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Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Writer/Curator/Founder of The Autism Acceptance Project. Contributing Author to Between Interruptions: Thirty Women Tell the Truth About Motherhood, and Concepts of Normality by Wendy Lawson, and soon to be published Gravity Pulls You In. Writing my own book. Lecturer on autism and the media and parenting. Current graduate student Critical Disability Studies and most importantly, mother of Adam -- a new and emerging writer.

“There is no hope unmingled with fear, and no fear unmingled with hope.” -- Baruch Spinoza

Friday, March 17, 2006

 

Anonymous Critics

I have an anonymous critic. It's not that worry about different opinions. I have to wonder, however, about the validity of anonymity online. It has raised a whole lot of issues in my mind about debating on an even playing field.

I find this anonymity fascinating. I have to wonder who and why this person wishes to state their opinion without revealing themselves. Afterall, this a respectful dialogue. We fellow bloggers respectfully disagree with one another. Thank heavens for opinions, for the ability to learn from one another, and in the words of a blogger with whom I had a heated debate once, someone I came to admire, to have a opportunity to “stretch ourselves.” Inflexible opinions are not healthy – the ability to empathize with one another is our ultimate goal in the name of human rights.

I suspect this anonymous person has written me before, expressing some opinions about me in the past (if it’s not you anonymous, I’m sorry, but how can I know?). I asked the person, who spoke of me as if they knew me personally to “come out of the bushes of anonymity.”

Anonymity reminds me of the cowardice Nazi youth who slithered into Jewish graveyards to desecrate them in Toronto two years ago, to hide in the night to paint swastikas on the doors of Jewish homes. The Internet is also a scary place. People don’t have to be true or real. They can put on personae, lie about their identity. I often wonder about this when I am blogging to personae instead of "people" and I think it’s something we all ought to consider. If we don’t set a precedent here, to reveal our identities in these important discussions about human rights, then is there a point to the Internet, to the Blog?

Consider another couple of quotes I pulled from the Internet:

"Looming as the new preferred method by those who seek to diminish the quality of life of Jewish Australians is harrassment through electronic mail. The Internet has made it easier for individuals to be anonymous, reach large audiences adn operate with very little expenditure..." From Sticks and Stones and Hate Mail, Australia/Israel Jewish Affairs Council, 1999.

I think of Anthrax, and the surreptitious acts of terrorist organizations that veil themselves in anonymity.

Here’s another comment on Internet communication:

"All the same, I believe that the most tragic outcome of promoting sites like Keen.com is that it will only foster even more sterile and untruthful interactions between human beings...If people mistrust each other so much that they're afraid to reveal their email addresses and phone numbers, why in the world are they bothering to talk to each other in the first place?" From E Commerce News Internet Anonymity Promotes Cyber Cowardice.

"To be one's self, and unafraid whether right or wrong, is more admirable than the easy cowardice or surrender to conformity." -- Irving Wallace.

As Ghandi alluded, the point of sharing opinions is to see ourselves, the err of our ways, to see others, and to better mankind:

"It is good to see ourselves as others see us. Try as we may, we are never able to know ourselves fully as we are, especially the evil side of us. This we can do only if we are not angry with our critics but will take in good heart whatever they might have to say."

Still hope you, anonymous, will join us for all you are, in the comments section.

33 Comments:

Blogger Kev said...

The idea of being anonymous is as old as the web - it grew around the concept of people having 'handles' rather than using their names and took off from there.

Personally I have no issue with it. If someone has something to say, it should be judged on its own merits, rather than being judged partly by who's saying it.

There is also the issue of privacy. There are some genuinely disturbing people around and it is prudent sometimes to not reveal exactly who you are - people have been tracked down and harrassed in their homes and workplaces by people who disagree with them.

Just my 2p :o)

11:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with Kev. I have been in various special-needs and on-line communities for years and there is something to be said for the right to privacy, especially when one's children are being discussed. I have posted here as Anon before, but I'm not the Anon you are referring to in this blog post. From what I can tell, there are at least few people here who post as Anon.

Anon on the West Coast/US

11:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i wrote you anon about my decision to make medication. others may have written you anon about other things. i don't think i was criticizing you but just stating my own experience.peopel have dif reasons for choosing to be anon not always bad reasons. some people don't feel safe saying anything so saying it anon feels safer

11:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

P.S.

Yes, I meant to add that I would have never discussed my med experiences on your blog if I could not have posted as Anon. I think I was the first Anon to comment about it on that particular blog post. By posting as Anon one can say more things about one's self than they would if they had to reveal their identity.

~ the first Anon in this comment thread

11:58 AM  
Blogger Estee Klar-Wolfond said...

Then you are not the person who is making snide remarks about me personally. I have been receiving personal gibes on my character. I think if a person is going to do this, they should reveal themselves.

As for the greater issue of anonymity, it is good that some people are honest with their reasons, like medications and not wanting to be stigmatized. But like with anything, there is a sinister side to anonymity that we have to take with the "harmless" side.

Also, I think of it this way (for now, cause I know one of you will have a great argument for me to consider otherwise!), if we were in a room discussing this issue, you would have to stand up and talk about it, thereby revealing yourself. There are always differing opinions and in fact, listening to others' reasons for needing them is softening my views about them, making me consider what I would do if Adam needed them for anxiety issues.

I would like to think that all of these discussions are making a better, more accepting world. I tend to think that anonymity reveals a person's uncertainty about the subject matter, and I would like more people to feel they have a right to their voice -- in full view.

12:07 PM  
Blogger Brett said...

Taking what Kev said just a step further, it is important to remember that the conversation on this, or any, blog is not limited to the participants in the conversation. More and more, employers, potential dates, and others are Googling individuals prior to making decisions about that person. Sometimes, it comes down to a question of editing what you write about (and what you say about those subjects) and hiding your identity so you can say what you really think.

Brett

12:07 PM  
Blogger Estee Klar-Wolfond said...

Good point, Brett. But if someone is going to make a comment on my character, which is just plain dastardly, then come out of the bushes for a fair "match."

12:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I tend to think that anonymity reveals a person's uncertainty about the subject matter ..."

You might change that opinion just a little when your child gets older and can google on his name/your name. I have posted before about the fall-out I have seen from this and it can be brutal. I have made a habit, of well over ten years now, of not mentioning my child's name/sex/dx./etc. on lists or blogs. I have always wanted to keep said child's identity private and it has nothing to do with making my voice either heard or not heard in the community, but everything to do with having been a victim of a violent crime (myself, as a child). There are reasons too numerous to name as to why ppl may choose to post Anon, but I would not assume it has to do with someone being uncertain about their stance.

Kind Regards.

12:17 PM  
Blogger Estee Klar-Wolfond said...

Kev,

Reading your comment a little more carefully, it is something I consider -- do we as parents have to stay "anonymous" to protect our children from discrimination? Do I have to cower from revealing my identity because I want a more tolerant world for my son and there are people who will try and stop me?

If we are not people willing to stand up for what we believe and want then the world will grow into a secret and sinister place.

Few Germans came out and spoke out against Hitler's regime. Don't tell me that human nature is timidity!

12:19 PM  
Blogger Estee Klar-Wolfond said...

Anonymous,

If there has been a crime against you, I understand how frightening this can be. It is your choice. I think about this all the time, posting Adam's picture on the web, debating whether to hide his face, our identities.

At the same time, I feel that if someone threatened me, I would make it so public. People who commit crimes are afraid.

Wow, this is difficult. I have a critic, and I want to start and organization to make create some tolerance for people like Adam. It is disgusting to me that there are people in this world who would want to harm you. This is why I am writing this post in the first place.

12:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

But I don't understand who "the critic" is. I must have missed something. The last blog post of yours I read was the one where some of us were commenting on the meds experience. I was glad to hear from another anon about their experience on that. What are the snide comments? Which blog post are they on? I am genuinely confused. I have only commented about myself here on your blog, so I am really mystified. I will state this though: many people who commit crimes are definitely NOT "afraid", they are sociopaths.

For now, I bid you good-bye.

12:43 PM  
Blogger SquareGirl said...

Hi Estee, this was an issue of much internal debate for me...to blog anonymously or not. For now I have decided to remain semi-anonymous but introduce myself to individual bloggers personally when I feel comfortable and share my blog with the people in my life who love me and see me for who I am, not getting caught up with a diagnosis which in no way defines me. I look forward to the day that "autism" is not a stigma. In addition, I wanted to be able to write about some of my students that I worked with because they are so lovely and charming, yet protect their identity. The idea of my persoanl info being accessible to the public feels uncomfortable me much in the same way that having my picture taken and being filmed makes me uncomfortable. I have been filmed before and everytime afterwards I needed to sleep for almost 24 hours to recover...I can't explain why. I'm just very private and uncomfortable with attention, yet still want to be heard. Plus everything can get so heated within the autism comunity, and that can be way to much for me. I do agree that if someone is critiquing you, they should personally identify themselves to you however.

1:08 PM  
Blogger Kristina Chew said...

How do we even know that the names we "use" are the actual names of the authors? That Jane Doe blogger is not a pseudonym? Anonymity provides a kind of freedom that is dangerous and even treacherous, and to hear from Anonymous is one of the benefits, perils, wages of writing on the Internet.

1:18 PM  
Blogger Estee Klar-Wolfond said...

Anon --

The person has also sent me emails. Maybe there is more than one. I will never know.

I am thinking more about the anonymity issue...Squaregirl makes the best argument I've heard yet...just not being too comfortable with all the attention. There are people who find that difficult to cope with.

Internet anonymity will be debated by more people. I also see how people can be so easily tracked, actually. So anonymity is not actually real, and it may become a thing of the past.

1:20 PM  
Blogger Estee Klar-Wolfond said...

Kristina,

Well said!

1:22 PM  
Blogger Kev said...

"If we are not people willing to stand up for what we believe and want then the world will grow into a secret and sinister place."

Sure, on a personal level I agree - I always use my name and never post anonymously anywhere but that has cost me. I can't discuss my daughter anymore on my blog because of threats and abuse sent addressed to her. I have to accept the reality that when you know someones name its not too difficult to find out a lot about them. I feel OK about taking that risk for myself but I don't feel so good about taking that risk with her.

That said, recieving snide personal comments is never nice and hiding that sort of personal attack behind anonymity is pretty cowardly. I can understand why its got to you.

3:27 PM  
Blogger Estee Klar-Wolfond said...

Kev,

I am disturbed by your daughter receiving threats. Do you mind talking about this a little further? As a parent, I feel that I need more information. You can email me if you prefer to keep it private.

On another note, I have received letters of support privately today. For all the supporters out there, I thank you.

I may not be entirely right about this issue and I've had to take a walk and think about it further. I've been thinking, though, that if we had to petition a legislation, we would put our names,addresses and numbers to them. If we want to vote, we have to register (although the ballot is anonymous). Ergo my conclusions are...inconclusive.

This threat issue is so disturbing. I don't have problems with pseudonyms because the person has a kind-of identity, a return address. Anonymous people with no blog I can reference, no return email address,don't allow me the knowledge about the person I am talking to. I think if I receive personal emails, I am entitled to know who I am dealing with.

3:58 PM  
Blogger Wade Rankin said...

When I started blogging, I decided to use my real name because I thought it important to stand behind any opinions I expressed. I can’t say I regret that decision, but I have second-guessed myself to no end for all of the reasons the above comments state. I particularly worry about the consequences to my professional life, along the lines of what Brett described. That being said, I have to admit that I take comments a lot more seriously if a real name is attached.

6:27 PM  
Blogger Julia said...

I'm using my real first name for comments, and my real first name as part of my handle on LiveJournal, and if you check my "blogger identity" you can see I'm the same Julia for every comment I make. (And you can even check my IP address if it's your blog I'm leaving the comment on, and figure out something about where I am, probably.) So you'll know you're dealing with the same person. (I also leave the same e-mail address on non-blogger sites when I leave comments, so Orac and Kevin and Estee and Diva can compare notes if they want and determine yes, this is the same person.)

But there's a limit as to how much I want to reveal about who I am; I had someone post my home address and phone number in a very inflammatory manner, and I'm a little more cautious than I used to be as a result of that. I hope this degree of anonymity isn't causing problems for those whose blogs I'm leaving comments on. (And there's a chance that sometime in the future, I'll leave a comment that narrows down my possible geographic location to a very small area. I've already done that on LiveJournal in an autism-related community there.)

6:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ghandhi had bodyguards. As did Gandhi.

7:20 PM  
Blogger Heidirific said...

Estee, I am not sure if this comment is part of the reason for the current post or not but I wanted to elaborate on it. I did not make the post but know the person who did and have an idea of what was intended.



Anonymous said...

Isn't there a group called "Cure Autism Now"? Making them C.A.N. and that could easily be confused with your C.A.A.N.


The intention is not to compare the organizations or purposes. It was meant that these organizations, soley based on name and a google search could be confused. While they have very different purposes, the names are similar. The question was raised in a way that was meant to give you more to think about for your name, not criticize or compare purposes.

I found your previous post interesting but I can't say if I agree with it entirely. It seems to me that there may be a big difference between what could be considered "high functioning" autism and those with "severe" autism.

As a person who has worked with people on the autistic spectrum for 11 years, there is a difference between people who are characterized as higher or lower functioning. The commenter wasn't drawing a black and white line as you claim, merely pointing out that there is a significant difference in people on the two ends of the spectrum (higher functioning versus more severely impaired). And I agree with the commenter. There is a big difference in the quality of life of the people I work with who are able to verbally express themselves and those who are not. Those who have to use behavior such as hitting, kicking, biting, etc to communicate "go away" tend to have a poorer quality of life because people tend to respond negatively to them, thereby increasing the chances of challenging behavior.

As the anonymous commenter was trying to point out, the people who will be able to actively participate in your, or really any, organization are those who have a conventional communication system. If the people with autism are dependent on their communication partners to interpret their communicative attempts, they do not have an active voice in autism advocacy. The point is simply that people with autism are a very varied group. Those who are able to advocate and communicate may have very different experiences and desires than those who are not able to communicate effectively.

7:31 PM  
Blogger Shawn said...

There's definintely merits to the different approaches to choosing to either reveal or not reveal our identity.

While I go by my first name and don't use my kids names on-line, I know that tracking my identity from by blog is not very hard. I also let many people that I know personally know about my blog.

I like to think, that in some way, our public dialogue, is making a difference. I think we give the dialogue increased credibility when we attach our names to the dialogue.

As Brett has mentioned, I am very aware of the public nature of blogging. I try to avoid posting or commenting on topics that tend to get emotional or controversial. In the same way that I won't discuss politics or religion in a loud voice in the breakroom at work, I won't seek out controversy on-line. I make that choice partly because I don't like the controversy and partly because I want to be part of setting a positive tone for the dialogue.

10:54 PM  
Blogger Kev said...

I don't mind talking a little more about it :o)

I think I was one of the first bloggers to start talking about autism (LB/RB has been in existence in one form or another for 3 years now) and whilst the rest of the world 'caught on' to blogging I was pretty safe - if you read my earlier posts you'll see they're all about my daughter pretty much.

Then one day I found a link to my blog from a yahoo group - my first encounter with the now infamous Evidence of Harm emaillist - we got into a heated debate both there and on my blog and during the course of it someone from that group sent me a mail, part of which read (and I apologise for the language)

"get your fucking retard daughter put down. She's no autist. Bitch."

I have a fairly good idea who that came from, I was able to do some investigation and know the town and State that the US citizen posted from.

From that point on, I decided I was not going to post anything more about medical or personal notes about my daughter.

Then late last year, I had another series of emails. From someone else and not so vicious as the first one but still pretty awful. I also discovered that a child porn website had discovered some pictures of my daughter we'd taken of her playing in the back garden. I reported the website in question and emailed the (few) bloggers I knew then who posted images of their kids to warn them but that was it for me and my wife. My wife was in tears about the abuse sent to our daughter and we were both pretty shaken up by the child porn website incident. I think since that time roughly two posts have been made expressley about our daughter. Neither of us feel comfortable discussing her online anymore.

1:23 AM  
Blogger Jannalou said...

When I first started posting to various lists, I was careful about names but I still gave out more information than I should have. I smartened up after a couple of years - when it came to the kids I was working with (I now only use their initials to refer to them, if I need to use some way of "naming" them at all). I finally smartened up about identifying information re: my family (siblings, cousins, parents, etc.) about three or four years ago... that kind of thing can come back to bite you in the "butt" later.

I do post anonymously about some details now, when I'm posting comments to blogs. If it's expressly about myself, I don't worry about it, but if I'm going to be talking about family members, I'd rather be anonymous.

Of course, I'm still anonymous over on the BBS I've been a member of for... twelve years (omygoodnessI'mageekforsure), but I know a few people there on my e-mail and stuff now. That gets weird, though; I like it when people stay where I met them. Easier to remember who they are. Blurry lines and all that. (Plus my memory SUCKS.)

I apologize for the rambling. I should have gone to bed a couple of hours ago...

3:25 AM  
Blogger Estee Klar-Wolfond said...

Well, after reading all your comments, and reviewing anonymous commenters past and present, I've decided to let it lie. I'm still not comfortable with people who do not have their own blog sites I can refer to, who have no identity whatsoever...I still question who I am dealing with and I will always question the courage of people who wish to remain anonymous. I take heed to Wade's reflections, specifically, as I relate to his reasons for being "public."

I am going to take A's photo off my blog, however. I hope he will read this one day, and understand what his mom was fighting for, and whether I'm right or wrong in the moment, how the intent I carry is for a more tolerant and supportive world.

I believe in protecting our children, and fighting for them. I do not have an occupation anymore other than the org, other than what I do for Adam's school, other than a book-in-motion, so I don't worry about how it effects my career, but can understand how so many people can be judged and compromised.

I do worry extensively, however, at how worried people are about standing in full view for what they believe, that the world-at-large forces many of us into subversion. I think it's something all of us should think twice about when it comes to standing up for our children.

10:42 AM  
Blogger ballastexistenz said...

I also come from the BBS world initially, so like Janna I don't find anonymity such a shock. In fact without the anonymous nature of many BBSes at the time I started getting involved at them, there's a chance I wouldn't have figured out the whole typing/communication connection. I learned a lot by throwing words at the world from different handles and seeing words come back and eventually seeing the connection. A real name would have caused me problems, including problems at school (because I was not the only kid on BBSes), although I didn't realize it at the time, I just didn't use one because nobody did.

1:24 PM  
Blogger Estee Klar-Wolfond said...

Yes, Ballastexistenz...But you are real and not entirely anonymous. I can reference your site and clearly know, through time and your writing, what you represent.

2:57 PM  
Blogger Estee Klar-Wolfond said...

Also Ballast...we know your name (Amanda). ;0)

3:19 PM  
Anonymous Camille said...

You can set your comments so that anonymous comments aren't accepted. If you want to post a comment to the Diva blog you have to take the time to get a blogger account. I figure that slows down the worst of the whackos and if I get a threat it gives me a slight chance to sic the FBI on to the files that Blogger would have about the blog account owner.

I have chosen to keep Autism Diva nearly anonymous for the safety of my ASD child. I work pretty hard to keep info about him/her out of stuff I write. Partly because I haven't asked his/her permission to write detailed stuff about him/her and partly because I worry about looking like I'm exploiting my child.

Freaks from among the mercury parents have gotten my phone number and address and harassed me in my home, by mail and telephone calls.

What Autism Diva writes needs to stand or fall on it's own merit.

Look at the kind of credibility is given to David Kirby just because he is David Kirby, former NYT free lancer and former Advocate writer. The man is utterly devoid of ethics but he gets credibility and people believe his wholesale lies. No problem, they just suck them down. Because he has a pretty smile and because he's David Kirby.

The reason that there is an Autism Diva blog is partly the same reason that some Germans stood up to Hitler. Someone needs to take a stand against the vile behavior of the mercury parents and their allies, SAFEMINDS, NAA, No Mercury, Autism "Fair" Media, the various lying scientists. These people are perpetrating evil things, they may think they are good, but they are harming many people. So I risk my own personal safety and that of my relatives to stand up against them. You can see what they did to Kev if you think that they are just "nice people."

I think it was a really good idea to take your child's photo off your webpage, although it was a very cute face.

3:48 PM  
Blogger ballastexistenz said...

I'm not talking about anonymity for me right now, though. I know that everyone here knows who I am. I am talking, though, about anonymity for others right now not bothering me much, because of how crucial anonymity for me in the past was, to figuring out communication. And also because in a lot of the BBS culture, anonymity was just how things were, it wasn't considered wrong, it was in some ways considered a good thing (including allowing people to focus on ideas rather than who was expressing them). I did BBSes before I ever got on the net, so anonymity on the net to me is just an extension of that.

So what I'm saying is, other people being anonymous doesn't bother me, and doesn't necessarily strike me as all that cowardly, at least cowardice is only one of many reasons that a person can be anonymous, and to boil it all down to that, or to related concepts of weakness, is, IMHO, simplistic. And I'm explaining that by both my online origins being in that particular BBS culture, and the fact that anonymity on those BBSes was a crucial factor in many aspects of my life that I value.

10:12 PM  
Blogger Julia said...

I would do what AD mentioned and set the blog to not accept anonymous comments.

(And if I'm commenting on your blog, do you have access to the e-mail address I had to provide to get the blogger account? If so, you're absolutely welcome to e-mail me and find out more about who the hell I am....)

11:32 PM  
Blogger Stephanie said...

Personally, I don't appreciate the anonymous comments either. I've seen too many people use anonymity to threaten others, which isn't right. But I also don't exclude anonymous writers from posting on my own blog, because some do have a legitimate reason for remaining anonymous (as many here depicted) and because those who choose anonymity can still make themselves distinct in other ways. I encourage those who choose to retain their anonymity to develop some sort of sign-off to separate themselves from other anonymous individuals. Such as "Anon on the West Coast/US" from the top.

12:31 AM  
Blogger Estee Klar-Wolfond said...

At the end of the day, we have to take the good with the bad, I continue to conclude. There are good and bad "anonymous" people. However, one caveat: If a person decides to take a personal dig at me, or send me an email and not reveal themselves, THAT IS COWARDICE.

10:22 AM  

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