The Times: Beware anyone called A.Nony Mouse

Beware anyone called A.Nony Mouse | Hugo Rifkind – Times Online

October 17, 2008
Beware anyone called A.Nony Mouse
Maybe ‘a Whitehall source’ is not a real name
Hugo Rifkind

So I was reading about the security services’ concern over internet anonymity, and something was bothering me. There was a line in The Guardian. ‘People have many accounts and sign up as Mickey Mouse and no one knows who they are,’ a Whitehall source had said. ‘We have to do something.’ And I was perturbed.

At first, I couldn’t figure out why. Maybe, I thought, I had done one of those inadvertent bits of mental gymnastics, where you read ‘Whitehall source’ and you think, perhaps, ‘Whitehall sauce’. Like Worcester sauce, only fishy-tasting, and with a bowler hat as a cap. Or maybe it was the idea of Mickey Mouse being carted off to Guantanamo. Duct-tape over the paws, sodden ears flapping around on the waterboard.

Reading it again, though, it hit me. A Whitehall source? Call me a conspiracy theorist, but I had a sudden hunch. Maybe, I found myself thinking, ‘a Whitehall source’ was not this person’s real name.

Hey, I could be wrong. Possibly the ‘A’ stood for something. Alan? Arnold? Young Archibald Whitehall-Source, quite the easiest gig the school careers master ever had. Although I doubt it. I think my hunch was correct. I think this was somebody speaking anonymously, expressing his concerns that other people were speaking anonymously.

It looks bad. Imagine Gordon Brown had said “the City must curb its irresponsible behaviour”, while nipping into his local branch of Ladbrokes to place a massive flutter on a three-legged nag that some geezer had tipped down the boozer. Imagine Linda McCartney had preached vegetarianism while tucking into a juicy steak. Imagine Al Gore had warned us about climate change, while simultaneously flying all over the world and leaving his lights on.

Actually, wait. You don’t need to imagine that last one. But think about it, anyway. It’s just the same.

Anonymity is the great democratic boon of the internet age. And yes, some people will exploit it in order to join social networking groups called “People Who Want To Bathe In the Blood Of The Slaughtered Infidel”, or whatever. Most, though, do not. They just use it in order to express views that they hold dearly, and perhaps passionately, without having to fear that those who oppose these views will come and lurk with a chainsaw in the shrubbery of their front gardens. Or arrest them. Or associate them forever with some comment which, on reflection, makes them look like a bit of a berk. You’d think Mr Whitehall Source would understand that. Even better than most.

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