The anonymous addiction

Alyssa Mosher - From the Editor (Tom Bateman/AQ)

She told me it wasn’t safe for people to know she was depressed.

A friend of hers had called people with mental illnesses “those people,” so she had proof that young adults still held on to a century-old stigma.

I knew her name, but she wasn’t sure she wanted everyone else to know it simply because I wanted her voice in a front-page article for The Aquinian.

We agreed to talk anyway, though.

She wanted to remain anonymous and I was open to the possibility.

***

Anonymity has infiltrated our lives and we love it.

There’s something sexy – and absolutely addictive – about keeping our names secret and saying whatever we want.

After the release of the website LikeALittle, a university-based social network that allows classmates to anonymously flirt, Electric Courage, an app for virtual flirting at the bar, appeared. The awkwardness of approaching someone you’re interested in suddenly vanished. No more small talk – how great is that?

But anonymity isn’t all fun and games and the website 4chan.org is the epitome of that exception.

The website is a massive discussion board on everything from photography to political incorrectness. The problem? Nothing is filtered because every single post on the site is from “Anonymous.”

Some argue the site promotes bigotry and bullying. Others say it’s a way for people to speak their minds about things that matter, like oppressive governments.

I say it’s part of an ever-growing bad habit.

Websites of news organizations are packed with anonymous comments on articles. Freedom of speech makes its mark with aliases and outlandish opinions.

As movements around the world continue to raise questions about privacy, democracy and free speech, our generation hides behind the safety of namelessness, subsequently cowering our true identities – and reality.

So the question remains: What’s the point of anonymity?

***

As editor-at-large of the province’s three daily newspapers, Neil Reynolds has completely banned anonymous sources. (Apparently, he’s made it a rule at every paper he’s headed.)

When anonymous sources lie, newspapers lie, he said at the ninth annual Dalton Camp lecture in journalism Thursday night.

Reynolds said anonymous sources only lessen an already weakened trust the public has in journalists. Not only that, he said anonymity discourages courage and belittles journalistic integrity, while underminding the source’s freedom of speech.

And he’s right. Why promote anonymity when you can have a named source validate the point of your story? But I wonder if there isn’t an exception to this rule.

Reynolds is an absolutist, but I don’t think you have to be when it comes to anonymous sources. I feel like there’s a time and a place for that kind of secrecy – and no, it’s not on the internet’s latest flirting site.

I understand Reynolds arguments, but what if a source will lose his job because of what he reveals to a reporter? Or what if a life is threatened because of the information given?

Or, what if she fears the stigma of her mental disorder within her university community?

***

So far this year, The Aquinian hasn’t quoted an anonymous source. But we came awfully close.

Initially, I figured allowing the source for the mental illness story to remain anonymous only added to the story, emphasizing her fear of ridicule.

Wouldn’t that validate the point of the story even more? I asked myself.

In the end though, our source decided she wanted to use her name.

She was still afraid of what people might think of her, but she understood what her story – and her name – could offer: true validation.

After all, it’s anonymity, not courage, that carries a stigma.

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