lend credibility to this. An anonymous chap saying so will not do the trick. 

If, however, I say “I will now explain to you why Francis is a heretic” and proceed to make the argument, this argument will not need my name to be believed. It will stand, or fall, without any need for it. It is not about whether the information is true or false, it is about whether the argument persuades you or not. This is the sphere in which Catholic bloggers must operate.

Anonymity on the Internet is, inter alia, good because of this: that you always need to make a good argument, because no one will believe anything just because of  you saying so.

 

 

 

 

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“Anonimi della Croce”: A Post Mortem

“Anonimi della Croce” turned out to be a big soap bubble.

 

 

“Anonimi della Croce” has ceased operations. If you try to access the site, you find nothing. Not even the archives. 

That was it, then. 

I do not give much credence to the idea that this was a “fake news” site, in the same way as I tend not to give credence to unsubstantiated conspiracy theories. I have read several of their articles in their (and mine) mother tongue: they were well written – in a colloquial, emotional style – and made a very good argument against Francis and for the Church. It seems absurd to me that people who spoke with such obvious zeal for the Church would do that because they bat for Francis. It would be as if the “Pravda” had started to publish the entire collection of speeches of Ronald Reagan before trying to let you believe that he is, say, corrupt. It does not work that way: when the argument of your enemy is presented too well, it will work against you. If, therefore, these people had the intention to sell us a lie by giving us robust doses of truth first, they are stupid indeed. People don’t stop believing in truth because a site turns out to be fake. 

Of course I wasn’t there, and of course we will probably never know the truth. What I think more likely happened is that a couple of priests with a good ear inside the things of the Vatican started to post on things they could not substantiate, and had uncritically collected from everyone willing to plant a rumour around. This can’t end well, because a bit of life experience tells us that most rumours are just that.    

Then there’s the thing with “anonymity”, which might also have been the undoing of the two (I think) blog authors. 

If you publish a post saying what you were told in a certain Roman cafe’ you are not really anonymous: your source knows who you are. And even if you have willingly given fantasy details about the place to protect your anonymity, if your information is detailed your informant will have no big trouble to trace you anyway. This kind of anonymity never goes on for long. Let’s say a prelate has five possible suspects of being “Fra Cristoforo”. The only thing he will have to do is to spread five different rumours to them, and those who publish on the blog are the anonymous bloggers. It really is a game with very short legs. 

It can be that the two (I think) priests have been found and silenced. It can be that they have (wisely) recognised that publishing anonymous letters does not prove anything. It can even be – though I do not think it likely – that these are two people who are on the side of Francis and have been so stupid to attract a couple hundred thousand visitors a month with beautiful arguments against him. 

The site is now gone. It was, in the end, a big soap bubble. 

Beware of anonymous great revelations.

 

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