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Well.

Today I went to check out Gabriolan.ca, and found this:

I’ve shut down Gabriolan.ca.

It seems that this is necessary in order to maintain my privacy. I’m sad about that, but some people don’t accept or respect the fact that there are good reasons for wanting to be anonymous on the internet.

I’ve enjoyed the chance to share things with you over the last seven years. The articles, photos, and comments you contributed were a gift to me and to everybody who stopped by to read the site.

… Best wishes to all of you. To the kind and respectful readers: thank you for enriching my life.

-Gabriolan

I am beyond furious about this. This was a great site, I found so much of interest there; it was one of very few blogs I read regularly.

And it’s been shut down because of concerns for privacy. And for me this is a hot-button issue.

Here’s the thing: there are a lot of good reasons to be private on the internet, i.e. keeping your identity and/or personal information private. Here are two (of countless) recent examples of what happens to people who are not anonymous and who annoyed someone on the internet.

And this kind of harassment—let’s call it stalking, because that’s what much of it is—has been going on for MONTHS.

For some people it has been going on for years.

And yes, most of it might “just” be assholes behaving like assholes (and why is that okay anyway? why is it somehow okay to be an aggressive asshole if you are pointing your assholery at someone who is anonymous?). But the point is that the recipient DOESN’T KNOW what’s a creditable threat and what isn’t. (Does the name Elliot Rodger ring a bell?) Consider this: A redditor succinctly breaks down the fear behind “credible threats” with regards to safety precautions/leaving home. This is the reality of the experience of online harassment for many people, and not just people who are prominent and well known.

But here’s my main point: why the hell should someone else get to decide whether your concerns are realistic or not, and make the choice of whether you should be anonymous or not?

My opinion? You don’t get to choose for someone else.

Gabriolan is a private citizen, expressing their views on matters affecting their community and way of life. Private citizens get to remain private if they so wish, for any reason or none at all. No one gets to make the decision of how private we should be for me, for you, for Gabriolan, or for that matter anyone anywhere. They don’t get to decide for any of us what we wear to market, or what locks we do or don’t put on our doors (virtual or otherwise). They don’t get to decide what name I put on my driver’s license, for that matter, much less what name I hang on my website. If they are not comfortable with the names we’ve chosen to use within the spheres in which we move, their (honest and civil) options are limited to ‘sucking it up’ and ‘sucking it up harder’. (They could also grouse and whine, but that’s merely being petty and human, rather than grossly self-centred and reckless.)

“Outing” someone in any way—making public any information about them that they have chosen to keep private—is not “honesty.” It is solely an act of aggression. It is punishment. It is someone admitting they cannot counter another’s views or position using reasoned argument, and therefore they will silence them using whatever underhanded weapons they can bring to bear. It’s flipping the gameboard and setting fire to the pieces because you can’t stand the idea of others disagreeing with you.

There is nothing to stop anyone with engaging with ideas and opinions from an anonymous source. (If someone won’t allow you to do so using their personal platform, there’s nothing to stop you from creating your own platform and arguing from that.) Ideas and opinions require neither identity nor anonymity; they stand on their own. Insisting that people do not have the right to be anonymous is not an argument with the substance of their ideas; it is the opposite. It is in fact detached from the substance of the ideas, and a red herring. It is bullying.

And that claim I have seen so often, that anonymity is the refuge of cowards? Applying it to everyone, without knowledge of individual circumstances or context, is the height of privileged arrogance and entitlement. And given what’s in the news about online harassment these days, I think it would be very, very difficult to make that claim without being disingenuous in the extreme.

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