Anonymity Examined: The Opinions Department’s Reflections

In light of discussions concerning the “Black and White” Opinions article, the New York Post response, and questions raised by the Stuyvesant community surrounding the necessity of anonymous writers, the Opinions Department asked its writers—the core of The Spectator’s argumentative works—to share their thoughts.

Reading Time: 8 minutes

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By Honora Muratori

Should Opinions writers be allowed to write anonymously or does that invite a lack of accountability? Should we draw a line somewhere?

“When writing articles, it is imperative to be respectful and include accurate evidence whether or not someone chooses to display their name. Going anonymous thus should not go against either of these principles just because the person's name is concealed. The writer should still be held to the same standard as others, and their writing pieces should be equally fact-checked and edited. It is still the responsibility of the writer to take criticism from readers and improve just as any other writer would. Anonymity is not an excuse for dismissive or incorrect pieces. Instead, it should serve as a vessel for student voices to be heard and acknowledged while ensuring the protection of the writer as they desire.” - Nabiha Islam, Freshman

“​​Opinions writers should be allowed to write anonymously because the fear of being criticized for one's opinion doesn't mean the opinion is not worth hearing. However, if the opinion contained in the article has malicious intent, hence why the author is choosing to go anonymous, then the writing should be evaluated by advisors and editors to see if there is a more appropriate way to convey a similar idea. Despite this, if a writer decides to anonymously publish any writing, regardless of controversial or extremist ideals, they should retain the right to do so. Preventing anonymous writers and articles may severely hinder the variety of student voices and opinions being heard.” - Joanne Hwang, Sophomore

“It especially makes sense for writers to go anonymous in a school environment, where the people reading your article can be your classmates. Some Opinions articles are thought of as reactions to conversations shared with friends or teachers, so going anonymous is knowing that your peers are not going to hold you personally accountable. In some cases, it lets you respond to the argument instead of responding to the person, because you don't want to reveal specifics that can identify you.

Despite this, knowing that my name is attached to what I write makes me want to defend my arguments well! Also, Opinions articles can be intertwined with our identities. Being proud of this is a whole consideration. Reading a strong opinion from someone you know and being able to put a friend's face to that opinion might make readers take it more seriously and no longer be able to project their assumptions onto who they imagine "Anonymous" to be. Being seen as a not very "radical" person in a public-facing way but attaching your name to a written argument you feel strongly about is an important communication tool.” - Adeline Sauberli, Junior

“Opinions writers should be permitted to go anonymous but the grounds for doing so should be standardized and codified. The case of the Israel-Palestine article was a wholly appropriate reason for anonymity given the writer's reasonable fear of repercussions and consequences, especially those of threats of harm or death. Anonymity should be reserved for where it is necessary to express a particular opinion, no matter how much others may disagree with it or how fallacious it may be so long as it adheres to reasonable journalistic standards and is not bigoted.  However, it should only be done when it may result in some sort of tangible harm to the writer. When possible, the writer should consider school administration as an avenue to resolve these fears—especially if they relate to threats of harm or tangible repercussions from members of the student body—but others must acknowledge that there will be times when anonymity is required.” - Muhib Muhib, Junior

“Opinion writers should definitely be allowed to go anonymous because sharing your opinion should not have to come at the price of being attacked by readers. As long as the article is thorough, accurate, and—hopefully, but not necessarily—acknowledges both sides of the argument, it has a right to be shared with our Stuyvesant community. Anonymity makes exercising our right to free speech more accessible without having to face any criticism since calling someone out does nothing to resolve a problem.” - Elma Khan, Junior

“I firmly believe that Opinions writers should be allowed to go anonymous—without the protection of anonymity, the media and press would lose critical diversity of opinion. The public has always been harsh against those who have non-conforming ideas, and in a society that is constantly evolving, movement in a positive direction necessitates giving a platform to those who have differing opinions. Otherwise, we simply trap ourselves in an echo chamber where there's no progress to be made. Of course, some restrictions should be made, but rather than being able to establish a universal standard, I think it's very important to evaluate each case circumstantially.” - Annie Li, Sophomore

“I understand the criticism surrounding anonymous articles, mainly the idea that they promote the spread of bad-faith opinions without having to be held accountable for it. I somewhat agree with this sentiment—with the rise of the Internet as a platform for mostly anonymous users, we’ve seen how false information is so quickly expressed and spread by emboldened fools. However, it’s different with a publication. Every Opinions piece—even an anonymous one—is edited and fact-checked. Anonymous authors are held accountable by publishers through the simple act of choosing to publish their pieces. If they’re well-written and logically sound, anonymous pieces even have the potential to protect the author’s safety and well-being while still becoming a piece of history.  Nobody knows who Brutus of the “Anti-Federalist Papers” was, and for a long while, nobody knew that Thomas Paine wrote “Common Sense.” The test of time is enough to hold Opinions writers accountable, and for their safety now, anonymity is far more crucial.” - Gulam Monawarah, Senior and  former Opinions Editor

Is free speech being protected now? In the Stuyvesant community or beyond? How can we strive to create a comfortable and constructive forum for all opinions?

“At Stuyvesant, it generally is. There is considerable deference to the editorial staff by the school administration in the handling of the paper. Though, of course, there is reasonable concern that some members of the Stuyvesant community will try to infringe on this protection by harassing our writers, which is why anonymity is sometimes justified.

Outside of Stuyvesant, as is quite evident, free speech is not always protected. This also explains the behavior of institutions such as the New York Post that defame both the paper and the writer while inviting other members of the community to do so. We must work to reassert journalistic independence even if it is threatened by outside institutions.” - Muhib Muhib, Junior

“Free speech is protected in microcosms, somehow. It’s easier to publish radical ideas in The Spectator because the editors are highly protective of their independence and the students have enough media literacy not to attack every piece. But outside of Stuyvesant, where the audiences are local governments and the larger American public, books are banned every day and controversial pieces are frequently attacked. Thus, to create a more comfortable and constructive forum for all opinions, we should strive to support smaller publications, independent writers, and local organizations who have strong guidelines for protecting free speech.” - Gulam Monawarah, Senior and former Opinions Editor

Should Opinions writers strive for nuance when tackling controversial issues? Or are one-sided arguments necessary?

“We know from writing DBQs that addressing counter-arguments and proving said counterarguments wrong strengthens your own argument. However, Opinions articles are not DBQs, and as a very personalized department, I think it's important that writers are creative with how they express themselves. There are many ways of incorporating opposing perspectives without watering down the intensity of your main argument, and I almost find it fun to explore counter-arguments because if the topic of my own article is something I'm clearly interested in, it won't feel like a chore to understand how others think about it. 

Not addressing nuance in your article makes it easier for readers to "win" simply by bringing up a counterargument that you didn't address. Even though the counterargument they mention might be dumb or easy to prove false because you didn't spend time proving that it’s false, it allows readers to have the upper hand just by mentioning it. That's kind of a sad way that discourse can work, and it doesn't mean that the responsibility has to be and should be on the writer to address everything, because that would be a never-ending loop!” - Adeline Sauberli, Junior

“It is important for people to know multiple perspectives before forming their own opinions on controversial matters, but it is also necessary that Opinions writers are able to express their arguments without censorship. The Opinions department, as the name suggests, is a space where writers should feel open to sharing their unique viewpoints on a wide range of topics. I think that boundaries do exist—such as misinformation, which should not be spread just to prove a point—but also that, in general, writers should have the freedom to communicate their opinions however one-sided. To counteract this, student newspapers should prioritize publishing many different sides to an issue so that their audience can be educated before ultimately making their own judgments.” - Emma Savonije, Sophomore

“Opinions writers should strive for nuance because it's important to acknowledge the existence and the believers of both sides of an argument when attempting to write about an opinion. One-sided arguments face the dangers of oversimplifying complex issues while ignoring other valid perspectives and almost eliminating the possibility of discussing a controversial topic. Nuanced arguments and writing would also better convince readers who may not align with the writer's opinion to continue reading because nuanced writing creates constructive debate rather than shutting down opposing beliefs.” - Joanne Hwang, Sophomore

“Nuance should be the main priority because one-sided discourse usually only serves to fuel the flames of controversy without actually addressing any complexities. This leads to misinformation and polarization without real understanding.” - Annie Li, Sophomore

“There should be respect towards what the Opinions writer wants to argue and consideration of whether their argument being one-sided or nuanced is a PART of their opinion. However, I do think this respect should be reciprocated by the writer, especially when it comes to one-sided arguments. The neat thing about Opinions writing is being able to voice what you strongly believe in but that doesn’t mean being deliberately ignorant of the other side. It’s possible to write a one-sided argument without attempting to completely trample possible refutations.  - Khandaker Mushfikuzzaman, Junior

“When I was an Opinions editor, my policy was always to express some nuance to strengthen the larger argument, meaning that having some nuance is important to establish one’s ethos and balance, even with the most one-sided argument. However, too much nuance threatens to wash away the entire opinion in “if”s, “but”s, and qualifiers. Both situations happen very often in Opinions writing and both situations can result in poorly written pieces. When tackling controversial topics, you should always address every possible counterargument and do so in a way that wholly, unequivocally, and undoubtedly proves that your point is true. Nuance should be a strategy, not an apology.” - Gulam Monawarah, Senior and  former Opinions Editor