Online: Be Yourself not Anonymous

I don’t know about you, but when I see a comment by “Anonymous” I automatically discount its worth. If you don’t value your time and words enough to put your name to them then why bother? Be yourself online, not anonymous is what I’ve always believed, until I began thinking in earnest about marketing.

I believe to achieve online equanimity, one’s words need the check of accountability provided by owning up to your true identity. While this is true in theory, it doesn’t hold up when viewed under the lens of marketing scrutiny. Whether you’re selling a product or yourself—for what is our online community now but one big concession stand–does anonymity hurt or help sales?

What began as a reflection on the troubling vileness of comments left by incognito voices, has now morphed into a marketing inquiry. If you’ve read any of my political posts you know I don’t shy away from expressing my opinion. Surely this could potentially costs me readers, but will it cost me customers as well as I seek to publish? Should I be more mindful of how my personal views could influence the buying power of the public whenever I blog, tweet or post to tumblr?

Doesn’t transparency makes for better discussions? My want for openness is not a call for any person’s voice to be muted but rather a plea for clarity, civility and consciousness. Sure, being yourself online is hard, but if it can cure what infects the comment sections allover the internet, wouldn’t it be worth it? While (evidently) it may not keep me you from embarrassing myself yourself, I believe it does more to keep one honest and reflective than hiding behind the mask of anonymity.

Consider this—isn’t it equally important to be yourself when you are your own brand and proprietor of your own company? You can’t market YOU anonymously, can you? Or should you be a fictitious, more marketable you? How much of yourself can you reveal before you risk repelling clients, customers, or readers with your personal views? What about when those views have nothing to do with your product?

We’ve seen what can happen to companies that support political candidates or issues that don’t comply with social mores. Calls of boycotts, twitter blitzes, even in-store protests have made headlines. Much to their credit, JCPenney stood firm in its support of choosing Ellen Degeneres, an openly gay woman, as its spokesperson despite some hater’s protests, and then there were the protests and counter support of Chick-Fil-A when it funded anti-gay groups.

Recently the stink is hitting Hobby Lobby for purporting to hold it’s anti-abortion, anti-contraception ideals as religious rights sacred enough to take to the Supreme Court, when if fact they are heavily invested in those products through their company financial holdings, and made a lot money doing so. Hypocrites with a capital H.. When do the values you promote personally, or as a private company, matter to customers enough to effect your bottom line or reputation? Even more recent is how this effects it’s employees and potentially all employees with bosses who think they can rule over your personal life.

Do you as a consumer consider a company or individuals politics, values, or religion before making a purchase? Do you have a list of companies you won’t do business with because of their carbon foot print or quality of life standards for workers don’t met your expectations? Do you make a purchase if  your wants or needs of a product countermand your convictions against the companies policies?

Does a company like Chick-fil-A, whose religious agenda is clearly and proudly part of their companies purpose statement— “To glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us.” —risk losing customers that don’t support their views? Or do people just not care when it comes to filling their bellies?

What does this mean for me, a blogger, sole proprietor, a writer who one day hopes to sell a few novels? Or you, the account exec who secretly writes a popular romance series of novels, or middle school teacher who is a skilled erotica poet and earns half her salary in affiliated links?

Apples and oranges isn’t it? A secret identity to sell your wares in some instances is commonsense. A secret identity to be ugly, repressive, and argumentative is not. Hiding your identity to promote an agenda that is counter to your public face-uh, no.

Anonymity does nothing but give one a false sense of entitlement to say whatever one wants. Aside from the few instances when this is a necessity to protect yourself from harm, it seems to me that we’d be better off without the ability to hide from ourselves or others.

Like the rules we set for our children when teaching them personal responsibility online “Never say online what you wouldn’t say to someones face or their mother.” That’s what I taught my children, and I’m determined to adhere to this maxim myself.

I never comment online under another name. I am always me, and I believe it keeps me from saying much of what needn’t be said, out loud, to anyone. Though I do not shy away from expressing my opinion, I’m learning to temper it with an understanding of how it reflects on me.

That’s why I promise to always be me online. When I find my message or responses becoming vitriolic I know I need to step back and let my anger abate. If the message is still something I need to express, if the anger is justified and makes sense after I’ve cooled, then I’m prepared to stand behind my words, but I intend to be responsible for what I say and I hope you’ll hold me accountable for it too.

Freedom of speech is not freedom from accountability. You should have to own up to what you say, write or preach. whether you are an individual or corporation.

Addendum: I’ve been working with this post off and on for months. Many news items of late feel like prescient warning of the impact our words have. Given the results of Donald Sterling’s deservedly quick and complete ousting from NBA, the Hobby Lobby court case, and pretty much every misogynistic statement the Republican party makes, our words will matter to someone-how many someones, and how much an impact their response has remains to be seen.