Car Keyers and the Importance of Having Gideon

On the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog. . .

. . . or a maladjusted government-loving fear-slave. Or simply a lousy lawyer.

The internet is mostly terrible that way. Anonymous people say things that they would never say for attribution; even using their names, people make claims about themselves among strangers that would be risible to those who know them. (Anyone with a law degree can, for example, hold himself out to be a DUI lawyer, regardless of his lack of any actual experience in the field.)

The anonymity made possible by the internet is valuable in certain narrow circumstances. For example, the Publius Exception, which applies when the writer is dealing with matters of pure thought (rather than fact or opinion), so that the writing’s effect does not depend on its writer’s credibility; and the Candidus Exception, which applies when, by writing important truths, the writer places himself in danger that might prevent his writing further.

The Candidus Exception is far too often invoked to justify throwing anonymous mud. It can justify anonymous commentary and attacks on those in power, but not craven attacks on other ordinary people. Those who would engage in anonymous personal attacks online are the car-keyers of the internet. Keying the tsar’s car may be the act of a revolutionary, but keying my car is the act of a coward. If you’re writing anonymously under the Candidus Exception, don’t throw away your credibility with attacks against your fellow citizens.

The Candidus Exception also doesn’t justify publishing junk or untruth anonymously. If you’re writing anonymously under the Candidus Exception, say something important and true. Again, don’t squander your credibility with lies or irrelevancies.

When someone writes something on the internet and puts her name to it, everyone else has an opportunity to investigate the credibility of the writing. They can google her, or ask other people in the relevant community about the writer’s veracity, or even call up the writer to discuss.

When someone writes something anonymously, though, the last two options are unavailable. A reader can’t do any research in the real world to find out if the writer is someone who should be believed and followed. But the anonymous writer is a mysterious masked figure, and people in masks cannot be trusted.

How does the reader know whether to trust what that masked figure has to say? Plausibility and verisimilitude, for a start — if the unknown writer’s comment is improbable or seems untrue, it probably is.

If the anonymous writer has used the same mask before, that nom de web might be googlable, and a search might provide some insight into whether the writer has provided reliable information — has made predictions that have been proven true, for example — in the past.

If there’s a real email address attached to the comment, that too is googlable; it also provides a virtual way to contact the writer to discuss the matter and further judge her credibility. (A false email address, by contrast, is an automatic credibility eliminator.)

Finally, the reader can see what other credible sources say about the masked figure. (This is the web equivalent of asking others in the relevant community in the real world.) Do non-anonymous bloggers link approvingly to the masked figure, or non-anonymous commenters refer to personal knowledge of her? If they do, then some of the non-anonymous people’s credibility can be imputed to the masked one.

(An aside: has anyone created an online credibility index?)

One anonymous blogger who meets all these tests for credibility is Gideon of A Public Defender. Gideon is a Connecticut public defender who writes about all manner of legal and social issues (he is particularly concerned with gay marriage — not that there’s anything wrong with that). He is frequently cited by non-anonymous bloggers (like Scott Greenfield), he is reachable by email, and I vouch for him personally. If you don’t already read A Public Defender, I commend it to your attention.

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0 responses to “Car Keyers and the Importance of Having Gideon”

  1. Mark, you are “Spot On “with this one. Too many people take the whole comment section of a blog or comment to an article, frankly, beyond the level of defamation. Why do people wear masks? To thane own self be true. One thing is for sure, if any of these “Car Keyers” ever got the same treatment the meat out in the form of 256 comments etc, with plenty of pile on’s based solely on a newspaper clip of severely edited news piece they wouldn’t be so quick to “shoot and hide”. I think the word coward is also a good title. I especially liked how you “outed” a blogger who called someone a name. Keep up your pursuit of prosecuting the implementation of the Bill of Rights! You truly have a good heart and sharp mind.

  2. This is an excellent explanation of the significance of anonymity, and another great example of how you craft phrases that capture the essence of issues, with the Publius Exception and the Candidus Exception, which shall hereafter be forever enshrined in the argot of the “practical blawgosphere,” another Bennett creation. And I personally vouch for Gid as well.

  3. I’ve always enjoyed A Public Defender, though it’s not my field. But some lawyers blog anonymously because they’re not doing it for money, but as a hobby. My clients, if they read my blog on the occasions when I write about my field, would perhaps be quite upset with me. Insurance defense attorneys are supposed to be gung ho on legislative tort reform, a matter about which I have grave doubts.

    Anonymity saves on embarrassment in other ways. My debut as a commenter on Scott Greenfield’s blog consisted of one self-inflicted wound after another (I blame a digestive disagreement with the turkey I’d eaten the day before) in a comment discussion with Mr. Greenfield about his justly praised post on lawyer-blogs and marketing. The next day, when I was feeling better, I was glad I’d commented under these four initials.

  4. As it’s self-destructive for criminal defense lawyers to favor drug law reform. Yet I know plenty of each who take those positions on principle. Merry Christmas.

  5. Well, there’s a big difference: I think we’ve got a real chance of what some folks call tort reform; I wish I thought we could negotiate a surrender on the War on Some Drugs — hey, the drugs win — but there’s not enough vodka in the world to persuade me of that.

  6. Ask any whistleblower and you will understand why people post Anonymously when they post comments about TRUTHS of Public Officials and Government
    corruption. Egregious Retaliations are REAL and they lead to complete
    destruction and even DEATH so please don’t call an anonymous commentor a ‘coward’.

    • There’s a difference between posting truths about public officials and government corruption, and posting untruths, irrelevancies, or attacks on civilians. I should have drawn that distinction. Oh, wait. I did.

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