Blogger Anonymity and Outing

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15 Responses

  1. Jdog says:

    You'll be relieved, I know, to know that I approve of your choice of anonymity. That important issue out of the way …

    … from the POV of a member of your audience, there are some stories you get to write that I wouldn't get to read if you weren't anonymous — some of the client stuff, for example. You don't, obviously, have the right to embarrass or otherwise disadvantage the clients you've signed up to protect the interests of, and as long as you're sufficiently anonymous that they can't be identified by themselves or others, you get to write about them as you please. I've watched other blawgers be very, very careful when they tiptoe near client issues — as they should, of course — but you don't have to tiptoe; you can just put on fluffy bunny slippers and stomp about as you please, not leaving tracks back to them.

  2. Dawn says:

    I agree that people should be allowed to blog anonymously. I think "outing" someone is vile. While I have normal, human curiosity, I have never tried to find out who an anonymous blogger is. As for threatening someone, that's even worse in my mind. I agree with Jdog. As long as you don't identify your clients in any way, you should be able to write about them.

  3. E.D. Kain says:

    Well done. It's funny, though, that it's even really that much of an issue. I mean, like I keep saying – this is blogging we're talking about. Tons of people blog with pseudonyms. It's the medium we work with and so far it's suited everyone fine.

  4. Linus says:

    Ken, excellent post, as always. I do think, if possible, you underestimate the degree of the schoolyard that is present in the current fight, and most of the pro-Whelan commentary. There's no public policy reason that someone offering opinions must be named, the way, say, a witness to a crime must be identified (you've already pointed this out). You can't tell me that having his real name attached will make Publius more "responsible" with his opinions (whatever the hell that's supposed to mean); it'll just make him shut up about certain things that he would otherwise have commented on. That's good public policy? Stifling of debate? I'm predisposed to agree with Whelan about lots of things, but this is just a whack in the back of the head.

    And yes, Linus is not my real name, for all the reasons Ken mentioned in his post.

  5. Ron Coleman says:

    I think anonymous blogging, unless it's about knitting or pottery, is — while not vile — borderline contemptible.

    I understand it. I comprehend it. I see the rationalization behind it. And some of my favorite bloggers, including Ken, are anonymous bloggers. I don't hold them in contempt for it, personally.

    But more or less along the lines of what I said in the essay I linked to in my post on this topic, I think one of the fundamentals of participating in a discussion, and especially when such discussion has the quality of criticism of another's work, livelihood or honor, is in fact accountability. I don't know why we're so dismissive of this — "Look, Ed, you’re not talking someone through an emergency tracheotomy over the phone here. You’re blogging. You’re offering your personal views on political issues. "

    Well, that cuts both ways, doesn't it? Ken, you write:

    But if someone talks shit about you because they think your political views are poorly thought out, disingenuous, or offensive, that is not “irresponsible blogging” unless you are monumentally self-involved and self-important. That’s the internet.

    Couldn't you just as easily have written,

    But if someone identifies you because they think you're a big hypocrite considering what you do in real life, or because you have taken the exact other side of that issue under another name on another blog, or because, notwithstanding the limitations of the argument ad hominem, that we may not be so interested in the views of a convicted child molester who is a paid lobbyist for the North Korean government, that is not “outing” unless you are monumentally self-involved and self-important. That’s removing debate from the sterility of "it's just the Internet" and seeing what happens when you put some skin and bones on the person who's so big and tough and brave with his words when he thinks we don't know who he is, what he does and doesn't stand for, and why we should care notwithstanding his charming erudition.

    Ok, well, you couldn't just as well have written that because it's entirely different. But it is a point of view you should consider. And if someone chooses, as you do, Ken, not to accept its validity, or at least not to consider these concerns sufficiently weighty as compared to the ones you have enunciated, remember — "that's the Internet." And the other guy doesn't have to agree with your view, either.

  6. Ken says:

    Perfectly arguable points, Ron, and you were one of the people I alluded to whom I respect and who disagree with the practice.

    A couple of comments:

    I don’t know why we’re so dismissive of this — “Look, Ed, you’re not talking someone through an emergency tracheotomy over the phone here. You’re blogging. You’re offering your personal views on political issues. ”

    I'm not sure, in retrospect, that I made myself completely clear on this point. As I understood him, when he complained about "irresponsible blogging," Whelan was talking about content, not (or not only) anonymity. And the content he was complaining about was somebody criticizing his public writing on a public issue. To me, referring to that as "irresponsible" involves taking oneself — and the process of writing about political issues on the internet — entirely too seriously. I find it hard to understand how it's reasonable to call someone irresponsible if they unfairly ridicule my exposition of my political views, whether they are anonymous or not, because my spouting off about my political views just isn't very important. Nor, despite his NRO byline, is Whelan's. In other words, it's more a point about how we view what we are doing here than it is a point about anonymity.

    You suggest that I could have written:

    But if someone identifies you because they think you’re a big hypocrite considering what you do in real life, or because you have taken the exact other side of that issue under another name on another blog, or because, notwithstanding the limitations of the argument ad hominem, that we may not be so interested in the views of a convicted child molester who is a paid lobbyist for the North Korean government, that is not “outing” unless you are monumentally self-involved and self-important. That’s removing debate from the sterility of “it’s just the Internet” and seeing what happens when you put some skin and bones on the person who’s so big and tough and brave with his words when he thinks we don’t know who he is, what he does and doesn’t stand for, and why we should care notwithstanding his charming erudition.

    One could certainly make those arguments. I don't happen to find them persuasive, because as I said, I think they have the whiff of schoolyard values about them. Even your words — "so big and tough and brave" — allude to those values. Isn't the implication, on some level, "you wouldn't say that to my face, because I would beat you up?" In this instance, isn't the explicit message "now I can try to prevent you from getting tenure based on the content and tone of things you wrote on the internet about politics?" Are those values that we ought to respect?

    I think a somewhat better argument for outing can be made when someone is writing one thing anonymously and conducting themselves in the opposite way in public. Is this such a case? It seems that Whelan's argument about Publius' identity, reduced to its essence, is that law professors are liberal and therefore their political views should be disregarded. Does that contribute in any substantive way to the debate on the issue of Sotomayor's nomination, which was the original subject?

    Ok, well, you couldn’t just as well have written that because it’s entirely different. But it is a point of view you should consider. And if someone chooses, as you do, Ken, not to accept its validity, or at least not to consider these concerns sufficiently weighty as compared to the ones you have enunciated, remember — “that’s the Internet.” And the other guy doesn’t have to agree with your view, either.

    I do consider the viewpoint, Ron, even if I disagree with it. I consider it more seriously because smart and serious people advocate it in one form or another. And as I said, if someone outs me (hopefully not the white supremacists linked in the post, please), I will accept the social consequences of my words. Of course the other guy doesn't have to agree with me.

    I appreciate your thoughtful dissent.

  7. Linus says:

    "But if someone identifies you because they think you’re a big hypocrite considering what you do in real life, or because you have taken the exact other side of that issue under another name on another blog, or because, notwithstanding the limitations of the argument ad hominem, that we may not be so interested in the views of a convicted child molester who is a paid lobbyist for the North Korean government, that is not “outing” unless you are monumentally self-involved and self-important."

    In each of those cases, a case can be made that the "who" has something to do with the weight we should give their opinion. How is that true of Publius? How is it true of most pseudonymous blogging? I mean, with Ken, are you going to out him, just to make sure he really is a lawyer, and really has a client who doesn't understand percentages, because unless you can verify it, it's not the greatest object lesson in the world? (It is.) Let's be honest- the vast majority of the time, all it really does is satisfy your curiosity, and doesn't add anything to the substance.

  8. Linus says:

    crap, did I forget to close something?

  9. Ken says:

    I fixed it for you. And I won't out you. Though HTML sloppiness is irresponsible.

  10. Linus says:

    You know, that didn't work either, so I'll just stop.

  11. Linus says:

    Thank you. And thank you. And I will try to be responsible in the future. I'm even thinking of getting a fake face to put below my name.

  12. Ron Coleman says:

    Can we put faces below our names? How?

    I'm planning to use Ken's face!

  13. Certainly the best explained "defense of anonymous blogging" I've seen. I was challenged this week by an anonymous commentator on my blog to reveal myself. How crazy is that.
    You can see my comments in detail at this link, so I don't cut and paste here.

    http://www.legallyunbound.com/2009/06/anonymous-150pm-ironically-demands-to.html

    Anonymity has tremendous value for the bloggosphere.
    Thanks for saying it soooo well.

  14. Patrick says:

    Ron, you can get a "Gravatar" for use in commenting at WordPress blogs by going here:

    http://en.gravatar.com/

    This image of mine, for instance, is a "Gravatar". I quite like the caricature you use at Likelihood of Confusion.

  1. July 25, 2010

    […] who chooses anonymity, has written that he prefers to remain anonymous because his favorite styles are, as he describes them, "satire, sarcasm, and ridicule." Ken […]