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On writing anonymously for a publication

Publishing an anonymous article. We’ve all seen them, whether it’s in the Carletonian or a major news magazine. In fact, the Carletonian website lists no fewer than eight articles written anonymously.

Each time I see an anonymous article, I, and frankly, many other readers, feel a mixture of irritation, confusion, and skin-tingling mystery. Why, to what do we owe the honor of reading this allure of mystery?

Whoever and wherever you are, oh anonymous souls possessing a penchant for haunting us through the occasional eloquent prose piece rather than more typical ghostly endeavors, I’m calling you out.

Submitting and getting an article published as an anonymous author is not only confusing to the audience. It’s fundamentally dangerous.

When you submit a piece anonymously, or if you tell the newspaper you want your article published anonymously, what you are fundamentally saying is that you are a) not proud of your writing or opinions, b) scared of the potential fallout and criticism that will occur after your piece is published, c) you don’t want to offend specific people, whether they are friends, professors, or administrators or d) you want to encourage discourse on a new subject or angle, but you are afraid of being known by your (perhaps unpopular) stance on a subject or e) you’re writing about a socially stigmatized, so-called “embarrassing” topic and you don’t feel fully comfortable about the topic. All of these reasons are problematic.

To be clear, identity protection is important, and it’s important especially to those who have suffered intolerable actions and crimes, like rape or violence, who may not want to be named yet still want their voices heard. But that’s not what I’m talking about in this op-ed. I’m talking about generally writing your opinion, or a news piece, and submitting it to a newspaper anonymously or requesting the paper to print it under the moniker “Anonymous.”

This is not a dictatorship. This is a college campus and college newspaper. If you want to publish an article in a newspaper—any newspaper, frankly—you need to be able to talk about what you have written in public, be okay with being associated with your viewpoints or news article and what you have said, and you need to be able to take the heat of student and professor criticism (whether or not their criticism is well-founded—and it may not be) and be able to respond.

But let’s talk about the root of the problem: why exactly is it dangerous to write anonymously?

For one, every human being is endowed with an individual mind and identity, and it seems almost sad to not want to share your ideas with the world and stand by them as your own. If you don’t associate your name with your piece, are you really proud of it? Do you truly feel like what you’ve written is yours, that those words or opinions came from you? What’s going on in your subconscious? As readers, we can never know, yet we remain curious.

Taking it from another angle, let’s say you decide to write anonymously because you’re worried about being criticized or worried you’ll offend someone. To begin with, such feelings may signify that you need to carefully examine your article and make sure you’re not just writing it in a moment of spite and fiery emotion. But if you still feel like your ideas are sound, and maybe just different and opposed to what the majority of your audience feels, then you should still associate yourself with it.

It’s dangerous to go anonymous in such cases mainly because of the precedent it sets: that it’s okay not to defend a contrary view, that it’s okay just to throw an article out to the readers without the support of the author who carefully crafted it (you), that dissenting or unusual opinions should not be valued the same way as the majority opinion, that they are either better or worse than other opinions. Ultimately, you are not taking ownership of your ideas and saying it’s okay for others not to take ownership of their ideas and writings as well.

If you write an unpopular piece, the worst thing that can happen is public backlash for a week or so. Then, everyone moves on. The public has the right to attack your article and you have the right to defend your article. Going nameless instead articulates that you don’t actually want to be a part of the dialogue process.

If you write anonymously, you’re also unwittingly perpetuating stereotypes and assumptions of what type of material is “controversial” or “embarrassing.” Looking at the anonymous articles published in the online Carletonian, their subjects include: sex and dating, the Levi sexual harrassment case, depression, religion, politics, and a professor’s opinion on the administration’s response to last year’s polar vortex. What do these articles all have in common? They all deal with controversial and embarrassing subjects.

If you want to write about one of the aforementioned topics, I commend you and enjoy reading your ideas and news coverage. However, writing on such topics anonymously is not commendable; it just reinforces society’s propensity to shy away from openly discussing sex, harrassment, mental illness, religion, and politics. Moreover, the fact that we as a university have both students and professors writing anonymously to our main newspaper signifies that we have a problem of not being open with each other, of not being willing to transcend society’s stereotypically shallow and fearful conversation.

So if, in the future, you’re looking at writing on a controversial or face-reddening subject, whether you’re a student or professor, and whether or not you submit to the Carletonian, I encourage you to assign your name to your piece. We have names for a reason.

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