Understanding Online Anonymity
"Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our Traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities."
What is the purpose of anonymity in Alcoholics Anonymous? Why is it often referred to as the greatest single protection the Fellowship has to assure its continued existence and growth?
If we look at the history of A.A., from its beginning in 1935 until now, it is clear that anonymity serves two different yet equally vital functions:
• At the personal level, anonymity provides protection for all members from identification as alcoholics, a safeguard often of special importance to newcomers.
• At the public level of press, radio, TV, films and other media technologies such as the Internet, anonymity stresses the equality in the Fellowship of all members by putting the brake on those who might otherwise exploit their A.A. affiliation to achieve recognition, power, or personal gain.
When using digital media, A.A. members are responsible for their own anonymity and that of others. When we post, text, or blog, we should assume that we are publishing at the public level. When we break our anonymity in these forums, we may inadvertently break the anonymity of others.
Anonymity in the digital age
Q. I maintain an Internet Web site and a personal page on a social media site. I also belong to an online meeting. At what level should I protect my anonymity on the Internet?
A. Publicly accessible aspects of the Internet such as Web sites featuring text, graphics, audio and video can be considered the same as publishing or broadcasting. Unless password-protected, a Web site requires the same safeguards that we use at the level of press, radio and film. Simply put, this means that A.A.s do not identify themselves as A.A. members using their full names and/or full-face photos.
Q. What if I appear as an A.A. member on TV, in a film, or a Web cast, or allow my picture to be used in a newspaper, magazine, or online publication but do not give my full name? Is this considered an anonymity break?
A. Yes, if full-face photographs and other easily identifiable photos of A.A. members (who are described as A.A. members) are published or broadcast, even though their full names are not given, these are considered anonymity breaks.
Q. I’ve heard a number of people, inside and outside of A.A., say the well-known A.A. members should be encouraged to announce their membership to help promote the Fellowship. Why does A.A. continue to maintain the Tradition of anonymity for celebrities and other members?
A. Those Traditions developed out of the experience of the early members. At first, they too felt that well-known A.A. members could help the Fellowship by breaking their anonymity. But it soon became apparent that, if one anonymity breaker stepped forward, others would follow; and if members were to strive for public acclaim and power, the spiritual unity so essential to the work of helping fellow alcoholics would soon be lost.
Q. What about making or posting video recordings of talks and meetings? Are these considered to be anonymity breaks, since people are seen full-face and clearly identify themselves as A.A. members?
A. Realizing that anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our Traditions, it is recommended that talks by A.A. members as members be given in person, rather than be video recorded in view of the temptation of video recording to place personalities before principles,” and thus encourage the development of a “star” system in A.A. (As per 1980 General Service Conference resolution)
Facts about anonymity in A.A.
It is the A.A. member’s responsibility, and not that of the media, to maintain our cherished Tradition of anonymity.
• A.A. members generally think it unwise to break the anonymity of the member even after his or her death, but in each situation, the final decision must rest with the family. A.A. members, though, are in agreement that the anonymity of still living A.A. members should be respected in obituaries or in any type of printed remembrance or death notice.
• A.A. members may disclose their identity and speak as recovered alcoholics, giving radio, TV and Internet interviews, without violating the Traditions — so long as their A.A. membership is not revealed.
• A.A. members may speak as A.A. members only if their names or faces are not revealed. They speak not for A.A. but as individual members.
You can find the full version of this article on www.aa.org
Reprinted from, with permission of A.A. World Services, Inc