Unmasking The Mardi Gras


My son wore a Mardi Gras mask on Halloween.

The practice of wearing a mask at the carnival originated with the crews, the people throwing objects from the floats, and the upper class, who knew, with their faces covered, they could party in the streets without anyone knowing who they were.

Today there is no reason to wear a mask at the carnival other than because it is fun.


There are times when wearing a mask is entirely appropriate. Even necessary.

I make an argument for it here.

I once worked for a agency that handled cases involving extremely sensitive and private information.

We worked face-to-face and our client base came from the community around us.

It was quite feasible we would bump into our clients during our weekly grocery shop or even at the school gates.

Now, I don’t know about you but I don’t want to meet my gynecologist as I turn the corner of the grocery aisle.

And so it was in these cases.

We didn’t want to meet them outside our professional capacity and they certainly didn’t want to meet us.

We minimized this risk as far as possible during the allocation of client to case worker and the restriction of person-to-person contact to just the case worker and receptionist.

But it was still necessary to occasionally discuss cases during supervision or while resolving the case.

The very real possibility existed that professionals would learn, during the course of their work, intimate information about people they knew in their personal life.

No-one wanted that.

The extra step we took to reduce this risk was to follow a method that protected client confidentiality while enabling us to do our work.

It became the cornerstone of our practice and also the basis upon which clients felt confident and trustful of our agency staff so that we were able to satisfactorily resolve as many cases as possible.

If names were necessary they were changed. That’s fairly standard.

But we went further than that.

We changed the details while preserving the authenticity of the story.

So if someone lived in New York, the case worker would present them as living in, say, Connecticut. If the client had two daughters, for our purposes s/he had a son and a daughter or two sons. If they had a dog, we discussed a cat.

On and on it went until the client was unidentifiable and only the caseworker working directly with them knew the truth.

The core elements of the case remained intact.

When writing online, this seems a good way to go.

It goes beyond changing the names to protect the innocent.

By changing the details, positions and progress can still be made. Examples can be offered. But protection from exposure is assured.

On both sides.

Stories are written, arguments debated, positions are established.

It is inevitable.

But people unmasked?

I don’t think so. Not necessarily.

What do you think? Is it ever justified to unmask someone online to make a point? A private individual? Without their knowledge? What about a public figure? Let me know in the comments!

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Mary E. Ulrich
November 3, 2010 at 1:53 pm

In the schools, we follow FERPA (Family Education Rights and Privacy Act). The rules of confidentiality were basically the same as you described Alison. The idea is that no one can just look up your records and get access to private information.

As far as disguising the information, the trick was no one should be able to identify the student/person based on the information you are giving. (“personally identifiable information”) It is a tricky business sometimes, but the law was passed with good purpose. Before it was passed many people were put into special education or were not allowed into appropriate programs based on mystery psychological or school evaluations or IQ tests. This law allowed parents/guardians to see the school records and have them explained in their native language. For instance, I know one mother who’s kid was having trouble with math and reading. So when the school sent home a note saying her child was in a “MR” class, she assumed it was for math and reading. She didn’t understand her child had just been placed in a class for students with the (old) label of mental retardation. Big difference.

I know many people make fun of laws “too much government, regulation…red tape.” My feeling is that the law is there for a reason, and before I bad mouth it, I consider I just might not understand the why.

Tricky but important subject, thanks for bringing it up.
Mary E. Ulrich recently posted..Halloween Fun- PlusMy Profile


Alison Golden November 3, 2010 at 3:02 pm

Interesting, Mary. Interesting there’s a law for it, too. For us, it wasn’t a law, it was simply considered best practice and self-policed.


December 2, 2010 at 10:50 pm

Hey Alison,

Great question. I don’t think it is necessary to “unmask” someone. There are things are not anyone else’s business. It is hard to come forward and ask for help or give the details, especially when there is fear or shame associated with it.

If it is something extreme, such as, against the law and the community needs to be alerted, then that’s different. It’s for safety.

The way you all worked around providing privacy seems appropriate and very tactful.

Melody recently posted..Creative- Simple- &amp Beautiful Ideas to Attractively Display Holiday Greeting CardsMy Profile


Alison Golden December 3, 2010 at 5:11 pm

Hi Melody!
Yes, this situation still makes me cringe, several weeks later. I think we all have a responsibility to be very careful about what we say about others online.


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