With the raucous rhetoric of the US presidential campaign still ringing in our ears, a novel idea is being floated by TED and Audible. The notion might quell the hysteria of partisan supporters and surrogates alike. It may also anonymously provide thought-provoking opinions and commentary. What’s in the offing is an initiative by TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design), to will partner with Audible, the podcast and audiobook company owned by Amazon. The pair will produce audio content for TED.
The twist? The presenter will be completely anonymous. Just imagine for a moment: ideas presented without being prejudged due to the author’s history, politics or predilections. It might just lead to candid consideration of opinions. How refreshing at a time when every idea seems to come pre-wrapped in a partisan political package. As TED President, Chris Anderson, commented recently,
“How many people have an important message but refrain from ‘going public’ out of fear of losing their jobs or hurting loved ones? How many ideas worth spreading remain hidden because some speakers simply can’t publicly be associated with the very thing the world needs to hear?”
Reflect on a world where the only thing that matters is an idea. The political persuasion or ideology of the author would no longer be used to judge the idea itself.
Anonymous Reporting: the History
The notion of anonymous reporting is not new. The tactic was effectively employed centuries ago by the US Founding Fathers in pamphlets such as Common Sense. This was published anonymously, although it is now known to be written by Thomas Paine. Its purpose was to fan the flames of revolution against British tyranny during the American Revolution.
Despite the anonymity of the author, it was very popular. Some 500,000 colonists read it. At that time the population of the colonies was only 2.5 million. This would translate to a readership in excess of 60 million today, given the current US population. By modern publishing standards, it would surely be a bestseller!
Later, the anonymous Federalist Papers were published, under the pen name “Publius.” They were actually penned by Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and James Madison.
Treatises like these were important at a time when the country was deeply divided over the issue of independence from Great Britain. Those divisions are mirrored today between Democrats and Republicans, or Progressives and Conservatives. Ideas are attacked before they can be fairly weighed, due to preconceived notions about the speaker or writer.
The Need for Anonymous Reporting
Additionally, voters in South Dakota and Washington will be asked next week to vote on ballot initiatives requiring that the personal information about their support for disparate groups be reported to the government. This will include groups such as the National Rifle Association and the NAACP.
This means that an individual cannot post their ideas and opinions anonymously. Instead they will immediately be tagged as biased, regardless of their message. Other states are likely to follow on from here. The offshoot is that, fearing rhetorical or even violent response, people will be unwilling to voice opinions in a public forum. This is to the detriment of free speech everywhere.
It is also the antithesis of the promise that the TED initiative offers. Imagine a world where a thoughtfully presented message can be delivered, digested and savored, unsullied by the identity of the messenger.