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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.

2 Comments

  1. Menna Ahmed Menna Ahmed March 29, 2020

    I frankly think that they may want to share their opinions but or even feelings without the fear of real-life connection. As we all know that the life behind the screen is much more comfortable and even relaxing for some. I found this article aggressive for a group of people that you don’t even know their true intentions. And last but not least not all people have the courage like yourself to ”own” their opinion like yourself and they are not obliged to. I am sorry if I sound aggressive and I humbly ask you to correct any misunderstandings that I have on your essay.

    P.s: You have such a good way of writing.

  2. Simple Soldier Simple Soldier June 1, 2020

    I am a simple Soldier, a father, and a patriot. Many things I see in the media and in government I disagree with and due to the position and profession I am in I make these comments anonymously with the hope that they find the light in these dark and troubled times.
    priv·i·lege
    /ˈpriv(ə)lij/noun
    1. a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group.

    There is no such thing as white privilege, or, if there is; point to the root of it so we can pull this weed from the garden of humanity forever to let the fruits of our better natures thrive. What person or institutions can you site with empirical facts that show this injustice that favors one skin color over another, lending disproportionate advantage, immunity, or rights? There are none! It is a phantom that victims use to justify their self-pity and moral absenteeism.
    I am a Soldier and I have the privilege of serving my country and leading men and women of this great country. It is not something I was born with and I had to earn this privilege through years of training, education, and self-sacrifice. This is not something I own and is something that can be taken from me if I show myself unworthy of the trust and confidence given by my superiors and subordinates. Not everyone is given this privilege and those that would abuse it are stripped of it. Examples are the My Lai Massacre in Vietnam (1968) or more recently, the commanding officer of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, Captain Brett Crozier. Though, extrema different circumstances, in both situations Commanders, were relieved for “poor judgment” if you generalize the overall convictions.
    There is no white privilege except that which you give to them… you consent to this idea by doubting your own self-worth and honor! The liberal media and racial extremists would have you believe and breathe life in to this specter only to deny you the truth… you are born with the same rights, freedoms, and potential as any other person regardless of the color of your skin, nationality, or what power you call God. Don’t let them put you in a prison where you can’t feel the walls or see the bars…. It is one our Country is building in the minds of Americans every day.
    To think that you or others are born with/without certain rights and benefits due to the color of your skin is racism. That statement echo as true today as it did during the civil rights movement in MLKs time. The difference is they used it as the cry for justice during the civil rights and today it is used as a cudgel to justify riots, violence, and hate.
    Picture a successful, well-educated business man and CEO. He is married lives in a mansion, has four cars, gives to his community, and supports the government and local officials in his community that he also voted for…. He attends church, loves his wife and family and only wants to raise his family the best he can and serve something greater than himself. Can you see him in your mind? His hair cut? The watch he wears? What his family looks like? Can you hear his voice?
    Now I want you to imagine something as a social experiment… however you see this man I now want you to pretend that he is… WHITE! Ask yourself what color of skin you original pictured this figure to have and why… why not black, asian, middle eastern? Where do we start to make change… in everyone else? Or how we see ourselves every day?
    God bless our country and all those who live to serve!

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