Debra Allcock Tyler: People of courage and ethics do not hide behind pseudonyms

They share their views openly and give others the chance to respond and debate, writes our columnist

One of my close friends, Katherine, recently posted this on social media: "I drove past a hedgehog on the other side of the road in Forest Park. It's late, it's dark, its chances were not good. So I doubled back on the roundabout hoping no one would squish it before I got there and that maybe I could help it on its way ... In other news, I've just rescued a massive pine cone." So funny.

My own case of mistaken identity resulted in a very different outcome. While driving I braked sharply because I saw what I thought was a rabbit in the middle of the road. A motorcyclist riding behind me, clearly far too close, was forced to slam on his brakes and swerve around me. He then proceeded to drive alongside me, so I couldn't see his number plate, revving his engine loudly, honking his horn and giving me the finger.

He was in classic biker leathers with a tinted visor, so I couldn't see his face. I was absolutely terrified and shaking with fear. I really thought he was going to attack me. After a short while he banged his hand on the roof of my car, then sped off. The rabbit turned out to be a white carrier bag.

These two stories to me speak of decent human behaviour. The first story tells of Katherine's immediate instinct to help a creature in trouble and her subsequent willingness to openly share her mistake and invite us in to her laughter. The second demonstrates the horrible consequences of anonymity. Helmetless, that motorcyclist might well have been a hedgehog hero on any other day. But I think that because his face was hidden and I couldn't look into his eyes, it gave him the wherewithal to be threatening and bullying towards me.

A dear sector colleague of mine has recently been subjected to anonymous vitriol on the internet. I do not like anonymity in the public space. Unless you are genuinely afraid for your life or your job, I don't believe it is ever justified. I think anonymity invites bullying behaviour that then can't be tackled. In my experience, those folk hiding behind a moniker or staying anonymous are not, most of the time, making sensible, meaningful arguments about whatever it is they're talking about.

Of course, there are exceptions, but it is also true that some folk hide behind "anonymous" or pseudonyms because it means they can be absolutely vile and vent their bile while never having to take responsibility for what they say. That's cowardly, in my view.

I do not believe that people of courage and ethics hide - unless they are genuinely afraid. They share their views openly, don't personalise their arguments and give others the chance to respond and debate. I think this is the least we should expect of folk in our sector.

So, if you have an anonymous social media account, or post responses to articles anonymously, or hide behind a pseudonym, then I think you need to take a long hard look at why. And honestly, who takes what "anonymous" thinks seriously? I don't. Katherines have gravitas. Enraged bikers hiding behind helmets are just dicks.

Debra Allcock Tyler is chief executive of the Directory of Social Change

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