More from the latest issue of About AA, A Newsletter for Professionals.
Anonymity — Then and Now
“In the beginning,” wrote A.A. co-founder Bill W. , “anonymity was not born of confidence; it was the child of our early fears. Our first nameless groups of alcoholics were secret societies. New prospects could find us only through a few trusted friends. The bare hint of publicity, even for our work, shocked us. Though ex-drinkers, we still thought we had to hide from public distrust and contempt.”
Over the years, however, as the Fellowship matured and the general public learned more about alcoholism, the concept of anonymity came to mean a great deal more to A.A. and to its individual members, such that when A.A.’s Twelve Traditions were first presented to the Fellowship in 1946, Tradition Twelve clearly articulated anonymity as “the spiritual foundation of all our Traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.”
“Anonymity is real humility at work,” noted Bill W. some years later in the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, which spelled out the fundamental building blocks of the A.A. program. “It is an all-pervading spiritual quality which today keynotes A.A. life everywhere. Moved by the spirit of anonymity, we try to give up our natural desires for personal distinction as A.A. members both among fellow alcoholics and before the general public. As we lay aside these very human aspirations, we believe that each of us takes part in the weaving of a protective mantle which covers our whole Society and under which we may grow and work in unity.”
Anonymity and New Media Technologies
This evolution of anonymity, while providing support and guidance on a daily basis to alcoholics around the world, takes on a special importance in today’s fast-paced, high-tech world, a world in which A.A. members and others are accessing the Internet in ever-growing numbers and in ways that couldn’t have been imagined even ten years ago. Chatting online with members halfway around the globe has become commonplace, and a tremendous amount of information about A.A. and alcoholism is often just a click away. Yet, with the incredible reach and scope of the Internet come challenges, and while the Internet and new technology clearly have changed the ways in which some A.A. members interact, the importance of anonymity has not dimmed.
“If we look at the history of A.A., from its beginning in 1935 until now,” says the A.A. pamphlet “Understanding Anonymity,” “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 level of press, radio, T V, films and new 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.”
Regarding the question, “What about anonymity online?” the pamphlet “Understanding Anonymity” suggests that “When we use digital media, we are responsible for our 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.”
Expanding this question further, the pamphlet adds that “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.”