Felix Vs. Some Guy Called Chris: A War of Words on Anonymity
It's a discussion that gets heated every time some troll jumps into the comment section and anonymously rips someone's work. Someone will inevitably fire back something to the effect of "Show some BALLS and leave your real name!" and then it spirals down from there.
Internet anonymity. There are clearly pros and cons on both sides. Yes, ideally things would be peachy if everyone stood behind their comments with a real name. But shit, we run this site anonymously so that any critiques we give are allowed to live on their own without people accusing us of being biased. And since everyone at The Denver Egotist is a working ad professional, non-anonymous critiques could cost us a career or two as well. So we definitely see the need for pseudonyms too.
So what to do? How do we solve this? By enlisting the non-anonymous San Francisco copywriter Chris Elzinga and the completely anonymous bomb thrower from The Denver Egotist, Felix. In a 2-part debate, these two battle it out once and for all.
At long last, we present to you the event few and far between have been waiting for: The Battle of Internet Anonymity, as debated by “Felix Unger” and myself, Chris Elzinga.
Historically, Felix has contributed countless biting editorials to the Egotist under the curmudgeonly “Odd Couples” alias. Whereas I have contributed scant few pieces, choosing to use my real identity instead of a nom de plume (which means “freedom pen” in American).
But enough with backstory.
In my estimations the internet functions as a digital mirror of the world – a microcosm comprised of pixels rather than atoms (and with better access to boobs). If this is indeed the case, logic would dictate that the same code of conduct should prevail. Which is not to say that it should be a prudish police state, but merely a world in which individuals are held to a reasonable degree of accountability for their actions, or in this case, commentary – as opposed to having free reign to wreak havoc under a cloak of anonymity. Imagine if Hitler could have added a fake nose and glasses to his mustache and got off scot-free for all his hijinks (It’s never too soon for a Hitler comparison, Fox News informs me.)
And so, in initial summary, this is the new Wild West. And like the Wild West of yore, lawless self-interest and hapless disregard run rampant – but this time with weapons grade technology behind it to exacerbate any potential damage.
That said. This is starting to sound like a bad Will Smith movie.
Felix, you have the floor!
First, thanks for not starting the debate by calling me a spineless coward, which is the usual opening gambit when talking to someone who chooses to remain very anonymous indeed.
So why do I remain anonymous, and why do I love anonymity?
In a word, honesty.
As Felix, I can be completely honest about the way I feel about the world, about advertising and about people in general. If I think TDA has done some derivative and bullshit campaigns just to win awards, I can say so. And they have. They’ve also done some fucking fantastic work too, which outweighs the other shite.
I can say that without fear of rebuke or reprisals, and it's not because I’m a bully or a blowhard. All I want is for the truth to be out there, the white elephants in the room to be debated, and real, honest conversations take place.
Sadly, the world does not like the truth. The world you speak of, a digital mirror, would be a sad place if it came online. Here, we have the freedom to say that our boss is an asshole, our company sucks balls from time to time, and our clients are real shitheads.
Say that as yourself, online, and you will be in constant fear of someone digging it up and using it against you. It can get you fired. It can get you ran out of the industry. And even if it’s true, which it usually is, no one wants to hear it from someone who is not anonymous. Say it yourself in person, and you probably won't last five minutes. Unless it’s a crappy Hollywood movie. Oh, they love them some honesty in Hollywood.
I’ve known of people outing their own companies as awful employers, blowing the whistle on them for all sorts of HR nightmares, and doing it under the warm blanket of anonymity.
If you take this away, and leave this last outpost of freedom to be policed in the same way we are in the bricks and mortar world, we will see less truth, and more bullshit.
It’s not only for being honest in a “they really suck” way. It’s also giving everyone the ability to exchange thoughts and ideas freely and openly.
Now as for Hitler, and I can't believe we are there already, his power came not from anonymity but from a campaign that pushed both himself and his agenda without apologies. I doubt he would have succeeded at all if he had remained anonymous. Would you elect someone you cannot see, hear or converse with? Highly, highly doubtful. So that analogy doesn't really stand.
But if you're talking Wild West, yes, this is the last frontier. However, we are way past the point of shooting everyone whenever we feel like it. The trolls out there rarely get listened to unless they make valid, reasoned points. And in that case, they’re not trolls. You can’t defame someone, there will be consequences, and no one is completely invisible. There is a trail of breadcrumbs to everything you write, post or edit, and if it causes genuine harm, you can get caught and punished. Hackers know this. And I know this, because I tried telling the truth about a former employer once and Google handed over my information to them. I almost lost everything in a lawsuit. So much for privacy.
So where does that leave us? Well, once all those are filtered out, anonymity is the last and greatest way to ensure that somehow we have an avenue for the truth, genuine free speech, and a some decent idea exchanges.
And for the record, there are no bad Will Smith movies. They’re either decent, or really fucking awful.
Over to you.
I have no beef with the way in which you use an alias. You are an equal opportunity offender with an established voice, and without any apparent agenda. A pseudonym is a perfectly legitimate identity, whether you’re Cornelius Trunchpole or Peter North “Pole” or, God forbid, Chris Gaines.
In fact, the Egotist enterprise as a whole maintains their anonymity as well, which is all good and fine (You guys are an enterprise right? Or are you nerds still working from your mothers’ dial-ups?)
Anyhow, I think the potential danger lies when people are allowed to make anonymous defamatory and libelous posts at the drop of a cursor – whether it’s personal attacks or for commercial gain.
Businesses are known to post fake laudatory reviews for themselves while slandering their competitors. Yelp, for instance, is in the constant throes of a covert cyber war (sort of like the one we have going on with Iran, but a tad more asinine and a little less Armageddon-y).
Another detrimental aspect to an Autobahn-like commentary (not sure where all these German references are coming from) is that it opens up a Pandora’s Box of racism, profanity, spam, harassment and unpaid advertising.
If you want to participate in a public forum, it seems to me that requiring a modicum of registration on certain sites could perhaps serve as a minimally invasive barrier to entry. Unless it’s porn, that is. Then we’re all screwed.
As for trolls and their inability to cause genuine harm, that is by and large true. They are just incendiary court jesters looking to get a reaction. But cyber bullies are a different sort of animal. Cyber-bullying is like analog bullying, but with a megaphone. To that point, every time someone gets Rick Rolled, Rick Astley is the real victim getting Rick Rolled, the sorry bastard. (Sorry, I felt the need to shoehorn him in somehow.)
As for my Hitler comment, pay no mind to that. That rascal slipped from my tongue like a Tourettic with a mouth full of Novocain.
On a side note, I do envy your ability to swear so cavalierly. Since I’m writing under my actual name, I’m limited to words like “turd burglar” and “fartknocker” (in case my Nana reads this).