The following is a comment, which in turn is intended to invite your comment, on Anonymity & Credibility, by B.Z., a student at the University of Minnesota. I have chosen at this time to keep B.Z.’s identity anonymous, but perhaps it will be revealed at a later time.
B.Z. is researching the development and nature of communities on the internet, and this particular sub-project explores anonymous and pseudonymous blogging or commenting as well as other topics.
Anonymity & Credibility
Blogs are becoming increasingly influential in providing us with information, news, and opinion. For example, major news outlets increasingly report that “the blogs” have influenced major national political decisions. But are blogs and the information they provide us to be trusted and if so, to what extent? There are no set standards on the Internet, each blog, or community of blogs, can set their own, and many don’t bother having any standards or rules.
One of the more traditional sources of news is the daily newspaper. Thirty one years ago, the Washington Post did not seem to hesitate to use information from the anonymous source nicknamed Deep Throat when covering the Watergate Breakin. (Deep Throat was later revealed to be Deputy Director of the FBI William Mark Felt, Sr.). The National Enquirer, a paper of lesser reputation than most is credited as being the first to break the news of the John Edwards sex scandal, using anonymous sources. Perhaps consumers of news assume that traditional news outlets have sufficient internal quality control that anonymously supplied information is trusted. But a blog is just some guy … or perhaps even just some dog … with access to the Internet.
Should blogs be viewed as similar to the Wikipedia? If so, then a blog serves as a great initial starting point, but any information provided must be verified from a credible source to be taken as fact. If we don’t bother verifying this intake of information, how does that influence us, and affect our opinion? Does information saturation from unverified sources have an impact on our thinking? Should blogs have full disclosure of their contributors and sources of information if we are to take them as fact? Can you imagine a mechanism whereby an individual may remain anonymous but at the same time provide novel information in a way that carries with it whatever credibility is lost by anonymity?