Anonymity

Speaking as someone who doesn’t blog under his full name to avoid professional and personal complications, I think James Joyner has the best take on l’affaire publius (background here). And speaking of Internet anonymity, H.C. Johns has recently been on the case, riffing off of this entertaining Craigslist article. He was also kind enough to mention an old Zizek op-ed I dug up on a similar subject.

So when is it not OK to blog anonymously? If you’re deliberately misrepresenting your expertise in a particular field, I think that qualifies, though I’ve always been quite open about the fact that I am very wet-behind-the-ears, with little more than an undergraduate degree in history and a penchant for witty, incisive dull prose to my credit. Has anyone taken a stab at putting together a formal blogging code of ethics? Now that the medium has matured – and, in many cases, gone mainstream – it might be something worth pursuing.

Feel free to throw out your own suggestions for the 10 Commandments of Blog Ethics in comments.

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29 thoughts on “Anonymity

  1. Interesting topic. I also omit my last name, primarily because I came to blogging from the chatboards and I saw some horrible instances of internet stalking. The (relative) civility of the blogging community has made me consider using my last name…but since I often use a work computer to blog on my lunch hours (totally okay with company policy, but the gray area scares me) I’ve opted to avoid it.

    I was challenged not to long ago by a KY journalist who visits my blog from time to time. This guy pretty much said if you don’t use your full name when blogging politics you’re a p*ssy. I disagree but that’s his opinion.

    I think if you’re going to make specific references you should give at least a little background. I like to talk history and i will often preface my remarks by mentioning i was a history major or that i used to be an archaeologist. It (hopefully) lends a little weight to what i’m saying, although I certainly don’t think that experience makes my opinion more important than a layman who reads a stack of history books every month while I’m working my corporate job and haven’t put a shovel in the ground in a couple of years.

    For me, I’m most protective of my family. I will freely mention I have a wife and two daughters but I don’t ever use their names or give any specifics. Someone who wants anonymity for themselves should fiercely protect the anonymity of others.

    As one other general rule, ‘outing’ anonymous bloggers is a horrible tactic in my book and i hate to ever see it happen.

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  2. This was childish reaction by a buy , ed, who was pissed at having his crappy logic and questionable knowledge pointed out. It really doesn’t take much to see why somebody might want to stay anonymous. And there is no good reason to out him. If eddie didn’t like the criticism he should have responded to the substance instead of engaging in a petty personal attack.

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  3. Outing someone who has gone out of his or her way to say “look, I’m anonymous because I don’t want to get dinged IRL for some of the positions I hold” is a supremely jerky thing to do.

    Saying “here’s ways to protect yourself from that” turns to ash in my mouth because it seems the equivalent of saying “make sure you wear longer skirts, honey”.

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  4. Don’t kid yourself. If you comment elsewhere under your real name on matters related to what you comment on anonymously here, you are misleading people. If you keep all of your public affairs commentry annonymous, you still aren’t being transparent, but you are at least being consistent.

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    • I fail to see how giving your full name makes your transparency less meaningful. You could say failing to give your phone number, email, street address also makes you less transparent.

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  5. The only time it might be okay to out a bloger is a situation where he is being a hypocrite. As in outing in the closet gay legislators or other office holders that act and speak against the interest of gays. I doubt such situations exist and certainly not the case under consideration, but hypocrites deserved to be exposed. Otherwise post and comment as you see fit.

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  6. I should clarify: whatever I think about blogging anonymously (and I don’t see how you can argue it doesn’t have an impact on tranparency), I certainly respect people’s right to do so, and don’t condone the practice of outing people against their will.

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    • Well, there is certainly a long history of publishing political tracts anonymously, not to mention fiction. Perhaps the best known example in American history would be The Federalist Papers. It is possible to evaluate a piece of writing or a series of posts without knowing the author or authors. Publishing as Publius or Blevins is of no importance. Over at Obsidian Wings hilzoy (a pseudonym?) makes this point, “‘unaccountable’ does not mean ‘irresponsible'”.

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  7. The various discussions on this subject note the difference between “anonymous” and “pseudonymous” posting. The latter allows a blogger’s body of work to be evaluated as a whole (mine would be a useful cure for insomnia) and should be respected except perhaps for exposing hypocrisy.

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  8. “Exposing hypocrisy”.

    My problem with that is that “hypocrisy” is such a… well, it’s not exactly the most rigorous concept.

    It’s one thing when you’ve got a Larry Craig-type who is passing laws to protect traditional marriage (and, presumably, The Children) and between sessions enjoying a short-term relationship in a bathroom here or there. Sure.

    But when you get out to the fringy stuff, you’ve got weird stuff like accusations of hypocrisy for insufficiently vigorous rhetoric. Hell, on this very site, we’ve seen accusations of hypocrisy against people who believe in the sanctity of life who are unwilling to murder people. (Imagine the gall of people who believe in life’s sanctity being unwilling to commit murder!)

    And, at the end of the day, people are outing anonymous folks not because of “hypocrisy” but because of the content of the anonymous folks’ opinions.

    Let’s not pretend that there’s some cosmic justice being meted out.

    Let’s not pretend that, when “we” do it, it’s okay because “we” are exposing “hypocrisy”.

    If the arguments of the other guy stand up on their own and you get him to shut up because he’s afraid for his ability to care for his family now that he’s “outed”, you haven’t won *ANYTHING*.

    Make your arguments stand up on their merits. If the only way for you to “win” is to make the guy fear for his family’s welfare, is that *REALLY* a victory you would want?

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    • “(Imagine the gall of people who believe in life’s sanctity being unwilling to commit murder!)”

      Too funny!

      You do allow for real hypocrisy, Larry Craig, so what’s the problem? When I brought up the possibility I said it would be rare. But if hypocrisy was afoot expose it. Just because something, anything, can be misused doesn’t mean it’s bad in all cases. Jesus, that’s why we have the ability to analyze stuff.

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      • It’s the “passing laws” that makes Larry Craig different.

        You take that away from him, he deserves as much anonymity as anybody. One hopes that he chooses better places for daliances than an airport. I hear the park is nice, this time of year. Find the bushes with the body-building magazines strewn about.

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        • Here’s a question – did the rationale for Craig’s anti-gay legislation hinge on his sexuality? I mean, I can’t really see why personal hypocrisy somehow invalidates other, more substantive arguments against gay marriage (or whatever it was Craig legislated against).

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      • When I chimed in at #5 I was commenting on the probity of outing anonymous blogers. I think I made clear my disdain for such. I did say the the only possible reason for such an outing would be if hypocrisy were involved. Jaybird, you seem to be saying, “it all depends.” Not a particularly earth-shattering observation, and I wish to claim that description for my own comment.

        Your airport and park observation, jaw-dropping.

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        • When it comes to bloggers, I would say that anonymity is covered by a “right to privacy”.

          It does not “all depend”. The *DIFFERENCE* is when an agent of the government expects a right to privacy that extends to him when he is part of the machinery that is dismantling *OUR* rights.

          As for Haggard, the fact that he was outed by his rentboy changes the dynamic there. If you pay someone to leave when you’re done, you should expect that they might talk to someone afterwards. Ask yourself if you don’t want to jump from the “bronze” level service all the way up to “gold”. Sure, you’re paying a bit more, but you’re paying them to leave when you’re done and for the discretion. Sure, you say, that’s 1500 bucks more! Yeah, how much did saving that 1500 bucks cost ya?

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    • Where did government agent come from? No government agent was involved with the Publius/Blevins brouhaha. Likewise with Haggard. Larry Craig had no expectation of privacy once arrested. He had at best hope.

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      • I was saying that the government agent is what makes it different.

        I make distinctions between citizens and Our Betters.

        My distinctions, however, entail lessened protections for Our Betters. Hey, you want to rule? These rights will no longer be protected to anywhere near the same degree as they were. Don’t like it? Don’t try to rule over other people.

        As such, the Publius thing absolutely infuriates me.

        The Haggard thing less so… because, let’s face it, it wasn’t “the media” who got him but his “escort”. There’s a dynamic there.

        Craig? Would that more politicians were outed. Let’s out every single one of them.

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  9. It’s blogging, after all. I just fail to see how blogging under a pseudonym is at all inconsistent with the concept of the medium itself. Now, if you post comments as “anonymous” just so you can say mean things to people that seems a little cowardly, but beyond that I fail to see anything wrong with anonymous blogging. Unlike journalists, bloggers don’t always blog as their primary source of income.

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  10. Regarding Larry Craig. I don’t think the term outing really applies. He was arrested, took some sort of a plea by mail, payed a fine if I remember correctly. Some weeks later a newspaper discovered the court documents.

    Regarding Ted Haggard. That case probably meets my definition of outing. As I recall Haggard’s sex buddy/dope dealer dropped the dime when he discovered Ted’s association with some gay bashing church. Ted may not have been as vitriolic in his gay pronouncements as Falwell and others but I see hypocrisy. I would have to be convinced that Ted was the wronged party here.

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    • Ted was standing behind Bush when Bush signed one of his traditional marriage protection laws (Ted was, if I recall correctly, President of the National Association of Evangelicals or something… one of those organizations that exists to hand out titles like “President”, if you ask me).

      As such, I see why he was a sweet target for “the opposition” but he wasn’t outed by “the opposition” but his, ahem, consort.

      As “rights to privacy” go, this makes me take the attitude “what did you expect?” rather than one of outrage.

      You screw a guy, don’t be surprised when he screws you.

      If you know what I mean.

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      • Yeah, I’m not defending Ted. I seem to remember him making statements like, “well, other people were worse.”
        I don’t know or care where he ranks in the hate pnatheon, he’s in there. You reap what you sow.

        I would like to hear why Mark T. thinks outing Ted was “wrong.”

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  11. Pseudonymous blogging is common to the medium. Many, many prominent bloggers write under assumed names for reasons roughly the same as publius’. My father has a technology blog, and blogged under a pseudonym for years because the vagaries of university politics made expressing opinions inconvenient, as he is a professor in that field who has to work with people who would take exception to his opinions as stated. Pseudonyms, in his case and publius’, serve to facilitate a freedom of speech, as they have throughout literary history.

    I am against outing in almost all cases, unless there is some proximate harm being done. I wrote about it in the case of gay politicians here:
    http://bleakonomy.blogspot.com/2009/05/on-outing.html. It does nothing to advance a particular argument, goal or viewpoint simply to attack the person who opposes it. In the case of blogging, to do so is presumptuous, arrogant and simply mean. In the case at hand, nobody’s respect for Whelan has been increased by any of this.

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  12. Pingback: Why I Blog Anonymously, And Why It's OK: Ed Whelan of NRO Outs Blogger Publius of Obsidian Wings | Popehat

  13. From Will: Here’s a question – did the rationale for Craig’s anti-gay legislation hinge on his sexuality? I mean, I can’t really see why personal hypocrisy somehow invalidates other, more substantive arguments against gay marriage (or whatever it was Craig legislated against).

    I’m with you on that point Will. I would venture that most conservatives don’t suggest we make gay acts illegal. We just have reservations/oppositions to marriage. If Craig or any closeted gay politician is opposed to gay marriage that doesn’t necessarily make them a hypocrite at all.

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  14. The Whealan apology:

    My Apologies to Publius [Ed Whelan]

    On reflection, I now realize that, completely apart from any debate over our respective rights and completely apart from our competing views on the merits of pseudonymous blogging, I have been uncharitable in my conduct towards the blogger who has used the pseudonym Publius. Earlier this evening, I sent him an e-mail setting forth my apology for my uncharitable conduct. As I stated in that e-mail, I realize that, unfortunately, it is impossible for me to undo my ill-considered disclosure of his identity. For that reason, I recognize that Publius may understandably regard my apology as inadequate.

    [Cross-posted on The Corner]

    06/08 10:39 PMShare

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    • Always apologize *BEFORE* all of your friends jump in to defend what you did.

      When you do it after, you make them look stupid.

      Why make your friends look stupid?

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  15. Pingback: Whelan Apologizes | The League of Ordinary Gentlemen

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