On Anonymity

A number of people, including the target of the piece, Tammy Lacey, took issue with the fact that a contributor to this blog posted anonymously about Tammy Lacey in a piece about her comments toward the OPI Superintendent, Elsie Arntzen.

In short: Get over it.

Here’s something from the first iteration of Electric City Weblog after the Tribune outed me after a piece I wrote gained some public traction:

Anonymity gives one the freedom to vent and when I started a couple years ago, blowing off steam over news events was a primary reason to write here. I can appreciate those who suggest anonymous commenting is not useful in our political process, but I disagree. Believe it or not, there are those in the public and private sector who are petty enough to hold a person’s opinions against him or her. Further, anonymous political chatter has a long history in our culture. In fact, the famous “Common Sense” was originally anonymous.

Ask yourself why a government official would be so concerned about who wrote some ideas, rather than about the ideas themselves? Why does it matter who wrote them? Could it be that government power might be used against the author (or at least the long remembered will to use it against the author)?

Whenever I have had this discussion with people in power, guess what they say?

“Oh, we would never do that.” As though government employees, or in this case, educators, are somehow unique and not subject to the same petty vanities and prejudices that the rest of human beings struggle with.

Some people prefer to write anonymously. It’s perfectly legal. It’s not chicken-sh*t, it’s not a cheap shot, it’s not bad form. It’s legitimate, and there are people who prefer to write that way.

My advice to public officials now that there’s a ‘new blog in town,’ just get over it and either contend with the ideas or ignore them. (Of course, if we have our way, we can eliminate the latter as a viable choice!)

And remember, too, you get to come at us anonymously. All we require is an email address and, in this day of gmail, those aren’t too hard to come by.

Posted by Gregg Smith

Gregg Smith is a Great Falls attorney and businessperson. He writes a monthly column for the Great Falls Tribune.

Reader interactions

11 Replies to “On Anonymity”

  1. Capt BlackEagle January 31, 2017 at 9:08 AM

    If they will address the anonymity of the poster versus the statement posted, the complainer is the type of person Gregg is referring to.


  2. I would note that while Ms. Lacey questioned the anonymous author she also addressed the issues raised.

    Honestly, I’m far more concerned with the job Ms. Arntzen does going forward than I am about whether Ms. Lacey’s bringing up the grandchildren was wrong (it was, IMO). Lets not lose sight of what the real concern should be, that is, the educating of our children.

    As one who listened to Ms. Arntzen at a Lincoln day dinner I would suggest that she should be taken at her word that the real prize in her getting elected was a spot on the land board. Same for Matt Rosedale. The actual importance of their jobs was not their primary goal if they are to be taken at their word.


  3. Doesn’t the Great Falls Tribune print stories all the time that simply note: written by Tribune staff? Is that somehow not really anonymous because it’s the Tribune doing it?


    1. In the context of newspapers, if an article doesn’t include a by-line, it is in essence ‘owned’ by the editorial board.


  4. Sometimes when the Trib uses the “Tribune Staff” byline it means that a piece was cobbled together from several sources, with no single person wholly responsible. Most large media outlets do the same thing. It’s not a matter of anonymity, in those cases – just a case of not assigning credit to one person, when several were likely involved.


    1. The Editorial Board, though, writes anonymous editorials.


      1. Gregg, not really. The editors are listed at the top of the page.


  5. It is certainly fine and a right to be able to speak anonymously in a political context. However, it is also correct in the marketplace of ideas to place less value on anonymous speech.


      1. If you sign your name to your words, as a reader I can make some judgements as to your agenda, political leanings, and qualifications on the topic. I can find your other writings. These things add ‘value’ to your words for the reader.


  6. Lt. Colonel (Retired, Army) Richard Liebert February 1, 2017 at 5:00 PM

    Good debate, that’s what we should have on merits and consequences. We also need to DEMAND open government at all levels, and at least at the city/county/state level we can usually reach the public employee/elected official to address issues. We NEED live-stream broadcasting (and archiving) of
    ALL Cascade County commission meetings, work sessions and boards to HELP citizens, not confuse and sometimes confound us, thereby requiring us extra time and expense to get legal counsel to DEMAND open government, PUBLIC records (‘Public Records’ is right out of the Declaration of Independence!) and also
    the county NEEDS to post staff documents (like the City of Great Falls does with detailed staff reports which aren’t ideal yet, BUT they do have the data contrary to virtually nothing offered by the county) PRIOR to commission meetings!


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