Sunday, 8 October 2017

Anonymity in the digital age

1. Anonymity as a spiritual principle

1.1. Principles before personalities

1.1.1. We are interested in the substance of an idea not who is presenting it.

1.1.2. We therefore examine ideas objectively.

1.1.3. We do not become reliant on any particular individual.

1.1.4. We recognise that God can speak through anyone in AA.

1.2. Humility, modesty, renunciation of personal glorification

1.2.1. If we achieve anything, we are the channel not source and can take no personal credit.

1.2.2. We keep our feet on the ground and avoid fantasy.

1.2.3. We deflect attention rather than seeking or revelling in it.

1.2.4. We do not become attached to the fruit of our labours.

1.2.5. ‘The spiritual substance of anonymity is sacrifice’ (of the pursuit of money, power and prestige, amongst other things).

1.3. The principle has always been interpreted widely and differently, at group level and at individual level. This element is what distinguishes a principle from a rule.

1.4. The ultimate purpose of all the Traditions is common welfare and anonymity with its spiritual substance of sacrifice is the seal that preserves them all.

2. The practical side of anonymity

2.1. Stigma (‘Without [anonymity], many would never attend their first meeting.’)

2.2. Professional status

2.3. Personal privacy

2.4. Maintaining equality of membership

2.5. Concern about AA’s reputation if an individual AA publicly relapses

2.6. Individuals acting without being accountable to AA but in AA’s name:

2.6.1. Misusing AA’s name to lend weight to other activities

2.6.2. Presenting (e.g. religious) views that are not those of AA

2.6.3. Projects that link AA to other organisations or movements (Tradition VI)

2.6.4. Opinions on outside issues that become associated in the public mind with AA (Tradition X)

3. Bill W’s principles (from Language of the Heart)

3.1. In your personal circles, pick your own level of anonymity.

3.2. In public meetings of AA, attended by local people and/or professionals, anonymity may likewise be broken.

3.3. Guard other people’s anonymity at the level they decide.

3.4. Do not have your name and picture placed in any ‘medium of public circulation’ in connection with AA.

3.5. Any deliberate breach should be agreed with ‘the older members of the group’ at local level or with the General Service Office at national level.

3.6. These Bill presents as suggestions not rules.

4. Dr Bob on anonymity

4.1. ‘Since our tradition of anonymity designates the exact level where the line should be held, it must be obvious to everyone who can read and understand the English language that to maintain anonymity at any other level is definitely a violation of this tradition. The AA who hides his identity from his fellow AAs by using only a given name violates the tradition just as much as the AA who permits his name to appear in the press in connection with matter pertaining to AA. The former is maintaining his anonymity above the level of press, radio and films, and the latter is maintaining his anonymity below the level of press, radio and films—whereas the tradition states that we should maintain our anonymity ‘AT’ the level of press, radio and films.’

5. ‘Ernie G. of Toledo’

5.1. … commenting on what he saw to be an increase of anonymity within AA today as compared with the old days, said:

5.2. ‘I made a lead [trip to bring message] over to Jackson [Michigan] one night, and everybody’s coming up to me and saying, “I’m Joe; “I’m Pete.” Then one of the guys said, “Safe journey home. If you get into any trouble, give me a buzz.” Later, I said to the fellow who was with me, “You now, suppose we did get into trouble on the way home. How would we tell anyone in AA? We don’t know anyone’s last name.” They get so doggone carried away with this anonymity that it gets to be a joke.’

6. How anonymity applies in principle in digital media—a personal view

6.1. The online world mirrors the pre-online world: there are public domains and private domains.

6.2. The public domain of the online world holds the same status as ‘press, radio, TV, and film’.

6.3. No linking of AA (through disclosure of membership) to an individual who is named and photographed.

6.4. There are private domains online:

6.4.1. Limited access domains (e.g. subscription-only or member-only services) which do not concern AA, e.g. online journals or social forums. Since these are semi-public, i.e. there are few or no controls over access, or access can easily be circumvented, exercise extreme caution.

6.4.2. Limited access domains that do concern recovery or AA, e.g. Facebook groups whose published content is available only to group members. The individual member has no control over who is a member of this group, however. These are almost entirely private, so disclosing membership of AA is no more public than disclosing AA membership at a meeting in the local community involving AA members, members of other twelfth-step fellowships, and others active in the world of recovery. However, these are ‘leaky’—i.e. they can theoretically be infiltrated by investigative or snooping members of the public or professionals—but barely more than AA groups.

6.4.3. Entirely private-access domains (e.g. Facebook friends, with content blocked to anyone not selected). The individual does have control over who is a member of this group and sees content. Although hacking is technically possible, this is probably less common than an individual being spotted by community members entering the premises of an AA meeting. This domain is private, so the level of anonymity can be freely selected by the individual.

6.5. Membership of AA vs recovery: it is not a strict breach of anonymity to declare that one has recovered from alcoholism—linking this to AA would be.

6.6. Practical measures and examples

6.6.1. Use an open-access Facebook profile that has a pseudonym and no personal photographs if you want to write about recovery.

6.6.2. Use privacy settings to limit access to your content only to chosen individuals.

6.6.3. An anonymous blog or similar with no private information.

6.6.4. A contact email address for AA purposes that contains no element of the individual’s name.

6.6.5. Do not tag or implicate others without their permission in an online post.

6.6.6. Do not take photos at AA events where the name, the picture, and the AA event are linked.

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