Blogging and Anonymity

I often wonder why I blog. I also wonder why I blog anonymously. There’s not much point to either.

The kudos I may get for the former one is obscured by the fact of the latter. The fun I may have because of the latter is precluded by the fact that I want to be respected as a blogger.

My anonymity isn’t particularly precious to me. My employer is not particularly intrusive and a number of my close friends already know (and humour me). My mother remains oblivious but it might be better if she knew. She can only assume the vast amount of time I spend on the internet is spent masturbating.

I suppose I enjoy blogging and I need little reason other than that. I enjoy blogging because I care about people – and that means I have to care about politics so I blog about it. I apologise if the logic appears circular.

I like being able to have an effect on people for the better – no matter how small an impact this blog has. In large part I blog and enjoy blogging because I’m ambitious and a little arrogant too.

On the face of it then it seems I blog anonymously for the same reasons I blog.

I can’t help thinking that one day I’ll be in a more powerful position than I am know. Not a captain of Industry or a Think Tank bod but someone somewhat more influential than I am.

I doubt the ends I’ll want to achieve will change; greater control by workers not owners and greater redistribution until that is achieved, open borders and liberalised migration until that is achieved, drug legalisation, greater policy space for the developing world and free trade for the developed, a more responsible press, a world not just tolerant of difference but accepting of it too.

Though the things I’ll want to achieve will not change the methods to achieve them probably will. I recognise that things here might hurt my credibility and my ability achieve things later on, so I like the option of taking ownership of this blog later if it suits me or abandoning it to history’s mysteries if not.

But there have been a couple of stories this week that make me glad I am a blogger and glad that I do so anonymously which I’d like to highlight here.

Someone writes something on a blog under their real name and it is taken out of context and splashed across the Irish Mail on Sunday (hat tip Anton Vowl and Tim Ireland):

The Mail never told me they were writing a piece about my blog. The journalist who wrote it never sent me an email asking me questions about my blog. I won’t do to his professional reputation what he has done to mine, but let’s just say that I wonder whether he would have expected me to answer his questions the way he wanted.

As it is, in the middle of an incredibly trying time for my colleagues, an article has appeared in a Sunday Newspaper that says I feel abused by the people I work with. It gives me opinions that I do not have, and uses words I have never said. It does so to attack my profession, impugn my employers, and portray me as a victim of my friends.

I feel sick. Any future employer could fairly read what Luke Byrne has written about me and conclude that I am a disloyal, untrustworthy person. The people I work with today could, and probably have, read it and decided that I am not on their side, and that I think that they are sexist, nasty, bullies. None of this is true.

This makes me angry and sympathetic in equal measure. I have documented the malign behaviour of the press and I would not like it visited upon me. This makes me glad my employers don’t know who I am, and potential employers, pedagogues and acolytes don’t either.

On the other hand the story of Seismic Shock makes me proud to be a blogger (hat tip Shiraz Socialist) and makes me furious that bloggers are not awarded the protection they are due.

At 10am on Sunday 29th November 2009, I received a visit from two policemen regarding my activities in running the Seismic Shock blog. (Does exposing a vicar’s associations with extremists make me a criminal?, I wondered initially). A sergeant from the Horsforth Police related to me that he had received complaints via Surrey Police from Rev Sizer and from Dr Anthony McRoy – a lecturer at the Wales Evangelical School of Theology – who both objected to being associated with terrorists and Holocaust deniers.

[…]

The sergeant made clear that this was merely an informal chat, in which I agreed to delete my original blog (http://seismicshock.blogspot.com/) but maintain my current one (http://seismicshock.wordpress.com). The policeman related to me that his police force had been in contact with the ICT department my previous place of study, and had looked through my files, and that the head of ICT at my university would like to remind me that I should not be using university property in order to associate individuals with terrorists and Holocaust deniers (I am sure other people use university property to make political comments, but nevermind).

[…]

Sure, Stephen Sizer managed to somehow arrange a police visit to me from within the UK, but does Sizer genuinely think he can use police on the other side of the world to this effect?

Why is Reverend Sizer claiming that I received a police caution, when the police stressed I did not receive a caution? Is Sizer deliberately misrepresenting the same police force that he originally used to his advantage?

Who is Reverend Sizer reporting to, and why does Reverend Sizer genuinely feel he has the power to close down debate by threatening police action? Why call the cops rather than answer his critics?

Political and theological disagreements should never be accompanied with threats of litigation or police action, but instead with logic and open debate.

I am pleased to help affect the Streisandification of this story as the more who know about Reverend Sizer the better.

These are two stories that seem indelibly entwined. Blogging’s real world influence is obvious in the first in a personal but massive way. The threats to blogging are obvious in the second but on an insidious and more intimidating level.

I am proud to blog but I think I may guard my anonymity jealously. I wish Seismic Shock the best of luck and offer my sincere sympathy to Melanie Dawn.

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12 thoughts on “Blogging and Anonymity

  1. A bit OT perhaps, but:

    I doubt the ends I’ll want to achieve will change; greater control by workers not owners and greater redistribution until that is achieved, open borders and liberalised migration until that is achieved, drug legalisation, greater policy space for the developing world and free trade for the developed, a more responsible press, a world not just tolerant of difference but accepting of it too.

    Y’know, reading you and the Bleeding Heart Show, I start to believe that we have more in common than not. Lots of people say that ‘left’ and ‘right’ aren’t such useful distinctions any more, and maybe that’s true. I’d love to see the workers = the owners, more open borders, drug legalisation, greater policy space for the developing world and free trade for the developed, a responsible press, a world accepting of difference, and so forth. I know Liberal Conspiracy set out to emphasise these kind of similarities, but in some ways I think it’s too party-political for that now.

    I guess what I mean is, I’d like to see the left-liberals and the right-liberals (argh, nomenclature) find common ground on economic as well as civil liberties. Reading your blog makes me think that’s possible, and it’d be fantastic at some point to sit down and examine how, considering we have these goals in common, we can arrive at some methods in common too.

    Hope you don’t mind my saying that!

    1. Not at all. I definitely agree.

      Alex Tabarrok of Marginal Revolution has highlighted something similar just this week. So don’t worry, I think we’re in good company.

      There are a number of goals where the left and right should work together.

      Chris Dillow is good on this, his emphasis on managerialism explains a lot that is confusing about the modern state.

      For the right it is interfering in free enterprise by enforcing uniform, burdensome, distorting, easily dodged regulation. But the population demand it. Why?

      Well the left and the populace at large are preventing from forming unions, or it is made hard to organise, or difficult to take direct action, in order to demand the conditions that they want for their workplace or locale.

      Regulation can be burdensome and the left can be loathe to recognise that, but they also fill a gap that the state and organised capital have created, and the right a loathe to recognise that fact too.

      Where the left and right need to come together is power.

      Power over the self is important but the left needs to recognise the power which the state wields on their behalf is a double edged sword and the right needs to realise that the state is not the only actor which uses power in a dangerous, illiberal and unjust way.

      (The Marxist left already see the state as the enemy but have yet to come up with an attractive or realist alternative. My accusation is focussed on the mainstream left.)

      The left have their revolutionaries or refromers in the working class. I don’t think the Libertarian conception of a producing vs political class captures the real fault lines in the world.

      I definitely think the belligerent attitude left liberals like Sunny Hundal can show towards Libertarians could prove counter-productive. But you have to admit with Libertarians like Old Holborn (and his disgraceful welcome of the Swiss Minaret ban) or Nurses for Reform it is difficult to identify the good Libertarians from the selfish yet slightly liberal right wingers.

      Its a complicated topic (as the length and ramble of this comment shows) but one I feel I am in broad agreement with you on.

  2. As one who spent his formative blogging time doing so under his real name, I can say quite assuredly that your choice to continue blogging anonymously is almost certainly the right one.

    I won’t bore you with the precise reasons why, and I recognise the frustration* it can cause, but it certainly makes things easier.

    *Mainly meeting people in real life that you know from the blogosphere and introducing yourself with your real name only to be greeted with a look of bemusement, before having to say ‘Er, sorry, I’m the Daily Quail.’

    1. Haha, I have considered how much of a twat I shall feel if I ever say “Hello I’m Left Outside.”

      I can understand that there are any number of things I don’t need bringing up in real life I may want to blog about.

      I’m sorry you had problems before you became a Quail, if its a good yarn then please regale me. (Btw, someone googled their way to my blog by searching for “My Quail Died”. They got to one of the guest ones I’d written for you. Sad, but I laughed.)

  3. No problems were had fortunately, it was more of a preventative thing before it became an issue. But it’s certainly a pain in the cock to disassociate a previously used blogging name from your internet scribblings.

    By the way, the oddest quail related search term I’ve had is ‘naked female quail pregnant’.

    1. I’m not sure if I’m misreading you but you seem to set up a dichotomy that doesn’t need to exist.

      The blogosphere has unsightly corners, but that’s a reflection of society not something unique to it.

      But with regards to anonymity there is a middle ground. Think Deep Throat, or slightly less self-aggrandising Flying Rodent.

      There are those of us who use anonymity for convenience who are not vicious and so long as no laws are broken there’s no reason we should not be, no matter how unpleasant.

      Besides saying “Even the playground has more refined rules than the blogosphere”, as your friend does, is difficult for a journalist, I blogged why just a couple of days ago: outright lies. Not by her, but by journalists all the same.

  4. Apologies but I have just realised I put my comment in the wrong bloody box so here it is in the right box. Sorry.

    Hi there Left Outisde, I know you through Lib Con and although I’m come to this post late, I’m sure you know that this is an area of interest to me, as I recently came to the conclusion (slightly spurred on by some words and thoughts of Tim Ireland and my own experiences online) that anonymity is destructive.

    To be clear, there are shades of anonymity and you are actually not that anonymous at all, you have a non de plume you always use, no sock puppetting, you are anchored to a blog that contains your coherent opinions and you also have an email address by which you are contactable.

    You have an air of accountability, like many of the blogs I enjoy reading BUT, I now feel that their is only so far I can go with bloggers that I enjoy reading who can’t put their name to what they write, because how can you hold the ideas strongly enough if you can’t take responsibility for them?

    I used to blog under a fake name but I found it limited what I could say, it felt impersonal and fraudulent (not that I accuse anyone of being impersonal and fraudulent, just me) so I outed myself and of course, this comes with massive downsides that I experience on a regular basis. The bottom feeders, bigots, racists and trolls will always attack the ‘weakness’ that their own cowardice allows and I experience that on a daily basis BUT, I know they attack with such vigour because I have got to them with such vigour and that makes it worth it.

    Anyway, my blog on it is here: http://danielhg.blogspot.com/2010/01/hide-my-ass-because-im-coward.html and thanks for a thought provoking piece from the other perspective.

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