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In defence of Twitter anons

Bronze Age Pervert (BAP) uses images of athletic men as his profile image

July 11, 2023 - 10:00am

As social media platforms grapple with the complex issue of user anonymity, the case of Twitter stands out. The site — which owes a great deal of credit for its popularity to anonymous users, affectionately termed “anons” —  is squarely in the middle of a global discussion surrounding the merits and pitfalls of concealing one’s identity online.

The debate reignited on Sunday when Twitter’s CEO, Elon Musk, defended anons’ right to express potentially divisive views without fear of personal retaliation. In response, former Intellectual Dark Web member Eric Weinstein, quote-tweeting Musk, argued that anonymity is a double-edged sword, often wielded by corporations and institutions for deceptive practices like “astroturfing” and “bot farming”. Both of these operations have occurred across multiple social media platforms and, at least according to some, played a role in shifting public opinion on key matters (Musk himself claimed that Twitter was overrun with bots when he was in the process of acquiring the platform). 

Anonymity is a major part of Twitter’s own brand, perhaps its most lasting feature, and many of the biggest or most influential accounts on both the political Left and Right were or are anonymous. Even when doxxed, these accounts, like the Bronze Age Pervert (Yale political science Ph.D. Costin Alamariu) and Kantbot (University of Chicago graduate William Clark), remain best known by their noms de plume

Indeed, their ideas — often adjacent to or based in conventional academic work, albeit filtered through various Internet-influenced styles of discourse — may need the edginess afforded by anonymity to enable them to reach the wide audiences found in today’s “extremely online” space. Others, like the “shitposter” dril (an aspiring comedian and writer named Paul Dochney), have used the cloud of Twitter anonymity to construct the voice of a character that, as the disappointing performance of Dochney’s Truthpoint: Dark Web Rising television show indicates, perhaps only worked on social media.

For these figures, anonymity serves as a platform for unconventional, often radical, dialogue that may otherwise be stifled under the scrutiny of real-world identities. However, this anonymity has been known to blur the line between the audacious and the deceptive, a fact that is particularly evident in the world of fitness influencing.

Consider the case of the “based anon” health and fitness influencer Carnivore Aurelius, who is known for promoting a certain lifestyle while shielded from scrutiny by his pseudonym. Aurelius, as it happens, has been accused of merely being a marketer who uses memes to sell overpriced liver crisps — supposedly high-quality and handmade, but actually sourced from a national distributor. This isn’t criminal, merely deceptive — Aurelius’s company is an LLC registered in Wyoming under the name of his assistant — but it underscores anonymity’s ability to manipulate audiences, beyond just persuading them in the style of anonymous political pamphleteers from past centuries. 

In any event, Weinstein is right about one thing: anonymity is an amoral tool. But Musk is himself correct that Twitter should preserve anonymity. Plenty of big-time users who aren’t anonymous are nonetheless using their accounts to manipulate large numbers of people, often in deceptive or perhaps even harmful ways, but such propagandising isn’t illegal.

While users should educate themselves about the many possible uses of anonymity, it remains a facet of the web’s history that warrants continued protection. Once life online becomes permanently public — perhaps with some sort of digital report card following the user everywhere — then the right to privacy, a cornerstone of the Internet’s decentralised landscape, will be irrevocably lost.


Oliver Bateman is a historian and journalist based in Pittsburgh. He blogs, vlogs, and podcasts at his Substack, Oliver Bateman Does the Work

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jim peden
jim peden
10 months ago

It all depends on how serious the discourse is intended to be. Anonymity can be taken to indicate a lack of integrity. This should be a clue as to how seriously we need to take statements and comments posted to social media platforms.

jim peden
jim peden
10 months ago

It all depends on how serious the discourse is intended to be. Anonymity can be taken to indicate a lack of integrity. This should be a clue as to how seriously we need to take statements and comments posted to social media platforms.

Mark Goodhand
Mark Goodhand
10 months ago

I’m not anonymous here, but that may come back to bite me.
Although I’m generally careful to avoid offence (whether anonymous or not), there are always social and professional risks to stating controversial beliefs openly.
It’s one thing for public figures (politicians, journalists, think tankers) to express their scepticism about masks, MRNA treatments, BLM, trans and Net Zero. It’s another for an ordinary citizen to do it, when they must consider the reaction from friends, family, colleagues, bosses and potential future employers.
As for the risks of anonymous accounts, they’re overblown. Online, people just have to accept that the posts they see may be dishonest, whether the account has a real-sounding name or an obvious pseudonym.
Caveat lector.

B Davis
B Davis
10 months ago
Reply to  Mark Goodhand

Agreed.
It’s rare that I post without the pseudo-cloak of avatar-driven anonymity.
It’s not that such a cloaking provides impervious protection but it does tend to insulate from the casual googling of friend’s/neighbor’s/colleague’s names. Does that make this dialogue in some way toxic? I don’t think so.
Rather it allows the continued & relatively healthy compartmentalization of our lives (a thing which is actually quite critical to most normal life functions). I am different with my brothers than with my wife. Different with my wife than with my closest friends. Different by myself than I am with anyone.
My political perspectives fit with some audiences at some times and not with others.
The digital public square combined with avatar-masking allows us to maintain that separation. We can greet our in-laws with a big smile without worrying that our thinking on trans ideologies will taint Christmas dinner. And that’s a good thing.

Peter Johnson
Peter Johnson
10 months ago
Reply to  Mark Goodhand

When people lose their livelihoods for merely saying out loud what the vast majority is thinking then you need anonymity for any discourse at all.

B Davis
B Davis
10 months ago
Reply to  Mark Goodhand

Agreed.
It’s rare that I post without the pseudo-cloak of avatar-driven anonymity.
It’s not that such a cloaking provides impervious protection but it does tend to insulate from the casual googling of friend’s/neighbor’s/colleague’s names. Does that make this dialogue in some way toxic? I don’t think so.
Rather it allows the continued & relatively healthy compartmentalization of our lives (a thing which is actually quite critical to most normal life functions). I am different with my brothers than with my wife. Different with my wife than with my closest friends. Different by myself than I am with anyone.
My political perspectives fit with some audiences at some times and not with others.
The digital public square combined with avatar-masking allows us to maintain that separation. We can greet our in-laws with a big smile without worrying that our thinking on trans ideologies will taint Christmas dinner. And that’s a good thing.

Peter Johnson
Peter Johnson
10 months ago
Reply to  Mark Goodhand

When people lose their livelihoods for merely saying out loud what the vast majority is thinking then you need anonymity for any discourse at all.

Mark Goodhand
Mark Goodhand
10 months ago

I’m not anonymous here, but that may come back to bite me.
Although I’m generally careful to avoid offence (whether anonymous or not), there are always social and professional risks to stating controversial beliefs openly.
It’s one thing for public figures (politicians, journalists, think tankers) to express their scepticism about masks, MRNA treatments, BLM, trans and Net Zero. It’s another for an ordinary citizen to do it, when they must consider the reaction from friends, family, colleagues, bosses and potential future employers.
As for the risks of anonymous accounts, they’re overblown. Online, people just have to accept that the posts they see may be dishonest, whether the account has a real-sounding name or an obvious pseudonym.
Caveat lector.

Anthony Roe
Anthony Roe
10 months ago

Quackery has a long and distinguished history in America. Roll-up! Roll-up, one and all!

Anthony Roe
Anthony Roe
10 months ago

Quackery has a long and distinguished history in America. Roll-up! Roll-up, one and all!

Ted Ditchburn
Ted Ditchburn
10 months ago

I think some kind of greater weight should be attached to things said, and especially points made that depend on real life experience or the supposed career of someone trying to win a cheap gotcha in arguments.
Being a rocket scientist didn’t impress Shania Twain much, some anon claiming to be rocket scientist, or journalist, or doctor/virus/counter intelligence expert impresses me even less.
And for libel or contempts of court, or just general libellous ranting directed at non-anons, especially egregious cases, , instead of the sledgehammer of traditional legal redress just removing annonymity and publishing the offender’s names by the platforms might be worth a try?

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
10 months ago

I disagree. Anonymity drives the toxic culture of social media. It’s killing legitimate public discourse. No doubt, anonymity has allowed people to express views they otherwise couldn’t, but the bad far outweighs the good IMO. Genuine whistle blowers will continue to find ways to expose corruption and misdeeds. They don’t need the protection of anonymous social media.

The use of anonymous sources in the legacy media has grown out of control as well. It was rarely used when the media served an important role. Now it’s standard operating procedure for elected politicians to publish garbage without accountability. When Democrat Congressman Adam Schiff becomes an anonymous source within the intelligence community we’ve totally lost the plot. He drove the Trump collusion garbage without ever being held to account.

The world will be a much better place when evil people can no longer hide behind anonymity.

Last edited 10 months ago by Jim Veenbaas
Andrew F
Andrew F
10 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

If only it was that simple.
Who decides who are evil people?
We know from Twitter after Musk takeover that so called “covid deniers” were censored for what now, slowly, become mainstream views.
What about views about gender or race?
How many people lost jobs because of holding “wrong” views?
Can you have career in academia if you disagree not even about global warming but just policies used to tackle it?
So, I am sorry but unless censorship by the left is stopped, anonymity is the best tool we have.

Andrew F
Andrew F
10 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

If only it was that simple.
Who decides who are evil people?
We know from Twitter after Musk takeover that so called “covid deniers” were censored for what now, slowly, become mainstream views.
What about views about gender or race?
How many people lost jobs because of holding “wrong” views?
Can you have career in academia if you disagree not even about global warming but just policies used to tackle it?
So, I am sorry but unless censorship by the left is stopped, anonymity is the best tool we have.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
10 months ago

I disagree. Anonymity drives the toxic culture of social media. It’s killing legitimate public discourse. No doubt, anonymity has allowed people to express views they otherwise couldn’t, but the bad far outweighs the good IMO. Genuine whistle blowers will continue to find ways to expose corruption and misdeeds. They don’t need the protection of anonymous social media.

The use of anonymous sources in the legacy media has grown out of control as well. It was rarely used when the media served an important role. Now it’s standard operating procedure for elected politicians to publish garbage without accountability. When Democrat Congressman Adam Schiff becomes an anonymous source within the intelligence community we’ve totally lost the plot. He drove the Trump collusion garbage without ever being held to account.

The world will be a much better place when evil people can no longer hide behind anonymity.

Last edited 10 months ago by Jim Veenbaas