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Anonymity when posting on food and wine boards


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My circumstances may be different than that of most. I adopted my Internet name years ago and began using it in any and all discussion forums that I participated in. There have been enough of them over time (this being one of the only that is food related) that it makes life simpler to have a consistent user name etc. that follow me from place to place.

At various times I am or have been active in at least four coffee/coffee industry related forums. Having a consistently recognizable user name has been of benefit to me. I've never hesitated to append my real name or location in my sig line but can well understand why some people choose not to for reasons of privacy.

And I strongly agree with the notion that many industry folks will choose not to particpate actively if they have a legitimate fear that comments they make could be read and possibly misconstrued by an owner/manager of the establishment in which they work.

At the same time.... I recognize that posting with full disclosure of one's identity is accompanied (or should be) by a heightened sense of why words should be chosen very carefully before hitting the "Submit" button.

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I don't think anyone is genuinely posting anonymously - all posters are members of the society are they not? So in terms of there presence within egullet it is consistent, we can PM them and they can be recognised in whatever forum they post.

We may not be able to tie them down to ther 'real life' identity, but is this any different to any other media where writers often use pseudonyms? And even if they don't how does the name of a person we know nothing about other than through there writing help us?

I can see this leading down the path of 'Oh, Normal people don't have to reveal there identities, but IMPORTANT people must do'. Doesn't that go against the whole ethos of the society?

Perhaps I'm just sad that although my real name isn't very googleable, my interweb alter ego Carlovski is (Although nothing very interesting pops up!)

I love animals.

They are delicious.

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Last Wednesday I received an email addressed to "The Amazing Mary Baker," which of course is always true, but it nearly went to my spam box unread until I noticed that the writer, who did not sign the email and had a hotmail account, mentioned several personal things about me, including my participation in eGullet! :blink: With a little checking, I discovered that it was indeed from the wife of a chef who buys our wine, so it was all good. And I've enjoyed some interesting opportunities personally and professionally that arose from my participation on eGullet. But I hereby raise my hand in support of those who favor using screen names online.

The majority of our members are really great participants, whether they use screen or real names. As a host, I don't find it all that difficult to spot shills and troublemakers, and our members are a pretty alert and curious bunch. It all comes down to evaluating posts on the basis of logic, and courtesy to other members. It is a shame when someone uses anonymity to post glowing reviews about their own restaurants, for instance, but if outed that person has done more damage to their business than good, so it's not a good idea, eh?

Personally, as a member, I don't have a problem with someone having a personal relationship with a figure under discussion. It would be nice if that relationship was revealed, but I don't really care (speaking as a fellow member here). In my view, each post has to succeed or fail in persuading me to a particular point of view based on its own merit.

Edited for grammar.

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Mary Baker

Solid Communications

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In an ideal world, of course, all eGullet members would have complete faith that anonymous (publically anonymous) posters are known and regulated by the moderators. Given recent events in certain threads, that faith has, rightly or wrongly, been shaken.

Should we require posters, anonymous or otherwise, to declare potential conflicts of interest?

Allan Brown

"If you're a chef on a salary, there's usually a very good reason. Never, ever, work out your hourly rate."

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I suspect everyone has reached the conclusion that as much as anonymity might be a negative factor in some threads, it's not a simple issue. I'm proud of what I write and will stand behind each post, and I'll change my mind in public or admit I was wrong in public, if necessary. I've had discussions with media people--culinary journalists and the like--and there's just about unanimous agreement that anyone who writes under their own name professionally, should post under that same name. It's not the same for those who work in the restaurant industry, and especially not the same for those employed by others who have reason to worry that what's posted by an employee of the restaurant may be taken as the opinion of the restaurant. I also know of at least one front of the house person, whose identity became known. To his embarrassment, members began insisting he serve their table and it became a problem for the restaurant. I suspect that's at least part of the reason I no longer see his name online as much.

The stalking problem isn't common, but if you've ever met or communicated with someone who's been stalked, it may not make you want to play the odds. A couple of people I know on the site have asked me to do one thing or another related to an attempt someone's made to stalk them. Stalkers are weird. It would be beyond me to explain the "why" for the actions I hear about. So far, none of my friends or aquaintances have suffered physical harm or even been threaten with harm, but the actions of the stalkers are so bizarre, that one shouldn't presume any second guessing.

So there's a safety mechanism in allowing members to use an alias and even the strongest voices in favor of real names probably understand that much. At best, we get to hear good information and reliable opinions from anonymous members. At worst we get to read partisan posts from those we may, or may not, suspect of being shills for a restaurant, product or cause. The latter is the public downside to an anonymous post. The downside to the anonymous poster is that his, or her, post arrives more suspiciously in the forum. Most people here know that I have some friends in the restaurant world in NY and when I rave about a restaurant they may wonder if my opinion is swayed by my friendship, or if it's just that I get better service when I eat at a restaurant where I'm known. That's all fair and those questions wouldn't offend me. Eventually, even new comers will get to know my integrity quotient from the volume of posts I've made. My guess is that any recent member who posts strongly in any threat is going to be met with some suspicion and that the suspicion increases when the new poster is anonymous. Whether that new poster has a legiitimate need for anonymity or merely choses it to post maliciously, his early posts will be met with some skepticism by many. It's the member's choice I guess to trade credibility for anonymity. The credibility of any post should be taken in context on a public board. Whether or not there's a value in having members point out why they feel one post is credible and another not, is a good question and it too probably relies on the context.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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. . . .

Should we require posters, anonymous or otherwise, to declare potential conflicts of interest?

There's a potential conflict of interest in every post I make. I try not to live up to my full potential. My teachers always said I was an under achiever.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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Bux,

I think your summary is a fair assessment of a convoluted issue, specifically with regard to the fact that there are two classes of on-line citizen here: public and pseudonyminous.

For those if us who should and do declare ourselfs publically, and who may have been subject to obviously conflicted flaming or even stalking, it is reassuring to know that vigilance has been increased to deal with it.

Jamie

from the thinly veneered desk of:

Jamie Maw

Food Editor

Vancouver magazine

www.vancouvermagazine.com

Foodblog: In the Belly of the Feast - Eating BC

"Profumo profondo della mia carne"

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Taking the question of anonymity a bit further afield but still on-topic, I hope (please delete if it is not), I would like to raise the question of how the anonymity in general that exists on the internet affects the larger public's final perception of its credibility as information source.

I have heard that in academic circles, internet sources (unless linked to some other form of journalistic endeavor where different sorts of controls are in place) are not allowable as an outside source when being used in a scholarly paper that does have an annotated bibliography of research notes and sources.

Is this true?

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I have heard that in academic circles, internet sources (unless linked to some other form of journalistic endeavor where different sorts of controls are in place) are not allowable as an outside source when being used in a scholarly paper that does have an annotated bibliography of research notes and sources.

Is this true?

Yes and no. The problem of internet resources is they are not peer refereed in the way a formal journal is.

However they are good for quick informal publication, and there are some wonderful online debates and flame-wars.

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Taking the question of anonymity a bit further afield but still on-topic, I hope (please delete if it is not), I would like to raise the question of how the anonymity in general that exists on the internet affects the larger public's final perception of its credibility as information source.

I have heard that in academic circles, internet sources (unless linked to some other form of journalistic endeavor where different sorts of controls are in place) are not allowable as an outside source when being used in a scholarly paper that does have an annotated bibliography of research notes and sources.

Is this true?

As an academic (Folklorist/Anthropologist) and a professor, the answer to this is complicated. As far as my students are concerned, I allow only internet sources that are from academic websites (generally under .edu, at least if the source is based in the U.S.). On rare occasions, I will allow other internet sources if they are directly applicable to some form of analysis. The current generation of undergraduates relies upon the internet to get initial information. While that is fine, I do not trust their judgement in discerning what is credible academic writing available on the internet (i.e. not Wikipedia, not Mrs. Smiths fifth grade class project on the Egyptians). As more and more credible academic sources appear online, I have had to change my position from no internet sources to credible higher-ed sources. Even that can be problematic, though. Thankfully, more and more refereed journal articles are becoming available online, through JSTOR, for example.

As far as publishing academic papers, most academic journals in my field are still extremely wary of internet sources because they are very rarely subject to the same peer-review process that one finds in academic journals. There are exceptions, however, and they are increasing (for example, the NEWFOLK online folklore journal or the UCLA Archives of Folk Medicine). It takes a while for these sources to received credibility, but when they do, you occasionally see them cited in academic articles. Still, as most of us academics, when taking the time to submit an article for peer review, prefer a journal with an established reputation, we tend to publish in print journals. That may change over time, but it will be slow.

Hope that answers the question, at least in my fields!

Rinsewind (aka Theresa Vaughan, Associate Professor at the University of Central Oklahoma)

"An' I expect you don't even know that we happen to produce some partic'ly fine wines, our Chardonnays bein' 'specially worthy of attention and compet'tively priced, not to mention the rich, firmly structur'd Rusted Dunny Valley Semillons, which are a tangily refreshin' discovery for the connesewer ...yew bastard?"

"Jolly good, I'll have a pint of Chardonnay, please."

Rincewind and Bartender, The Last Continent by Terry Pratchett

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Reliability and scholarly integrity of the source would be the principal concern in most academic circles of which I am aware.

For example, an article in a juried or peer-reviewed scholarly journal has much greater prestige than one published in a journal whose editor is the only one who decides what to publish. That is, a panel of recognized experts are selected to read and evaluate articles that are submitted to a reputable publication. Scholars who cite sources in journals need to demonstrate they are familiar with the most recognized work related to their own interests, whether it is used to support their arguments or serves to distinguish new findings from established points of view.

For similar reasons, books published by university presses are trusted more than those that are issued by commercial publishers.

Hmm, this is just a longer explanation than the one that jackal10 just posted.

I'd add that internet sources are scrutinized for analysis by scholars. For example, someone pursuing attitudes toward monikers and full disclosure of the identity of posters might glean this thread for data. An accepted reference would offer the full URL and the date of consultation. If the scholar were enthralled by certain posts, s/he might wish to contact administration and ask that the desire for a follow-up interview be conveyed to the anonymous poster.

Edited by Pontormo (log)

"Viciousness in the kitchen.

The potatoes hiss." --Sylvia Plath

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[. . . . ]

To put it more explicitly: say, hypothetically, the person calling themselves rocketman were in fact Michael Psaltis—let me continue! This is only hypothetical.  Well if it were or if the brother of the maligned/defended chef were posting through a pal, it would very much change the meaning.

One person who monitors this thread, comments at length on it, and has the ability to edit and censor, namely Fat Guy, happens to be the client and friend of Michael Psaltis—this is a clear conflict of interest in a thread devoted to Michael's brother.

[. . . .]

I don’t know how management makes decisions but I’ve heard enough upset people who care about egullet and felt my own radar on high enough alert, to need to be skeptical and to want to know how it works.

I’ve never argued that people should be forced to reveal themselves (this stalking issue is unnerving), but perhaps there are some instances in which managemnt might require people to use real names.  Those who for whatever reasons wish or need to maintain anonymity would have to watch from the sidelines in those rare instances.  Anonymity comes with a price too.

Perhaps those who post on tendentious issues, shouldn’t be allowed to moderate and censor as well.

Steven’s most salient point in all this was his comment that this is a new medium.  Indeed it is and I want it to work and develop meaningfully.  I don’t think you need a Public Editor, but maybe some sort of cyberspace version of it.

I’m grateful for all these posts, too much to comment on--smart and interesting comments for and against anonymity by so many people.

Michael, you have had your say. Now it's time to move on. We are not going to continually rehash the handling of any given topic or the deletion of a post. Not only has all this been explained to you in private correspondence, but it is a never-ending process that we don't permit, for reasons we have explained many times.

For the record: we have thoroughly investigated Rocketman's identity. He is not a chef, not a sous chef, not Michael Psaltis. He does not appear to be involved in the culinary community in any way, except by acquaintance. He is surely a friend of one or both Psaltises -- but then, you don't need to know his name to determine that, do you? We know his name (a rather common one), his address (a big city) and where he works (at a desk job unrelated to the culinary world). Knowing any of this wouldn't change a thing, and we are going to maintain his anonymity per our policies. If he violates the member agreement, we will delete his posts (and have on several occasions), just as we will delete any post that violates the member agreement. The issue of Rocketman is closed. It is inappropriate -- not to say inconsiderate -- that we have had to speak so specifically and publicly about a member in response to these incessant harangues.

Of course we know there's a potential conflict of interest whenever a member of management is close to a debate. That's why we don't allow those conflicts to affect our moderating policy. A manager -- even the executive director -- who gets close to a debate is required from the point of their involvement to act as a participant.

Everybody who has had a point to make in the Psaltis discussion has had the opportunity to make it -- repeatedly -- including you, Michael. You are still complaining that your post about anonymity was removed, even though you were allowed to start this whole, lengthy topic on the subject. Likewise, the purpose of this topic was not to rehash the Psaltis affair but, rather, to discuss the phenomenon of psuedonyms and what they mean for online discussion. That discussion is worth pursuing. From this point on, rehashing of: any specific topic; any decision to delete; or any member's status will be removed without further comment. And no, Michael, you won't receive an explanation. You should be smart enough to know that when a moderator says stop and you continue, your post will be removed.

So there you have it folks.

Im not Mike Psaltis. I do know the brothers Psaltis. I have no pecuniary interest or other vested interest in either of the brothers. I do however have my own opinions and personal style (obviously disliked by many of you). Now that you know all this about me, how does what I said change?

Im still a big supporter of Psaltis.

I wouldnt be if someone said he punched a watier and then spit on him on the way out. I wouldnt be if other stories like the hand slap incident came out from other places he has worked. But they have not and my personal feeling is the hand slapping incident Psaltis described or the critisim of one chef is not a big deal.

That is the way I feel and beleive it or not Im not family. Im just an average joe jockeying a desk with no connection to anything food industry related.

Any questions?

RM

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Let me repeat part of Dave Scantland's post from earlier on:

Everybody who has had a point to make in the Psaltis discussion has had the opportunity to make it ... the purpose of this topic was not to rehash the Psaltis affair but, rather, to discuss the phenomenon of psuedonyms and what they mean for online discussion. That discussion is worth pursuing. From this point on, rehashing of: any specific topic; any decision to delete; or any member's status will be removed without further comment.

I'm going to leave Rocketman's post up here because he has responded to calls to identify himself, but everyone, including Rocketman, should avoid any further discussion of the Psaltis matter on this thread.

Thanks.

Jonathan Day

"La cuisine, c'est quand les choses ont le go�t de ce qu'elles sont."

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This is rapidly turning into what might be colloquially referred to in Army circles as a Cake and Arse Party.

Personally, I am opposed to anonymous posting. My name is on my signature line and always has been; it's common courtesy and in a gentler age (non-electronically) one would not have earned the right to be listened to if one did not provide details of who one was.

In general terms, witholding identifying information - and this doesn't mean your bank details and postal code, but simply your name - while not marking the poster out as having something to hide or being suspicious by default, does make me inclined to give less weight to their arguments and opinions.

Allan Brown

"If you're a chef on a salary, there's usually a very good reason. Never, ever, work out your hourly rate."

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Personally, I am opposed to anonymous posting.  My name is on my signature line and always has been; it's common courtesy and in a gentler age (non-electronically) one would not have earned the right to be listened to if one did not provide details of who one was.

You have the luxury of being able to say that because you have a very common name. What about those of us who have very unusual names, who can be all too easily traced by your garden variety of nut? (Said as someone who once hosted a message board under my real name and received some very scary emails that were sent directly to my home email address -- not the link in the message board.)

SuzySushi

"She sells shiso by the seashore."

My eGullet Foodblog: A Tropical Christmas in the Suburbs

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On a more serious tack, it would be interesting to see some current accurate statistics on these sorts of things (stalking or harrassment or whatever) that are directly linked to anonymity on these sorts of boards or on the internet in general.

And to see comparison statistics in terms of those sorts of things that happen in "real life".

Not that one single case is to be disregarded in the least sense. But it would be interesting to know these things.

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No it wouldn't. And actually? Seriously? Michael Ruhlman, who is such a good friend of mine, and I had this looong conversation about how embarrassing it is when your spouses and grown children sign online and post things under your name just to embarrass you. :rolleyes::raz:

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Mary Baker

Solid Communications

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You have the luxury of being able to say that because you have a very common name. What about those of us who have very unusual names, who can be all too easily traced by your garden variety of nut? (Said as someone who once hosted a message board under my real name and received some very scary emails that were sent directly to my home email address -- not the link in the message board.)

My middle name is Throatwobblermangrove.

Allan Brown

"If you're a chef on a salary, there's usually a very good reason. Never, ever, work out your hourly rate."

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Coming from my 'unworldly' neck of the woods, I'm totally ignorant of the harm one can attract by revealing one's true identity. Yes, I would be interested to know more, to equip myself in a big bad world.

Tepee is not my ideal pseudonym. I don't post under my name for the following reasons:

1. Here, our surname comes first. I just can't get used to it coming at the end. So, if I put down Choo Teck Poh. You guys may end up referring to me as Choo Teck. Ugh.

2. Many will probably trip over your tongue pronouncing it. So, I decided to save you the trouble.

3. Thot of just having my initials, TP, but, apparently, it's frequently used as an abrev. for toilet paper. :wink:

4. Another permutation is TeePee...hmm...no good...emphasis on 'pee'.

5. So....until I decide on a satisfactory name, Indian wigwam it is.

6. Since I'm nobody famous, doesn't matter one way or another what I'm called, no?

Edited by Tepee (log)

TPcal!

Food Pix (plus others)

Please take pictures of all the food you get to try (and if you can, the food at the next tables)............................Dejah

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Particularly in response to Mr. Bear's comments, but also in general, I would certainly make a distinction between argument and opinion.

An argument, as in "X is true and Y is true, therefore Z is true," is not particularly subject to motive. Perhaps one's choice of argument can be influenced by motive, but ultimately I think motive is irrelevant to an argument. Arguments are right or wrong, won or lost, compelling or not compelling on their own strength and the skill with which they're presented.

I don't think it's particularly persuasive or meaningful to demand motive-related disclosure when someone is making an argument. Indeed, the demand, or the conclusion that someone's argument is not credible because of some sort of relationship or other claim of motive, is essentially an ad hominem argument: an attempt to attack the person as a means of avoiding the need to answer the actual argument.

An opinion, as in "The fish tasted good," may be more subject to influence by motive: a person may love a particular chef so much that he thinks everything that chef cooks tastes great, even if it tastes like crap to most everybody else.

Fair enough, but there I think we face the question of what disclosures, what motives are and are not relevant. What we try to do here is discourage the search for motive and try to focus conversations on reasoning, explanation, description. Yes, I'm sure everyone can agree that it's relevant that the owner of a restaurant is the owner of a restaurant if he's posting about how great the fish tastes. But as soon as we get one step removed from that extreme, there's a lot of room for difference of opinion about whether a particular thing is or is not relevant. For example, the person posting is the owner of the restaurant but is only posting the restaurant's hours of operation. Or, the person is friends with a friend of the owner. Some folks feel that would make a huge difference, some folks couldn't care less.

There's no fully satisfactory resolution to that challenge. But we can say a few things with confidence based on our experiences here as well as in moderating online discussions elsewhere (many of our moderators have done this before; Ellen Shapiro -- fulldisclosureshe'smywife! -- and I both hosted forums for the New York Times Online for years; Rosie was a long-time host on Prodigy; etc.). First, we can say that it is the kiss of death when a discussion becomes motive-centered rather than argument-centered. Second, we can say that the notion of "full disclosure" is a laughable impossibility: there is always more to disclose, in most cases the disclosures are more of a distraction than anything else and there's always someone out there who thinks there needed to be more disclosure, sooner, more often, with greater specificity. Third, that when Mr. Bear says "withholding identifying information . . . does make me inclined to give less weight to their arguments and opinions" he's making a representation as to something that is, without a doubt, his prerogative -- but if he hypothetically started saying it all the time, in response to every post by every pseudonymous member, it would create an absurd situation. So while we encourage all members to decide for themselves how much credibility to assign to all other members, we believe that's a decision each member should make privately.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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My name is Mr Brown, Mr Guy... Allan will do, too. :rolleyes:

I concur with the majority of what you've said; perhaps it's just that I'm a bit old fashioned in some things (read: eccentric/British).

You've given a clear example of how argument and opinion can differ, but that difference is not always so well defined.

Of course, consensus and accommodation are the building blocks to understanding, and here's where discussion boards can shine. Occasionally you'll see a value-based argument, where beliefs are fairly hard-wired and you're not going to get much in the way of give and take - sometimes to the point of not even understanding the other person's right to hold that opinion.

I try my very best to try and understand why people hold the opinions that they do, or how they've arrived at the position they take in an argument - reading between the lines, if you will, or reading around the post - and therefore seek out background information, trying to get more of a picture of the person, and therefore gaining a more complete understanding of their argument or their opinion. Names, biographies, occupation and the like all help in this aim, and that's a large part of the reason I find myself more able to accept the views of those who choose not to anonymise themselves.

Edited by culinary bear (log)

Allan Brown

"If you're a chef on a salary, there's usually a very good reason. Never, ever, work out your hourly rate."

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it's common courtesy and in a gentler age (non-electronically) one would not have earned the right to be listened to if one did not provide details of who one was.

Understood. But in the old days the odds of you having any sort of discussion with someone you were not already acquainted with was pretty slim. At a cocktail party you'd be face to face; written correspondence via post would not be possible unless you had some awareness of the person with whom you were writing. In the Internet age, though, one cannot first vet one's companions in conversation. The lovely thing about it is that I've "met" many people I consider good friends. The downside is that I've also "met" many people who later on made me thankful they lived across the country. I would not trade the stimulating discussion or the instant intimacy of the Internet for anything, but I also recognize that it means I expose myself to people I often know very little about. Hence the anonymity.

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