2002 September 10 Tuesday
Anonymous communications: motives and effects

The biggest problem with anonymous sources in news reports is that they are not individually trackable. If someone posts on a blog or writes books or articles under a pseudonym then one can track what that person claims. One can even argue with that person. Certainly there are all sorts of people arguing with and challenging Godless Capitalist and Razib on the Gene Expression blog. Also, Robert Musil (not his real name) who write the Man Without Qualities blog has gotten into arguments with other blogs. One can go into the archives and see what these pseudonymous bloggers have said. You can decide whether you trust them as information sources.

Types of anonymous commentators:

• reporters who pretend to cite others as a way to relay their own opinions.
• bloggers.
• high government officials
• low government officials
• whistleblowers acting with good motives

Motives for a reporter to use fake anonymous sources:

• pretend to be quoting a large group to give an impression of consensus for an opinion you favor
• pretend to have access to a high official to simply make them look like they are well connected

Motives for a reporter to allow anonymity:

• The source won't speak otherwise.
• The reporter wants to help the high source spread a message the reporter agrees with.

Motives for a reporter's source to require anonymity:

Blogger motives for anonymity:

• To avoid retaliation in one's career or business for holding positions that colleagues or customers do not want to see propagated. Note that the motive in this case for the retaliators is to oppose anything that will promote an idea or that will in some way legitimate an idea.
• To avoid retaliation for betraying legitimate confidential information gathered in busness.

Harmful Effects of anonymity:

Beneficial Effects of anonymity:

The debate about whether to overthrow Saddam Hussein with an invasion of Iraq has been notable for the leaks supposedly coming from the US Department Of Defense. I say supposedly because we really don't know if the quoted sources are working for the DOD and if they are if they are in a position to know anything about secret war plans.

Reasons people leak:

People who leak the truth:

- they are working for their masters to shift debate

- they are working against their masters who don't want the truth known

- they are leaking selective portions of the truth in order to mislead

People who leak falsehoods:

- They do know the truth

- They don't know the truth

Because they want you to believe falsehoods.

- promote their careers
- fool enemies abroad
- cover up their failures or crimes

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2002 September 10 09:27 PM 


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