My Byline Here

When I worked in Communications at Charles Schwab, our CIO was a big believer in openness. He regularly met with employees at all levels and highly discouraged anonymity. This was a big deal because morale was low and many people wanted to “vent” in a way that they believed had little repercussions.

In retrospect, I could not agree with him more. With the exception of some extreme cases, the benefits of open far outweigh the benefits of anonymity.

Unfortunately, this is counter to what many libertarian-leaning people would have you think. For them, anonymity increases meritocracy, removing ‘barriers’ that may stifle expression such as title, education, race, gender.

If I lived in this vacuum of theory, I’d have to agree.

Ironically, however, most of these anonymity-proponents have never experienced these barriers themselves, and when we move from theory to reality, the picture changes. While it’s true that in very specific scenarios there are reasons to preserve anonymity, the vast majority of public exchange benefits from linkages to real-world identity. While the alleged barriers to meritocracy have yet to emerge as a significant force, the dark side of anonymity is all-too-prominent. When consequences are removed, conversation quickly devolves into corrosive exchange that scarcely resembles any form of constructive discourse.

And this goes “both ways”: when an entrepreneur sought to reverse the power equation by creating an app allowing women to anonymously rate men, the results were good for pretty much nobody. Again, no checks or balances to the ratings easily leads to all sorts of negative and potentially libelous behaviors.

The extreme of this happened late last year with Silk Road, the anonymous marketplace which served as a breeding ground for illegal activity and ultimately the channel for conspiracy to commit murder.

I applaud publications who are changing their commenting policies to preserve a semblance of true discourse and exchange. And I will observe the new wave of anonymous social apps with great curiosity and caution.

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