The Thin Veil of Anonymity on the Web

I’ve had several people suggest I disable anonymous comments on Mormanity to cut down on the occasional flux of nasty comments here, since the nastiest comments – the kind I typically delete ASAP – come from viewers who hide behind the “anonymous” label. However, I’d rather have to delete a few comments than make it harder for people to share their thoughts, so I’m keeping anonymous comments enabled. But I would like to just remind people how thin and deceptive the veil of anonymity can be on the Web.

Whether you enter a consistent moniker or just use the default of “Anonymous” in posting comments, for your own protection it’s wise to assume that the public could one day learn who you are. This just happened to the CEO of a company, with very embarrassing results.

John Mackey, the CEO of Whole Foods Market (note to RMs who served in Europe: this is a great place for the high quality bread and cheese you may be craving), has been posting seemingly anonymous comments for the past eight years on Yahoo!’s financial board for Whole Foods, using the moniker “rahodeb”, which turns out to be an anagram of his wife’s name, Deborah. Federal authorities working for the Federal Trade Commission uncovered rahodeb’s identity while investigating Whole Food’s proposed purchase of Wild Oats, a competitor that had been repeatedly dissed by rahodeb. Now the world knows about John Mackey’s indiscretion – and it’s hurting the company, angering investors, and causing a lot of grief for this CEO.

So to all you prospective CEOs or other potential subjects of future Federal investigations (and that could be all of us, with the growing powers of the government and Homeland Security), before you post your next anonymous comment, ask what impact it might have if the world one day were to know who wrote it. Hateful, obscene comments are always a stupid idea, and there are plenty of other ways to have future regrets, as one CEO just found out.


Author: Jeff Lindsay

1 thought on “The Thin Veil of Anonymity on the Web

  1. And so are other embarassing things on the web like Myspace pages, photos, etc. Someday, after those kids reach adulthood, and seek real-life adult jobs etc, other people may make decisions about them based at least in part on what was on your Myspace page.

    Also remember that email services like Gmail (google’s mail) keep EVERYTHING FOREVER, even when you delete it from your mail-boxes. They still archive it. And they admit it, too. This is not some conspiracy theory. This is admitted fact.

    So your private conversations in email (via gmail and all the other places that archive your messages)will be subject to disclosure via subpoena/search-warrant for basically forever.

    And heaven help those who think their amateur x or r-rated photos they post, even anonymously, will stay anonymous. Somebody is going to remember you, and that can come back to haunt you years later. In the future, how would you like someone giving your teenage children those racy web photos that you posted umpteen years ago?

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