7 Situations Where Anonymity is Essential

December 29, 2016

By Communications Intern Maddie Dyer & Michael Luchies, After School Communications Manager

In the media, social networks allowing anonymity have been labelled as “controversial,” After School included. Although anonymity has been around for thousands of years, people have become accustomed to knowing who is saying what at all times and being just a text, email, or post away from almost anyone in the world thanks to the internet and social media.

Think about it. When someone posts something on our Facebook wall, we know exactly who it is from. If the post is from someone we don’t know, we’re instantly intrigued and on a mission to find out who said it. The idea that people can say something online without having to attach a name or identifying information raises a fear of the unknown or unfamiliar. That fear has seemed to, unfortunately, overshadow the importance of anonymity.

Here are seven situations in which anonymity is essential:

Blowing a whistle tends to get people’s attention. Whistleblowers help expose illegal corporate and government activities and bring scandals into the open. Yet whistleblowers face risks from threats to lawsuits. Strong legal protection for whistleblowers can help encourage more people to take the types of steps that have exposed fraudulent activities, like in the Enron scandal or the tobacco industry whistleblower featured in the movie The Insider.

An attorney is prohibited by law from disclosing any of his or her client’s confidential information (with rare exceptions, such as when a crime is likely to be committed). This is known as attorney-client privilege, and it allows an attorney’s client to share openly so that the attorney will be able to provide the best possible legal advice and counsel. This can also apply to other relationships in which a fiduciary duty is owed, such as between a doctor and a patient.

Anonymity helps ensure people feel comfortable reporting crimes and suspicious activity to law enforcement. To protect the safety of witnesses in cases where the witness may be in danger, the United States Federal Witness Protection Program (WITSEC) helps protect witnesses before, during, and after testifying or providing important information on a case. Part of this protection often includes giving the witness a new identity and making parts of his or her new life essentially anonymous to others.

In countries around the world, being able to share and report information anonymously can serve as the only way to shed light on major issues, like sexual abuse, honor killings, government oppression, etc. This is often done with the aid of technology or the help of philanthropic groups and organizations.

“What is your emergency?,” and not “who is this?” is what you hear if making an emergency call to 911, and for good reason. Allowing anyone to make a call for help without having to first identify themselves increases the likelihood that they will call for help when a person is facing a life threatening situation. Similarly, suicide hotlines and crisis text lines also allow people to anonymously seek and receive help without having to publicly reveal who they are.

People seeking support for addictions are offered the option of anonymity to make their attendance and participation in groups like Alcoholics Anonymous less burdensome. There are also many support groups that give people dealing with the loss of loved ones or victims of crimes help and support without asking for or revealing names of participants. Without the ability to remain anonymous in these situations, fewer people would get the help they need.

In accordance with the traditions of the Church, Catholic priests cannot repeat what they have been told in confessions. This furthers the bond between a priest and members of the church. The law also respects this vow of secrecy. Legal authorities cannot compel priests to disclose the information they have been entrusted with during confession (again, with rare exceptions).

In democratic countries, political privacy is a crucial component of our voting system. Voters’ choice in elections or referendums are kept secret to prevent intimidation and vote buying.. In the United States, people can even get in trouble for sharing pictures of their ballots, as it is against the law in several states.

As these examples demonstrate, anonymity clearly has an important place in our society. After School believes that anonymity is an important tool that can help teens navigate what can be a tough period in life. Using the concept of anonymity, After School helps teens connect and share openly with other students from their school. For more information about how anonymity has the potential to help teens, please see After School CEO Michael Callahan’s TEDx talk on “Why Your Teen Needs Anonymity” and visit AfterSchoolApp.com to learn more about After School.

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