Re: Anonymity and the board

Sun, 1 May 1994 04:06:08 EDT

On Sat, 30 Apr 1994 12:21:11 EDT James G. Carrier said:
>It is getting to be end of term, so I ought to get this off before the summer
>vacation, when we can all indulge in the leisure for which academia is so
>well known. (Think of it as your summer reading.)
> This note is occasioned by a couple of comments about the way that
>bulletin boards are an anonymous means of communication. (`Occasioned'
>because I did not save the comments, so I can not be said really to be
>replying to them.) The writers appeared to like the anonymity, urging us,
>inter alia, to use pseudonyms (nommes de board?) and cryptic signature files.
>The attraction of the anonymity, and thus of the medium that contains it, is
>that it is seen to under-cut the inequalities and power imbalances that, some
>seem to feel, disfigure academic life.

You know, I not sure Steve was advocating total anonymity on Anthro-L. Here's
the quote (I think) you're talking about. (It's Seeker1 responding to and
quoting Richard Wilk):

(begin quote)

>I see some levelling (people with different status positions in
>the discipline exchanging information), but also persistence of a lot
>of divisions and hierarchy.

One way of combatting those divisions is to challenge the practice of
signifying one's place in that hierarchy through the signature file...

(end quote)

Maybe he's just annoyed by people listing titles in their .sig. No, wait,
that wouldn't make sense because he....

Enough fun at other's expense. On to my point.

First, I don't advocate anonymity or anonymous pseudonyms on an academic
list. I frankly believe "no professional pseduonyms" should be added to
every school's acceptable use policy. Note that I said "professional".

I've deleted most of Dwight's comments about using the known skill of a
known poster to evaluate their expertise. But (and it's a big "but"),
my observations of UseNet, FidoNet, and some other listservs (as part
of my M.A. research) is leading me to the hypothesis that the in many
places on the Net, the proper name is less important than the constructed
identity. Outside "academic areas" like our own beloved Anthro-L, most
poster's expertise isn't easily verifiable via an outside source (i.e. most
of the people posting to UseNet aren't Marshall Sahlinses). So the only
way to have a reputation on UseNet/FidoNet/etc is to _earn_ it with one's
contribution to the discussion, building a reputation as one goes.

My point here is that in several places (and hopefully some other UseNet
readers will agree) on UseNet, there are people using blatant pseudonyms
who appear often, and are treated as serious participants (or not) based
on an acquired reputation. On the other hand, people who used strictly
anonymous IDs (such as ones acquired from, or don't stick
around in one place long enough to gain a reputation, don't get as much

The first examples the come to my mind, unfortunately, are over on (which obviously has extra-accepting attitudes towards
that kind of thing), namely "Xenon" and "Pr0duct Cypher". There are a
lot of odd pseudonyms over in the* groups, if you want
to wade through a couple 100k of incomprehensible gamerspeak.

L. Detweiler's "Anonymity on the Internet" FAQ (posted to groups like
alt.anonymous and alt.privacy) has some transcripts of the ultimate
UseNet debate on the subject. One might note an8785 managed to get a
fairly strong identity w/o a "real" by becoming a symbol of the whole

(I actually think the need for stablity of indentity has a lot to do
with concern over forgery, cancellation, and digital signatures, but
that's not too relevant right here.)

ANYWAY, my point (I almost forgot it myself) is that pseduonyms are
widely accepted in many places (and often normative on local BBS systems),
so we academics shouldn't sight of the standards of the larger subculture
we're participating in or make generalizations that don't apply to it.
That would be rude. But again, I vote "no" to anonymity on Anthro-L.

I might (no, I will) note here, that when Seeker1 first showed up on
Anthro-L, his first post or two completely ignored (i.e no responses)
until he got everybody worked up by mentioning the emotional subject
of postmodernism and deconstructionism. My thought at the time was
that many of you might not care for talking to someone who used a
handle, got involved anyway when he hit a hot button, and then accepted
his reality when he revealed himself as a competent conversationalist.
I'm afraid I missed most of the blowup two months later about his handle
(it started during my winter break), but I'm curious. Does anybody here
admit to hesitating (or even refusing on principle) to respond to Steve
Mizrach because he had a silly handle? If so, when did you change your
mind, and why? Or better yet, is there anybody who still won't talk to
Seeker1 ? (The latter may answer by e-mail, if they prefer.)

I realize I've just come close to insulting Steve _and_ everybody who
doesn't like his handle. If it helps, _I_ was a little annoyed by the
handle, but on the other hand, the handle I use on local BBSs (because
it's normative there) isn't any better.

P.S. I started a reply to R. Wilk's original post, but accidently deleted
it because I was too sleepy to type straight. It covered most of the same
ground (more emphasis on stability than anonymity)--maybe I'll go back and
try again....

Michael Bauser (mbauser@kentvm.bitnet or
Dept. of Anthropology, Kent State University, Kent OH 44242, USA