From the October 2010 magazine.

ANONYMITY on the internet

Breaking a Tradition can happen on social networking sites, but it's easily prevented

THE Traditions are of the utmost importance for the survival of AA as a whole, but they were written in an era when methods of communication were fairly limited, consequently leaving some holes for the AAs of today to fill in. I remember when I first started thinking about anonymity, the Eleventh Tradition and the internet. Turning to the AA World Service pamphlet "Understanding Anonymity," I looked for answers. The pamphlet says that websites should be considered public media, and therefore we shouldn't use our full name or images on any public site. It goes on to say that ". . . the level of anonymity in emails, online meetings, and chat rooms would be a personal decision."

At first glance, this seems pretty clear: no full names or pictures on any publicly accessible website, but chat rooms, online meetings and emails are acceptable places to break our own anonymity, if we wish to. The pamphlet is trying to set up a distinction between "private" and "public" internet usage. Unfortunately, I believe it falls well short of comprehensively defining this distinction. One could easily say that breaking anonymity on a national news organization's site is forbidden, but a break in an email to a friend is acceptable. A personal blog that is publicly searchable would also fall into the "public" category. But what about social networking sites? These widely used sites have their own security protocols, some of which are fully customizable by the individual users. They have their own levels of public and private, further complicating the issue. For instance, I can set my personal page to be viewed by my "friends" (people I've approved to view my page) only, preventing anyone else from seeing the information listed. Can I break my anonymity on this level, where only my friends can see? Wouldn't this be merely the virtual equivalent of gathering all of my friends in a room and telling them I am in AA?

-- DAVE S.

Cleveland, Ohio

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