Tradition 11: Anonymity on social media is more important than ever

11. Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio, films, television, and other public media of communication.

We often talk about the importance of anonymity in terms of our not misrepresenting OA. Or of OA having no spokespeople. But this election year shows us another invaluable reason: not repelling potential members.

OA’s tenth tradition tells us that we have no opinion on outside issues. We don’t want to be drawn into public controversy because it will reduce our ability to help other food addicts find recovery. Meanwhile, the 2016 election was the most heated and bitterly contested since before the dawn of the 20th century. Fear, anger, and intolerance for differing points of view exploded during our electoral process. Since the results came in, this bitterness has grown and intensified. There’s much talk around water coolers and in the media itself about how friends and family members are unfriending each other on Facebook and other social-media platforms.

Now put yourself in the shoes of a still-suffering compulsive eater who isn’t yet an OA member. You are researching OA, and a Facebook friend is expressing opinions you strongly disagree with. You’re thinking about unfriending them, and you see that they also identify as an OA member and perhaps even promote it. What would you think of OA? Would it represent the code of kindness, love, and tolerance that the Big Book recommends? Could it potentially appear to have political overtones?

Our number one job as OA members is to carry the message of hope and recovery. Our traditions tell us that everyone who wants to stop eating compulsively is welcomed in our meetings. In our lives as compulsive eaters, it doesn’t matter who is the president. It doesn’t matter what’s going on in our country. The most important facts for our survival are that we are compulsive eaters, that we need one another if we are to get better, and that helping others is the most important thing we can do in this world.

In other words, OA is more important to our survival as compulsive eaters than our political affiliations, opinions, or grievances.

We’ll have no political allegiance if we are dead.

We can’t hold an opinion if we are dead.

We cannot air our grievances if we are dead.

We cannot afford to repel anyone who wants to get better because we need them as badly as they need us. So we cannot reveal our OA membership on social media. We most certainly can talk to someone one-on-one where we can give a more complete picture of OA. Where we can tell them that our beliefs are not characteristic of OA as a whole, which has no political beliefs. One-to-one we can give them the sense of warmth and community that a political post can’t convey. But we can’t do any of that if they run from us because they associate our names with both a political doctrine they can’t abide and our OA membership.

Among our fellows, we are no longer party members. We are no longer trying to persuade anyone of our rightness (or leftness). We are only trying to be helpful to other compulsive eaters. Some must keep our anonymity on social media lest OA cease to be a place where every compulsive eater can find a solution.

Tradition of the Month: Tradition 11

11. Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio, films, television, and other public media of communication.

What does Tradition 11 mean today, when the world is interconnected in ways that, when AA and OA were created, only science-fiction writers could imagine? Consider for a moment how distant Bill and Bob and Rosanne were from today’s world:

The Beginnings of AA (the mid-1930s)

  • Bill’s story includes reference to a pay phone. When was the last time you saw one of those?
  • In the 1930s, TVs rarely appeared in anyone’s home, and they weren’t in color.
  • Films had only a few years before added sound and weren’t yet in color.
  • Computers had been theorized but never built and wouldn’t be until World War II.

The Beginnings of OA (1960)

  • The postal service and rotary phones were still the main means of long-distance one-to-one communication. Toll-free calling wasn’t yet available.
  • Televisions doubled as furniture and stores didn’t stop selling black-and-white models for more than 30 years.
  • Billy Wilder’s The Apartment won best picture. It was a black-and-white film.
  • The personal computing revolution was still 20 years away. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were both five years old. Computers filled entire rooms and had far less computing power than today’s smart phones.
  • Ubiquitous email use was about 35 years away, and the internet hadn’t been invented.
  • Facebooks were still the picture books that incoming freshmen received to introduce them to their classmates.

Right. So it’s a new world. When you think about it, Twitter, Facebook, email list-servs, and other forms of online communication offer an amazing opportunity to carry the message of the 12 steps to other compulsive eaters. If we made our membership known to our Facebook friends, it could be helpful. It’s not like an article in the Saturday Evening Post, after all.

Actually, that’s true, it’s not like a feature article…it’s worse. Most magazines have a very limited subscription base. The internet’s viewing world is only limited by whether a person (anywhere on the globe!) can connect to the web. An important aspect of anonymity is the idea that we have no stars or VIPs. There is no Dr. Phil of 12-step recovery. And that’s a good thing because human beings are flawed. Just as quickly as one of us might gain fame in recovery, our disease could pull us back down, tarnishing the reputation of OA or leading people to think the steps don’t work.

So then, how does a compulsive eater use the many resources available on the internet while avoiding divulging their own or anyone else’s membership in OA? Here are some simple strategies:

  1. Don’t talk about OA on social media: Duh, right? When you’re on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or any other social media, just don’t say in your profile or any posts that you are in OA. Don’t even reference it obliquely. We once saw a fellow who, when asked how we was doing on Facebook by someone else, said he was working, enjoying his hobbies,…and sponsoring. also, if you put someone else’s handle on a message that contains OA content, you may be breaking their anonymity too.
  2. Remember that people can see your contacts: If you identify yourself as an OA, and if your account allows others to see your friends/contacts, you may be giving up someone else’s anonymity indirectly.
  3. Be careful about photos: We once saw a Facebook photo of several OA women gathered for a meal. While OA was not mentioned by name, the poster used OA language to describe an abstinent meal. Worse yet, the poster had tagged the photo with the names of each pictured member.
  4. Following, liking, retweeting, favoriting: It is not a break of anonymity to follow, like, retweet, or favorite OA content or recovery-related content. Unless you identify as an OA member, you are not giving up your anonymity. Following, liking, retweeting, and favoriting could indicate many things about your attention to recovery such as supporting a loved one or a professional interest. Just don’t tell anyone about your OA affiliation.
  5. Commenting: Be careful here! You may wish to comment from a 12-step perspective on a news article or blog that you read, but be aware of how commenting works on a site. On some sites, you sign in via Twitter or Facebook, which likely means your name and picture are then shown, or at least a link back to your account. Even if you haven’t identified yourself as a member on your account, if you think you are posting anonymously, you might not be. On other sites, you must be a member of the site to post. Remember that you are giving some information to that site when you become a member. If you have any doubt about how that information could be used, think before you click. If a site has anonymous posting capability, or you can provide a guest name, that’s likely your best route. In general, be careful, and when in doubt check your motives for replying (are you defending OA or resentful at someone else’s caricaturization of it?) and ask yourself if it’s safe to post.
  6. Emailing: Always place recipients into the BCC when sending an email to a group of OAs from any email account. For example, if you are emailing a large group about an upcoming workshop, just use BCC for everyone. (Take it from us, we’ve made this booboo!) Remember, when you send out to a large group, it could be forwarded anywhere for perfectly fine reasons, but could be seen by people who shouldn’t.

That’s just a few strategies for today’s world. In reality, nothing is truly private on the internet. There’s always risk where there’s a database. So keep it simple, and don’t take yours or anyone else’s anonymity lightly!