Academic journal article Journal of Information Ethics

The Practical Matter of Privacy vs. Anonymity: When Is Anonymity an Unethical Power Move in the Educative Information Professions? *

Academic journal article Journal of Information Ethics

The Practical Matter of Privacy vs. Anonymity: When Is Anonymity an Unethical Power Move in the Educative Information Professions? *

Article excerpt

Introduction

Two interesting strands of cultural and intellectual controversy have come together in an unexpected corner of the American professional/academic world, and they pose an interesting practical question for the ethics and the technology of communication as a professional. First, librarians have participated in and fully acted out-in slower fashion-the right-left political and culture wars in a number of related blog free-for-alls over the course of several years. These blog debates were wide-ranging affairs-from debate over the latest Middle East war to alleged massive (Democrat) voter fraud to the poor preparation of recent graduates of library schools and the poor job market. But the pattern was a familiar one: generally there would be an objection to an action by the American Library Association (ALA) Council (its democratically elected governing body), another part of ALA (such as a committee or Round Table), or a loosely-affiliated organization such as the Progressive Librarians Guild. Often, those "actions" would simply consist of a sentiment expressed, or a debate held within or around the Council context. The "action" and/or the positions advocated in the debate would be deemed liberal or even radical, and concern "political issues having nothing to do with librarianship."1 The blog discussion would then quickly devolve down to some very mean-spirited name-calling, the vast part of it from those on the rightward end of the political spectrum: from "liberal echo chamber" to "unrepentant, left-wing, Stalinist moronicity," "chief bootlickers of Fidel and Che," "goose-stepping" "thought police," or an "apologist for murderers like Stalin and Mao." The comments also became quite personal too: saying their opponents "really, really do deserve to be B*tch-slapped, verbally, if not literally (and I know I'd love to see the latter one day)," or calling one a "puffed-up narcissistic Moonbat," and most directly, someone's mixed ethnic heritage children were called "mutts." In turn, these unpleasantries closely mimicked the media exchanges between the American right and the "left" that we have become so familiar with in recent decades (though it is highly debatable whether or not a media outlet such as MSNBC represents the left in the same manner that Fox News represents a coherent right perspective). In the second strand of the librarian exchanges, political orientations, opinions, and goals were not the hot-button issue in the end. The majority of these attacks publicly identified their targets (and sometimes their employing institution), but were made anonymously/pseudonymously or semi-anonymously (behind a few layers to hide identity). As it was put by way of explanation and justification, "It makes no sense to accuse a blogger who posts under a nom de plume of any form of anonymity. I am not anonymous; I spelled my name backwards to shield it from searches on the web." The arguments from their opponents (clearly identified and named by the conservative writers as left/liberal/radical) were identifiably authored; those persons owned their words. When that professional stance (anonymous communication as a professional which included attacks on named and identifiable persons) was questioned, the defense of anonymity (and its variants noted above-so as not to burden the reader anonymity will be used) in supposedly professional communications became the sensitive and volatile issue in these blog debates. The pattern consisted of the initial naming of a left-generated "controversy" as noted, anonymous attacks from the right, followed by a response, and that response was then characterized by the right as "silencing"-and from there, acrimonious debate inevitably ensued. The purpose of this paper is to unpack the arguments as they have been "articulated within pragmatic and contentious political contexts" (Mara 2008, 20-21) to justify the ethics of the stance of anonymity in speaking as an information professional. …

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