Outing Bloggers

Blogging in Disguise

Considerable controversy erupted over the weekend in the blogosphere as to the outing of bloggers who blog using a pseudonym.  The details of what initiated this controversy are discussed in detail here at Southern Appeal, Ed Morrissey at Hot Air comments here, Jay Anderson has a thoughtful post here at Pro Ecclesia, as does Paul Zummo here at the Cranky Conservative.  My observations are as follows:

1.  I am a proponent of blogging under one’s own name, a rule I have always observed on the internet.  I think the knowledge that one’s internet remarks may come back to haunt one in “real” life encourages a salutary desire to avoid abusive posts and comments and to moderate a tendency to stridency that I think anonymity can foster.   To put it concisely,  people usually are more reluctant to act like total jerks when they are using their real names.

2.  I am however sympathetic to bloggers who, for job related reasons, desire to remain anonymous.  I am self-employed and have been so for a quarter of a century.  Most people do not have this luxury, and if I were just starting out in my career I would be cautious blogging about controversial topics under my own name.

3.  Revealing the true identity of a blogger or a commenter merely out of spite strikes me as unsportsmanlike.   However the internet can be a very rough place, and if it is a sin I think it is venial in nature.  Asking that the real person be held accountable for what they say on the internet may be malicious, depending upon the circumstance, but it is not inherently unreasonable.  I would never unmask someone on the internet, but for me it would be merely a matter of good manners not to do so.

4.   I distinguish between bloggers and commenters who adopt and stick with a pseudonym and those who merely make “anonymous’ comments.  While some sort of slight moral duty may exist to refrain from “unmasking” someone who has a stable internet identity, I do not see any sort of duty existing to those engaging in routine anonymous comments, especially if those comments are of a “troll-like” nature.

5.  If  a person is truly concerned about job ramifications, it might be best to find another hobby rather than to assume that a pseudonym offers adequate protection.  In this day it is not too hard to find out a person’s actual identity, and the more you blog the easier it is for a persistant individual to uncover your alter-ego.

6.  Perhaps the best rule to follow is never to post something on the internet that you would not wish to defend off the internet.

Well that is what I think.  What do you think?

33 Responses to Outing Bloggers

  • Donald,

    Did you just out the Cranky Con?
    ;-)

  • Paul is rather like the Human Torch of the Fantastic Four Tito, everyone knows his secret identity! :)

  • Donald, if you do not take this post down, I will be forced to bring litigation against you. You will owe me at least one soda pop when I’m through with you.

  • Soda pop, article, soda pop, article—hmmm.

  • people usually are more reluctant to act like total jerks when they are using their real names.

    I don’t think this is right. People do tend to be more rude on the Internet than in real life, but from what I’ve found, this tendency is no more pronounced in the case of people who blog under pseudonyms than for people who do not. The chances of ever encountering someone in “real life” that you’ve badly treated on the Internet are vanishingly small, whereas the Internet reputational effects of boorish behavior are the same for someone who uses a consistent pseudonym as for someone using their real name.

    I also don’t think doing something that could potentially destroy a man’s livelihood should be described as “merely a matter of good manners” but I suppose our perspectives differ on this.

  • “I also don’t think doing something that could potentially destroy a man’s livelihood should be described as “merely a matter of good manners” but I suppose our perspectives differ on this.”

    They do indeed BA. No one drafts people to comment on the internet, and there is no “Code of the Internet” that guarantees anonymity. If a man or woman’s livelihood is truly threatened by what they post on the internet, I am not entirely unsympathetic to their plight, but perhaps it would be time for them to take up another hobby or to restrict themselves to non-controversial topics.

    As to bad behavior being fostered by anonymity, I would merely point to anonymous comments and compare and contrast them with comments where people attach their real names to them. I believe, in general, there is a significant difference.

  • I”m kind of torn on this one. I believe wholeheartedly in always being civil while blogging and I do not say anything on a blog that I feel would be indefensible or insulting. However, I also prefer not to use my full real name either.

    On this blog (and this one alone) I use my maiden name, partly because my married name is extremely common and I would prefer not to be mistaken for someone else. Also, I used to be a journalist, and it is common in media circles for women who become well-known or establish a following under their maiden names to keep using their maiden names professionally after marriage. It also provides a measure of privacy for their husbands and children since the general public may not connect their last name with hers.

    Personally I prefer the use of a consistent pseudonym that gives you a specific identity. I have used the pseudonyms “Bookworm” and “Secret Square” on other blogs, mostly local newspaper blogs, regional/national political blogs, and some Catholic blogs. I didn’t go with a pseudonym here because most of you use your real names, also, I did want readers to know that AC was not an exclusively all-male preserve :)

  • I hope Elaine we can make it even less of an all-male preserve in the future. :)

    I have no particular problem with people using consistent pseudonyms on a blog, but I just do not think that it entitles them to an expectation of privacy as to their true identity when they do. I will honor their implicit request to keep their identity a secret as a matter of manners, but I cannot get too upset when others do not follow my course of action.

  • As to bad behavior being fostered by anonymity, I would merely point to anonymous comments and compare and contrast them with comments where people attach their real names to them. I believe, in general, there is a significant difference.

    There is a significant difference, this is true. But there is also a significant difference between anonymous comments and comments by people who use a consistent pseudonym. If you compare people who use pseudonyms to people who use real names, I don’t see much of a difference.

    No one drafts people to comment on the internet, and there is no “Code of the Internet” that guarantees anonymity.

    Morality isn’t a matter of subscribing to some “Code of the Internet.” If revealing a blogger’s identity could cost them their job, then one shouldn’t do so absent a compelling reason. That’s not a matter of etiquette; it is matter of basic decency. The fact that they wouldn’t be vulnerable to such action if they didn’t blog at all is not much of an excuse here (I happen to think that the Internet would be a much poorer place if everyone who knows blogs under a pseudonym were to leave, but regardless of how one comes down on that question, the fact is that people who choose to blog under a pseudonym).

  • As someone who has remained more-or-less pseudonymous for the last four years, this strikes me as fairly spiteful, but I do have a certain sympathy for this “if it’s so essential people don’t know who you are, don’t blog” argument.

    Several years ago, I did delete comments from someone who had done the research to out my name and parish on my blog — though as much because I found it disturbing someone would do the fifteen minutes research necessary to connect me with name and parish as because I was horrified to have my identity revealed. (At this point, it’s a pretty open secret, since it’s right on our contributors page.)

    The smallest offense can be an evil if done strictly with the intent to hurt, and in that regard this sounds to me like it was done in anger and out of spite. However, at the same time, if you really believe that being “outed” could result in the destruction of your livelihood, it strikes me as seriously irresponsible to run a well known blog.

  • BA, in regard to those who consistently use the same pseudonym I would concede that there is less of a difference between them and people who blog under their own name as to blog behavior as compared to people who post anonymously and those who post under their real name. People who have been using the same pseudonym for years generally do not wish, I assume, to have it tarnished by bad behavior.

    As to the job loss of a blogger whose identity is revealed being a question of morality rather than manners, I just don’t see it. All of us in our “real” life are constantly held accountable for our words and our actions. Someone blogging under a pseudonym is asking for an exemption from this general rule of life. As a matter of manners and good sportsmanship, I am personally willing to grant this exemption, but I do not see it as a question of morality when the general rule of life as to acccountability is applied to a blogger or a commenter.

  • Since most everyone works in an at-will State, I think it is prudent to not allow people to make casual associations. I would never, ever, want to have a boss tell me I was fired for writing on a blog.

    I have gone full circle. I used my first and last name originally, but found my namesake had a reputation. At that point I adopted my first two initials and my last name. That is the name most of you have known me under. I dropped my last name this past year, since I didn’t want people making casual associations. Today, I write comments under a psuedonym at most places. If that lowers my blog rep, then good bye blog rep. I never blogged for money, finding that distasteful, so it ain’t like the blog rep is worth anything.

    As far as nastiness, I have had plenty from people using their own names. I have given plenty of it under my own name.

  • If someone becomes abusive with their comments, I think it fair to make the person responsible. A person whould be. Also goes for those who grossly misrepresent their expertise and deceive others. Out their lies.

  • That should read “should be” and not whould.

  • I think Ed Whelan first off looks like a first class idiot.

    What was the purpose of this? Also it think it is important to note that JOB SECURITY was just one of the reasons that he wanted to remain private.

    I can veyr much understand why a Law Prof and those ona legal blog would want to be private. THey like to throw stuff out there to get reaction and input. SOrt of like a LAW Class calssroom. The problem is the general public I fear does not understand this distinction. Thus they think every word is the deep hearted beliefs of that person

  • An example of a phony military vet used by one internet site, votevets.org:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/08/us/08phony.html?_r=1

  • I abandoned a pseudonym in favor of my real name a long time ago precisely because I wanted to discipline my commentary. The temptation to post intemperate cheap shots is just too great from the perch of anonymnity.

    I also agree with Darwin that if making statements on a blog would jeopardize one’s livelihood or otherwise hurt one’s friends or family, it is irresponsible to rely on anonymity in the case of running a well-known blog. It is one reason it takes a certain amount of charity to accept Plubius’s objections and explanations at face value. Either he rather enjoyed the unaccountabilty of anonymity (and his expressed reasons are pretexts) or he was astonishingly imprudent in operating a well-known blog and expecting his identity to remain unknown.

    None of this excuses Whelan’s actions, of course. But he has been beat up enough and I have nothing to add to that.

  • I’m of the same mind with Donald.

    When I decided to come out with my full name I thought long and hard about this. It certainly makes you think twice before sending a nasty comment, plus it makes you more humble when you think twice about retaliating to someone who may have given it to you good.

    With that said, shouldn’t we as Catholics do our best to not slander, attack someones good name, and be more charitable towards one another?

    Being on the Internet does not absolve us from behaving as Christians towards each other.

  • Consider anonymous “bloggers” of previous times, i.e., pamphleteers: Cardinal Newman wrote many of his Oxford Tracts under a pseudonym. Hamilton, Madison and Jay wrote the Federalist Papers under a common pseudonym. Paine published Common Sense under a pseudonym.

    Should they have found another hobby? Are they cowards for not wanting to be held accountable for their words?

  • Nope. But if they were abusive or lying and they were exposed, good.

  • “Consider anonymous “bloggers” of previous times, i.e., pamphleteers: Cardinal Newman wrote many of his Oxford Tracts under a pseudonym. Hamilton, Madison and Jay wrote the Federalist Papers under a common pseudonym. Paine published Common Sense under a pseudonym.

    Should they have found another hobby? Are they cowards for not wanting to be held accountable for their words?”

    Not at all, but neither was anyone else under any moral duty to protect their identities. As a matter of fact, I believe in each case you cite guessing as to who the author was, was a popular activity.

  • What I have quarrels with is when sock puppets enter into matters. We have our respectable ways and then, someone might say something. We think “I don’t want to address the crudity as “Moi””, so then… hopefully, we can get by the situation. Perhaps, the internet has a lot of nonsense to it to. I shiver to read some things on it. Those dark corners I do not go to but we might have a curiosity to have looked at least once.

  • When I decided to come out with my full name I thought long and hard about this.

    I am the only one who finds it humorous to read stories about Catholic bloggers like Tito “coming out.” ;)

    I put my real name to try to curtail my own actions, but honestly I wish I had used a pseudonym now. In fact, I’m strongly considering deleting my blog and starting s fresh one under a pseudonym for when I go to law school, as I’d rather not my full views be all that Google accessible.

  • Cajun Catholic,

    Yep, I came out alright! ;-)

    That might not be a bad idea to go incognito Miguel.

  • UGGG Michael. If you delete your blog I think I will scream. :)

    I hate when I want to go back and see soemthing interesting that someone said and I find (BLOG DELETED) which is one reason why I often block quote passages

    Anyway you blog would still show up in google cache or something

  • I think there are two questions here

    One is there some profound moral duty that was violated here. Well maybe not. But maybe just basic decency and a part of the social contract was in a way.

    This goes way beyond slandering people. As we have see via the prop 8 controversy and google maps speech and though can be chilled.

    One can lets say be a worker in a workplace that has an abudnace of gay workers. Should a Catholic be exposed and suffer intimidation because he gives passing mention to the teaching fo the Church. I think it all sets bad precedent

  • Don is right that no one was under any moral obligation to keep the names of the authors of the Federalist Papers under wraps. If Madison, Hamilton, and Jay were afraid of being “found out” for the views they expressed pseudonymously, then, absolutely, they should’ve found a different line of business.

    Fortunately, they weren’t and they didn’t.

  • Also, I believe the Founders used pseudonyms partially because they were so well known. They didn’t want their audience to pre-judge the message by associating it with a certain writer that they had fully formed opinions of, one way or the other. It was a way of divorcing the message from the messenger.

  • While blog anonymity does seem to give some people “permission” to be hateful jerks, it might also give otherwise timid souls or people who don’t express themselves well, or have much of a chance to express themselves at all, a chance to say good things that need to be said. That is the way I look at my pseudonymous blogging.

    You see, I write better than I talk, and I don’t always express myself well in person. Plus, I’m really chicken when it comes to expressing my personal views in front of people who might not agree with them. I may not have the opportunity or the gumption to discuss or launch a defense of Church teaching at work or at family gatherings, but I can do it via blogging, and maybe plant some good arguments or ideas in some reader’s mind.

    It is also my understanding that blogging and e-mail are favored and effective forms of communication for people who have autism spectrum disorders, since it doesn’t require them to worry about eye contact, body language, facial expression and all those other details that are difficult for them to handle.

  • All good points Elaine. I sometimes forget that not everyone is blessed\cursed with the hide of a rhinoceros when it comes to self-expression.

  • It was a way of divorcing the message from the messenger.

    Bingo.

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