Monday, June 8, 2009

Donneybrook in the blogosphere: Anonymous blogger "outed" by another blogger

The blogosphere is a alive with charges and counter-charges over NRO legal affairs writer Ed Whelan's disclosure of the true identity of a liberal blogger at Obsidian Wings known as "Publius," who turns out to be a junior law professor by the name of John Blevins.

Most bloggers are aghast at the outing, conservatives as well as liberals, while others see it as a cautionary tale for people who could have something to lose by political blogging. Whelan defended himself, but he's not getting much support from fellow bloggers.

I would never "out" an anonymous blogger, and Whelan's motives may well have been petty or vindictive. I'm not going to try to figure that out anymore than I'm going to try to understand Blevins, who by his own account cloaked his identity because his views might cause him problems at work, among his neighbors and friends in Texas, and within his own family!

I do have some thoughts, though. Coincidentally, when I launched this blog last November, I identified myself as Publius, which fit nicely with the theme of the blog as proclaimed in the description below the title. I had used Publius before when commenting on other sites and thought it would add something. It was not my intention to conceal my identity. But my wife made the compelling point that people we knew might consider it strange, wonder whether I was trying to hide and, if so, why. That made sense to me, so within a few days -- when almost no one had yet seen or read The Purple Center -- I replaced Publius with my true name. Good thing, too, since one blogger named Publius is enough.

More importantly, I' glad I did because anonymity might have led me to be less restrained in the way I chose to express my views here. Not that my opinions would be different, but my goal of creating a site where issues are presented in a civil way and in "a spirit of shared patriotism" might have proved more elusive.

Anonymity is certainly the enemy of civility in one large segment of the blogosphere -- the comments sections of political blogs of the left, right and center. There one finds too often that pure vitriol is the standard. While most bloggers behave more or less responsibly, there is no big bold line separating blogger from commenter. When a writer is anonymous, there is bound to be at least some temptation once in a while to go beyond the bounds of what one would usually regard as the limits of civility. I'm not suggesting that this was true of Blevins, but using his stated reasons as an example, a blogger might just behave a bit better, if he or she was not worried that an uncle or a neighbor or a co-worker might be offended -- as opposed to all those strangers out there on the Internet.

All in all, it's better for the blogosphere if writers take open responsibility for their words. Reporters and op-ed columnists put their names to their work. Laws even require disclosure of the sources of political campaign advertising and literature. If it's good enough for the old media and politicians, why should it not be good enough for the new media and all of us guys in pajamas?

What do you think? Post a comment.

1 comment:

  1. I'm an RN, female, and I work in mental health. I've had two incidents of stalking when patients finagled my unlisted home phone and/or address from my employer. I have no desire for interested patients to find out even more about my personal life.

    You have no idea how frightening it is to find a 6'2" 300 lb person with paranoid schizophrenia waiting on your doorstep when you get home from work...and your teenage daughter is home alone.

    There are good reasons to be pseudonymous on the internet. At least I'm harder to find this way.