January 13, 2009

Sincerely, Anonymous

Would Mary Ann Evans have been as successful had she not written under the name 'Mary Ann Evans'?Ever since the newfangled Internet machine was first applied to piping and drumming way back in 1994 with the (truly sordid) alt.rec.music.makers.bagpipers chat group, our little world has been frequently miffed and confused about those who speak publicly, but wish to remain anonymous. Forums, blogs and an online magazine like pipes|drums give everyone the power to speak their opinion, and choose whether or not they want their true identity to be attached.

It frequently frustrates those with a high sense of integrity. Pipers and drummers who have the courage and conviction to put their real name to what they say in public often get into high dudgeon when they read the pointed and controversial – and often just simply muck-raking – opinions of posters using pseudonyms.

Of course, the piping and drumming world is not unique in this regard. Have you ever visited a major newspaper’s online edition? Take the New York Times, Scotsman or Evening Times, for examples. Readers are allowed to post anonymously, and even publications considered the most reputable in the world welcome dissent, agreement and everything in between, provided it’s fair comment and not slanderous or libelous.

pipes|drums takes that stance. The thinking is that it’s far better to open the discussion to all – anonymous or not – than to have no discussion, which, as the major dailies understand, is pretty much what would happen if every reader’s identity had to be verified and listed before anything was posted. Web 2.0 discussion is not like traditional letters-to-the-editor, which are closely vetted for authorship and veracity. That’s not a conversation at all, but instead just a one-time rejoinder.

The piping and drumming world is far more open today than it was 15 years ago. Results are openly debated, competition requirements are openly critiqued, the moves of associations are subject to open criticism. We discuss musical issues like never before. While a group of judges may condone a new musical approach, the players of the world may hate it, and vice versa. This lively and open dialog and debate simply did not happen before 1994.

There are still some places where they still seem to try to sweep sensitive matters and clear injustices under the rug, but that approach will eventually catch up to them when they discover their membership has turned on them, and it will be ugly.

As long as it’s not slanderous and is “fair comment” (don’t ask me to define it; I just know it when I see it), then opinions should be welcomed, whether it’s on the Internet or at an AGM. It’s understandable that we pipers and drummers are reluctant to put our names to strong or unpopular opinions. We compete in subjective competition system built on years of slow-moving musical custom and tradition. Rocking the boat may alienate those in charge (executives, board-members, judges, teachers, stewards . . .) who usually don’t like to be criticized, and who theoretically have the power to put down any uprisings they deem not in their interest. And some still do.

Fortunately, even with the preponderance of anonymous commenters on the Net, there are always the true courageous leaders with a conviction to confront the piping and drumming world’s “authorities” and its traditions and mores, unafraid of being identified. It takes integrity and guts to take on the establishment, especially one that’s so entrenched and used to being able to control the players, whether it’s through threat of disqualification, a clipboard hammering or simply creating a century of piobaireachd settings that everyone has to play just so if they want to get a prize.

That sort of abuse of power is unfortunately how the competitive piping and drumming world often operated for its first 200 or so years – until the Internet came along, giving power to everyone and anyone to espouse boat-rocking opinion without revealing their identity.

Similarly, from time to time pipes|drums is criticized for using sources who speak on condition of anonymity. This is a long-established practice still used by any credible publication. Essentially, an anonymous source enables a publication to include sensitive third-party opinion that otherwise might get someone into trouble, whether it’s with a criminal, a business, a political regime . . . or a pipe band association. Readers of The Times, to use that example again, trust the paper’s long-established credibility and integrity to report honestly. When the publication uses an anonymous source, readers have faith in the journalist’s professionalism to use that content truthfully.

pipes|drums often puts together predictions and honours. It started years ago as fun and innocuous features, but some people apparently take them extremely seriously. I guess that’s a credit to the publication’s integrity, or perhaps people are just so bored that they have nothing else to talk about. Rather than me single-mindedly choosing these things, I far prefer to stay out of them altogether. So, the approach has been to assemble panels of experts from various areas, and invite them to vote and contribute their thoughts, with assured anonymity.

I would love to announce grand panels of named experts, just as I would love everyone to put their true name to their comments on pipes|drums, and will try to convince people to agree to that when the time comes.  But, unfortunately, my feeling is that the real, subjective world of competitive piping and drumming still makes it impossible to require the inclusion of true identities and still have an honest dialog.

I’m sure some who pine for the old days would prefer no dialog at all to allowing anonymous contributors. Again, looking back at the sweep-it-under-the-rug mentality that pervaded the pre-Internet era, we are far better off to allow intelligent pipers and drummers to provide their intelligent and fair comments anonymously than to say nothing.


  1. Well said Andrew, and on that note I have to reveal…I am the Batman :-P. The fact that people are at least in discussion about the said traditions of piping and drumming is a step forward, albeit a small step. It will be interesting to see this generation of pipers as they become the future judges and board members of the many associations in the world. All the risks that are being taken now may or may not become standard in the future, only time will tell.

  2. One of the challenges for everyone on the net is to decide how to respond to things they read, and to the people whose posts/views/approach are truly irritating, for whatever reason.

    It can be plain good fun to bait people, or do “the wind up” as they might say in Scotland, and then watch the ensuing carnage as people flame each other over nothing, or next to it. In fact, I think the wind up is a Scottish pipe band and piping tradition, and a lot of what is posted falls into that category.

    I generally like the pipes|drums approach to anonymous posters and comments. Sometimes, I think the people posting highly negative stuff about bands and situations [The SFU/RMM/Triumph Street thing comes to mind, as do recent Toronto Police comments] should not be allowed without a real signature, and then sometimes I think it would be a lot less interesting if people weren’t allowed to be idiots when they choose to be.

    In general, though, I think the site achieves a good balance, especially compared to most other places on the net that talk piping/pipe bands.

    I just wish you weren’t so biased against prairie bands… ; )

  3. What many people forget is that idiotic anonymous comments are just that, and the vast majority of people reading them understand they’re idiotic. Some people make the mistake of taking the bait, getting bent out of shape about it. Before they know it, their pipe-major puts out a decree that any band-members posting comments will be turfed, which is really counter-productive to constructive dialog.
    But even the most outrageous anonymous comments possess a valid, contrary viewpoint. One can still learn from things we don’t want to hear. To ignore or avoid them is a mistake.

  4. Pseudonyms are used for various reasons.
    1) People generally like nick names. They can be funny or unique. The fact that these names are used on a post doesn’t necessarily mean that the author is evading identification. Sometimes they use both a nick name and sign the comment.
    2) The bravest people are those who having nothing to lose…there is no risk! Active competitors and society members have to be careful what they say. Like it or not, there IS bias in judging, as we are all human (well, most of us anyway), and an ill received or misinterpreted comment can lead to an unwarranted losing streak or ostrasization by others.
    3) By signing an opinion, an author can open themselves up to personal slander and literal assault from others who usually hide behind pseudonyms. Who needs that? After all, an opinion is just that; an opinion!
    4) Some things that need to be addressed are very controversial, thus it is sometimes better not to be publically identified with the comments.
    As was pointed out in the article, it is better to have participation from as many people as possible. Restricting information flow generally is not a good thing………

  5. I dunno. Maybe people who feel as “Pseu Pseu Pseu Pseudonym” seems to are taking the whole thing [including themselves?] a little too seriously? Losing streaks, being ostracized, personal slander, literal assault….

    Seems all a bit over heated for a web site about music that 90% participate in as amateur hobbyists.

    One thing is for sure. All this web activity isn’t going to make the pipes go better…

  6. There are times when anonymous sources and/or pseudonyms are a necessary evil, eg Woodward/Bernstein, deep throat and Watergate. But they are also the domain of the feckless, chicken-hearted backstabber. For example, if your comments and opinions are valid but jepordize your job or band membership, then anonymity is often justified. If you are just controversial for contorversy sake or just plain confrontational/abusive, then anonymnity is not justified and is an abuse of privledge.

    “using my real name for 57 years”

  7. I’d like to add the point that maybe people just don’t want their information all over the internet. Not that I would ever purposefully leave a hate comment but if I did I probably wouldn’t sign my full name, and I would do the same if I was writing a comment about how much I enjoy Pipes|Drums (which I do, immensely, keep up the good work).

    All this may be completely non-applicable to the situation but I’d hate to be thought of as the “anonymous-chicken-blog-haver” type.

  8. I agree with Iain on this…I have no problem with the concept of anonymity. On the other hand, Andrew has kept this primarily a MUSICAL site. Therefore, I don’t see legitimate reason for slanderous or defamatory type comments.
    Since this IS a musical site, I don’t know why people would want to be anonymous. Unless…maybe the writer is not as expert or well informed as he/she should be.
    I reject the “urban legend” that “there is bias in judging.” If there ARE biased judges, shame on the Society/Association that allows that sort of thing to go on. Besides, biased judges and generally dishonest people usually show their true colors well before any web poster attracts their attention.
    For the record, I have always used my own name and would encourage everyone to do the same.

  9. I think the anonimity thing is irrelevant. If you make a useful, interesting point, it is valid no matter who you are…as long as someone takes the time to read it. Your opinion or fact presented is no more or less valid whether you be a gold medalist or a newbie on practice chanter. Some use their names to add weight to an otherwise useless bit, and others hide their names when speaking the truth about the elephant in the room. At the end of the day, the axe cuts both ways pretty evenly. These threads are a body of work and rarely is any one post earthshattering. And nothing is truly anonymous here anyway. I Pi$$ed Andrew off one time with a knee jerk post and he called me out in a private email using my full name and band. He probably tracked my e-mail address to my ppbso membership. It doesn’t scare me. I respect him and if he knew me, he’d probably like and respect me too. But here, it’s irrelevant who I am just as I could really care less WHO most of you are. I come here because I enjoy reading WHAT you have to say. Knowing your name doesn’t pay my mortgage or feed my children. But hearing what you have to say does stimulate my interest in all things P&D.

  10. I think there should be a big CAUTION notice when signing onto the internet.

    Attention, this service will put you in touch with REAL people, if you are delicate in nature and easily offended, well then Scooter this place is not for you.

    press any key to exit to your small world!

  11. My, how the internet has changed over the years making the world a much smaller place. Agreeing with what Iain said earlier – Living in Scotland for over 11 years , there is a clear “wind up” culture over here. The morning radio shows up and down the dial are full of wind ups at specific parts of the morning. In the states , people would have a laugh and a joke with you if you had a laugh and joke with them ( friend to friend or bandmember to bandmember). In Scotland doesn’t matter if they are your friend or bandmember or if you want them to joke with you or not – you are going to get it, one way or another. It is easier said than done to just let it roll of your back and consider the source. I don’t agree with these faceless people who make personal attacks. If you have something to say, put your name to it. Best of health, prosperity and happiness to all for 2009. Cheers.

  12. Me – I’m all about signing my name. Some other people aren’t. Whatever. I like the variety of comments either way. Mitchell makes a very good point, I think – name or pseudo, it’s a public forum – and if you can’t stand the heat….sticks and stones may break my bones.

    On a completely unrelated note, Donald MacPhee….can we go over the third part of “The Cuckoo” just one more time? Playplayplayplayplay…..Ffffffffffffff#$%!!!!

  13. I’ve always been one to be aggrivated at times by those who make remarks but do not sign their names, but it is usually the kind of remarks, that if I made them, I would certainly hide behind a name. With that said, some people are just not comfortable with signing their names much like they may get frightened speaking in public, so a name is much like their costume in which to free themselves in front of the masses(horrid bunch that we are). The other benefit is that some of these people just toss in a comment to get a reaction and sometimes a sollution, that might not have been brought up otherwise. So…….go one with the nick-names, if I get too offended, I’ll just go to another site until the storm passes.

    J A M I E

  14. I would dearly love to use my own name always, but the job I do means that it’s best if people can’t easily find out personal information about me via the internet. But it wouldn’t be hard for anybody to work out who I am, by cross-referencing, and I tell anybody I know, my username anyway. So perhaps others, like me, have a professional reason for using another name.

  15. HAHAHA!!!!! It’s come up as my own name – so either I must have thought ‘what the heck?’ and changed it myself or there’s unconscious forces at work!!!! Heatherbelle!

  16. LOL…

    John Mitchell– the idiot on Dunsires that got caught with 6 different troll accounts.

    One of them was him pretending to be a 10 year old boy learner and posting in the
    kids section.

    Talk about sick and perverse.



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