From Where We Sit

The anonymity effect

Mark Basa Mark Basa

I don’t have a big social media presence. Last year, I have made only a handful of posts each month on my Facebook wall. I also don’t have an Instagram account, despite my friends’ constant requests for me to make one. And my Twitter looks like it is an account created and immediately abandoned by a social troll. It’s a good thing social media does not work like a bank account; otherwise, I would always be at risk of being penalized for dormancy.

I guess I am, in social media parlance, a lurker. I spend most of my internet time browsing and reading articles and posts, but not really commenting on them. I usually proceed to the comments section to take a look at public opinion. The discussions can sometimes be too impassioned; and the funny jabs of ad hominem thrown by commenters at each other reduce the conversations to the point of being comedic.

Alright, our funny side is sometimes linked to our sense of optimism even during times of adversity. Yet how is a comical personal attack helpful when exchanging opinions about, say, land reform or drug trafficking in the Philippines? I don’t want to downplay everyone’s freedom of expression, but I can’t stop myself from asking if we have been using “We are a democracy!” too much of an excuse.

Attacking another person in social media with below-the-belt remarks is unacceptable. However, it is very common. It happens among persons who use their real accounts, moreso among those who hide behind fake profiles. It appears that online bullying behavior is being reinforced by the element of anonymity. Would the head-on stance still be as intense if the bully were physically in front of the bullied? Probably not.

 

Anonymity provides a veil of protection and freedom to the one wielding it. It can be a negative force, such as for cyberbullying; or it can be a positive element, as in whistleblowing, where it can make the reporting of illegal, unethical, or immoral activities to authorities easier, confidential, and unrestrained.

Let us listen to Victimized Victoria’s plight:

“Hi, I would like to report a case of sexual harassment. Last Friday, at around 5:45 p.m., when all of my teammates had gone home, my boss went to my cubicle to ask me to stay a bit longer, for he needed a supposedly very important report to be finalized and submitted that night. From what I understood, the report will be presented at the Board meeting today, Monday. I didn’t expect his request would be accompanied by the stroking of my hair and deliberate touching of my chest. I felt violated!”

Here’s Concerned Conrado’s narrative on a recent event he noted:

“Hello! I have something to bring up in relation to the observed theft of office supplies this week. I have been staying late in the office in the last two weeks to finish a project with a tight timeline.
Last week, I noticed Mr. Picky Picker coming at around 11:00 p.m. for three non-consecutive nights. He went into the open-access office supplies area with nothing on hand, but got out with fully loaded grocery tote bags on all occasions. Kindly investigate him.”

Lastly, Watchful Wilma has this observation to tell:

“In the last month or two, our new Chief Financial Officer has been having closed-door meetings with guests whom I have never seen before. Though our company’s initiatives have recently pivoted to ramping up our dealings with oil companies in the Middle East, I could not fully comprehend why we have to involve our Bermuda-based shell companies in these transactions. I am afraid our company is involved in terrorist financing, since the oil companies we are dealing with have indirect connections with leftist groups in the Philippines. Please put these post-6:00 p.m. meetings under close surveillance.”

Anonymity is power. Issues that employees typically hesitate to raise face-to-face or through the chain of command can be reported anonymously without fear of retaliation.
If done properly, anonymous whistleblowing can be a powerful tool of change and active engagement in the organization.

Encourages stewardship

Anonymous whistleblowing encourages employees to report incidents that can harm an organization’s reputation and jeopardize its people or physical or information assets before these events actually occur. If reinforced by timely and adequate response to each complaint raised, anonymous whistleblowing can impress upon the employees that their voices are being heard. Would-be perpetrators will think twice about committing any misconduct if they know t it can be easily reported by anyone.

In the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners’ 2018 Report to the Nations, organizations with reporting hotlines have enjoyed higher success (46%) in detecting fraud than those that do not have (30%). Of all forms of fraud, corruption as the most commonly detected form of fraud is detected by tips 50 percent of the time.

Establishes a secured, formal centralized system for documenting and investigating incidents

Once an anonymous whistleblowing hotline is put in place, any incident requiring management attention can be addressed to a group of individuals designated to formally investigate reported incidents. Evidence can be gathered from the whistleblower and maintained in a central virtual location, while still preserving their anonymity throughout the investigation.

Reinforces good corporate governance

A company benefits from an anonymous reporting hotline, because it continually reminds people about proper conduct, which is also expected from vendors, customers, creditors, contractors, the public, and other stakeholders. Establishing an anonymous whistleblowing policy shows an organization’s serious commitment to good corporate governance and zero tolerance for misconduct.

The everyday tirades we read in social media can be considered aggression or, for some, passion. However, if this same level of aggression would be directed toward the right concerns in the workplace, such as fraud and other misconduct, who would say it is that bad? An anonymous reporting hotline encourages workplace conversation towards promoting the highest ethical standards in the organization.

If silence is going to be costly, wear the cloak of anonymity and then let’s start talking.

Mark Basa is a Managing Consultant of Advisory Services. P&A Grant Thornton is one of the leading Audit, Tax, Advisory, and Outsourcing firms in the Philippines, with 21 Partners and over 900 staff members. We’d like to hear from you! Tweet us: @PAGrantThornton, like us on Facebook: P&A Grant Thornton, and email your comments to Mark.basa@ph.gt.com or pagrantthornton.marketscomm@ph.gt.com. For more information, visit our Website: www.grantthornton.com.ph.

 

As Published in The Manila Times dated 07 November 2018