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He’s a Real Nowhere Man

Nothing in life is free, it is said, so what is the cost of the things we say in the name of ‘free speech’ but, more importantly, who pays?

I once tried to set up an on-line anonymous persona, I still use the remnants of it for Twitter and some registrations. One of the problems with it was that when I tried to use it to post opinions etc. I was immediately spotted by one of my friends and ‘outed’. Although I had adopted a new name, the idea that I could adopt a whole persona was a bit naive and so I ended up going to sites that I would normally go to, making comments that I would make and in a style that I would normally use.

When I was looking for a title for this post that conveyed a sense of anonymity I remembered the old Beatles song Nowhere Man. Interestingly the song observes that the subject ‘doesn’t have a point of view, knows not where he’s going to, isn’t he a bit like you and me?’. The internet all too often seems to be filled with anonymous people who, far from not having a point of view, revel in the freedom they feel their anonymity affords them to spew bile and opprobrium to anyone and everyone with whom they disagree.

I imagine some of this sense of liberation they feel is connected to the notion that no one knows who they are so they can peddle their vile ‘point of view’ and be answerable to no one. They feel the world quite literally is at their command.

When our youngest went on Facebook we insisted that everything he posted had to be within the bounds of what he might say face to face. Evidently not everyone has had this conversation and felt this responsibility before posting comments.

Anonymity does get used to allow people to ‘say what they really think’ without the risk of retribution but I wonder how valid this approach is.

I appreciate that there is merit when there is the risk of physical violence or worse resulting from the exposure of someones personal details but when it is used to encourage a more open and honest discourse how valid can that be when a fundamental detail is missing? If we cannot say what we really think without people knowing who has said it then in what way can it be deemed honest. There is a lie being told but is it a lie we continually tell ourselves – “I’m no __________ but….” – that exposes an uncomfortable truth or is it the lie that anyone is ever really free to say what they really think?

Nothing in life is free, it is said, so what is the cost of the things we say in the name of ‘free speech’ but, more importantly, who pays?