Tuesday, March 14, 2006


A couple of things have happened lately that have gotten me thinking about the murky relationship between our online personas and our real-life ones.

When I started out writing my blog, I went to great lengths to keep my blog anonymous, picking a codename and setting up a separate email address. I thought that writing under a nom de plume would free me to be completely honest without fear of personal or professional consequences. It'd protect me from internet nutters. And as a journalist, at least in the states, I could potentially find myself assigned to "objectively" write about a politician, controversial issue or organization. Having an online paper trail of my personal opinions could potentially make things difficult for myself and my paper if someone wanted to be a jerk.

But as time went on and I started meeting some of the people who read my blog, I gradually started using my real name. Introducing myself as Yankunian at a blog meet seemed, I don't know, kind of retarded and precious. Especially when I already knew some of the people there from other things. When I got professionally involved with a blogging project at the MLF, it was essential that my real name be linked to my blog - it was, effectively, my credential. And of course by linking to Norm's profile of me last week I kinda put the final nail in the anonymity coffin.

Some people really don't want to be unmasked. Even more than that, they don't want their anonymous blog pointed out to people even though it doesn't have their real name on it because they think people might be able to figure out it's them from what they're writing about. (whew!) Of course I respect a blogger's personal preferences, but a tiny part of me wonders why they don't get one of those old-fashioned diaries with a lock on it, hide it under their mattress and wear the key around their neck? Why write a blog on the internets, where it's out there for all to see, if you don't want people you know reading your stuff? Because if you're putting it out there, you should assume that someone you know is reading it.

I went by Southern Bird's anonymous blog today and I see that she stopped writing late last month. This is sad, because I liked her blog - it was engaging and she genuinely seemed to enjoy writing it. She explained in her last post that she was giving it up because an ex-boyfriend was, from what I gather, stalking her through her blog. SB alluded to problems she's had in the past with other ex-boyfriends and her blog, and in her comments several others write in with similar tales of woe. Her name isn't on her blog anywhere, but she presumably told her ex about it in happier days. Having an anonymous blog didn't protect her from this situation, because she made it non-anonymous herself, just by telling someone she completely trusted at the time.

What do people think about this? I'd be interested to hear how some of you came up with your own approach - full separation of online/offline identities, some overlap or completely straight-up, firstname lastname blogging? I suspect the Manchester blogroll includes all of the above.


Stephen Newton said...

I’m suspicious of anonymous blogs; if you you’re not prepared to put your name to it, perhaps you shouldn’t say it. Rather than free people up to be honest, removing restraint can remove the obligation to think first.

There are cases where anonymity is acceptable (e.g. Call Centre Confidential, though his cover’s blown). But it should be an exception rather than the rule.

I wrote about the demise of World Weary Detective here: http://www.pr-consultant.co.uk/blog/2006/03/ethical-blogging-employer-rights.html

He claims guidance issued by his employer stops him blogging. This is nonsense as there’s nothing in the guidance to stop him carrying on exactly as he has been. But the guidance showed that he had a degree of responsibility and he didn’t want to be responsible for his words.

Stuart said...

I think, sometimes people confuse a blog with a personal diary.

They often forget that a blog is not personal, but accessible to the whole world.

I've used my real identity, and sometimes I've regreted that, because there are so many stories I couldn't tell (about myself or other people). But that was the choice I made.

Folk use blogs as a cathertic thing, and that's ace. I have too, in my time, but sometimes folk forget that that puts their (and other people's) personal life on complete show if they don't edit themselves.

We (bloggers) are all attention seekers, or we'd shut-the-fuck-up, but we must keep in mind that what we write affects other people and their friends and rellies.

(I'm one of SB's ex's, but not the one in her last post.)

Anonymous said...

I'm also faintly suspicious of anonymous bloggers as, while it does add an air of mystery of sorts, it can be annoyingly haughty when the anonymity isn't justified and by that I mean that there's no way that you can get into any kind of trouble by revealing your name.

I think that a blog can sometimes be a very cathartic experience and those who choose to remain unnamed are always going to be withholding something. C'mon people! It's the internet! We're all friends here!

Anonymous said...

I'm not persuaded that anyone has yet put a convincing argument against anonymity. Yes a blog is accessible to the world, but that doesn't mean you have to reveal yourself to everyone.

The cloak of anonymity allows for greater freedom of expression and creativity. It's not always a good thing to edit oneself too much. Whilst that can, obviously, be open to abuse, that shouldn't be assumed.

There are many reasons why a blogger may want to both open up themselves through their blog, whilst keeping their identity hidden. And we all make assumptions about people based on their gender, ethnicity, age and location. Keeping those things hidden stops the reader taking short cuts in interpreting a post.

In our culture of seeking instant celebrity I'm all in favour of those who wish to hide their lights under a bushel.


SkookumJoe said...

you are right, I must reveal my identity...its GeAHHHHHGGGG


skipper said...

Sounds like the sort of thing which can always happen when a relationship goes sour; if it wasn't the blog itwould be via some other route.
As a 'political' blogger I'm occasionally concerned at what I put on my blog but I'm basically a moderate and 'sensible' type. Some blogs- braver perhaps- post up quite provocative stuff and remain anonymous -e.g. Guido Fawkes-but it must be hard to protect such anonymity from someone determined to track you down. I haven't heard of anyone being targetted for their blogging but I rather expect it to happen anytime soon.

skipper said...

Further to my last comment, My blog name is 'Skipper' but I didn't choose it to be anonymous- it's a nickname I picked up at university when I captained a post-grad cricket team.

Stuart said...

Hiya Fluff.

Stuart said...

It seems anonimity won't protect you from folk if you're being libellous.

A blogger from Oldham, using a pseudonym, has had to pay £10,000 damages to someone she libelled in her blog.

So, careful now, chaps.

Kate Feld said...

Really? I haven't heard about this - can you pass on the link?

Anonymous said...

The story is in the Guardian today (http://technology.guardian.co.uk/news/story/0,,1737444,00.html). It actually refers to comments left on a Yahoo! message board rather than a blog. Still, given the libel laws in this country - bloggers beware!

Anonymous said...

I'm partially anonymous. I enjoy that people know my name and my blog is not diary-like; it's an open book of my sexuality. My blog is known to most everyone I know personnally, friends and family.

I can sympathize with Southern Bird. My ex knows my blog and has posted comments to it over the years. We both keep and maintain blogs, my own at Blogdrive and his at LiveJournal. It's an incredibly easy way to check up on someone you love. Or loved. I spied his IP on my blog and confronted him on it. It's a little disheartening to find someone you thought never cared about you viewing your blog. I was actually so alarmed I passworded it for a few days. But I realize that he'll do it whatever I do and until I blog about something he doesn't care about, my blog is free to access.

I say make your blog as personal or anonymous as you want: it's still communication.