Anonymity in Online Community Engagement – There’s No Such Thing As A Little Bit Public

I regularly carry on about the importance of anonymity in online community engagement or participation process. Just imagine my excitement when I came across a wonderful example to illustrate my case.

A user of one of our sites, who shall remain anonymous for the purposes of this blog (naturally), posted a formal submission to one of our clients. The client (also nameless but a Government agency) had invited submissions but at the same time had told the community that submissions would be available on the public record.

The submission made by the client was, shall we say, radical in nature and it was put, along with all other formal submissions, on the website for others to read and comment on. Excellent and transparent practice and people really did come and read them. Over 8000 downloads of submissions were made indicating that this was viewed by the community as a valuable resource.

The problem arose when this individual found that a Google search of her name produced the submission. She was not happy, not happy at all. The agency removed the submission on her request but of course by this time Google had found the submission and cached it so it was (and is) still available. As best we can tell there is now nothing that can be done until Google re crawl the site and remove the listing which may take several months.

The moral of this sorry tale is that the web ensures that public is now very public, there is no middle ground nor anywhere to hide so:

  1. Don’t make a formal submission under your own name that you would not be proud to make in public at least not without expressly stating it is not to be made public
  2. If you are shy or have legitimately held views or opinions that you are not keen to be associated with, for whatever reason, use an anonymous forum to express them (there was one available in this case).

Now some (the Michael Atkinson’s of this world) will shake their heads and argue that we should all be prepared to stand by our views but that is not really how the real world works. For many of us our jobs preclude being publicly on the record being critical of Government or advocating certain policies. Most people working in Government or with Government fit this category and there are lots and lots of us. Others may be reluctant to make a stand that goes against community norms or accepted wisdom, and one can understand why, imagine being the only person in your street supporting a development proposal that others are actively campaigning against.

All these people need anonymity to allow their voices to he heard. Without it they will stay silent because otherwise a simple Google search might find them out.

Photo Credits: Eyesplash

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