Technology with attitude

Some More Thoughts On Blogging And Anonymity


I wrote an editorial about the Publius situation yesterday and the conversation since has been great. Lots of opposing opinions, and here are a few.

First, Tully argues that anonymity doesn’t hurt the credibility of blogging…

Can you possibly set the bar any LOWER, Justin? Journalists have spent much of the last couple of decades proving that they deserve ZERO inherent respect for being journalists qua journalists, ably demonstrating that to much of the field objectivity had become little better than a mask to hide their blatant non-objectivity behind. This is just another form of the logical fallacy of the “argument from authority.”

Sorry, but in general arguments stand or fall on their own, not on the basis of who utters them. The recent history of “mainstream” journalism argues that as strongly as anything can. It mattered not one whit in RatherGate if Charles Johnson was named or anonymous; the “blinking memo” evidence he produced in moments stood on its own and could be reproduced and verified by anyone, and any impartial examination of Rather’s “evidence” showed that it was clearly quite suspect, that his stauts as a “journalist” had been used to lend it MUCH more weight than it deserved.

As others have pointed out, even the Founding Fathers recognized the principle of avoiding the fallacious argument from authority in a battle-of-opinion, and publicly debated the merits of governmental and political issues in anonymous/pseudonymous form precisely to (a) get away from the cheerleading and cult-of-personality issue and let their arguments stand or fall on their own, and (b) to put a buffer between themselves and those who would punish them simply for offering said arguments at all.

The question resolves to (at least) two distinct issues: the argument from authority (and the transparency argument is mostly a subset of that) and the idea that because the internet is NOT truly anonymous, that therefore anonymity/pseudonymity has no place in it. The first is self-demonstrably fallacious logic. The second is the same logic that, say, Operation Rescue has employed in publicly disseminating the home addresses and license plate numbers of clinic personnel and patients. It may be technically legal, but that doesn’t make it right. That anonymity/psuedonymity can be breached is not an argument against using anonymity/psuedonymity, only an argument against relying on it as an absolute.

In any case Whelan’s outing of publius (and publius’s personal baiting of Whelan) was irrelevant to the substantive arguments of either, and boils down to a conflict of personalities and a race to the bottom regarding who could best demonstrate that they could be the bigger jerk. (Obviously, Whelan “won” that heat.)

Then, John Burke sums up why remaining anonymous/pseudononymous isn’t a good call…

  • Bloggers certainly have the right to use a pseudonym, but anyone who blogs anonymously should not cry about being outed at some point. If you stand to lose your job over what you’ve blogged, a prudent person would not blog. In Blevins case, he became influential enough as Publius to annoy another influential blogger who outed him. It’s also possible to be found out by your boss in a dozen other ways, even if your blogging is “a hobby.”
  • It’s a hobby for almost everyone, in fact. Not much money here.
  • Citing Hamilton, Madison and Jay gets you nowhere. A better analogy if you’re comparing us to the early days of the nation would be to the commonplace use of pseudonyms then to print malicious lies about one’s political rivals.
  • While there are plenty of pseudonymous bloggers who are very nice and plenty of named bloggers who are very nasty, it’s hard not to believe that anonymnity fosters incivility, and over time, on balance, anonymous publishing coursens political discourse.
  • Think of it this way: if every Sunday, The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal printed just one anonymous op-ed that slammed and slandered your favorite politician, would you think as highly of either paper as you do now?
  • If not, then why should we not respect bloggers more when they put their names to their opinions? Not that we can force anyone to do anything, but we don’t have to take them as seriously, do we? And we don’t have to commiserate with them when a political rival outs them.

As stated in my previous post, I fall on Burke’s side and I sum it up as such…

The weight of the argument is hurt by the anonymous/pseudonymous nature of the author b/c the opposing viewpoint can take to other channels of communication and/or the argument will have to be taken up by people who can champion it via those channels, thus diluting the message.

Also, regardless of how you feel about the media, they’re out there everyday doing their thing and pushing everybody else to be transparent. So if you think bloggers can do the same thing behind an identity curtain, I’m sorry, but you’re mistaken. There’s less credibility in posting anonymously simply because of the mechanics of the media. Perhaps that will change in the future, but I don’t see how.

Last, let’s remember what the whole point of the post was. If you don’t want to get revealed, you may not want to blog. That’s what it all boils down to. The credibility issue was an aside. An important one, yes, but still an aside. Nobody was forcing Publius to write. Still, he felt compelled to. That’s fine. But there are consequences to that, especially since there’s a good likelihood that he lied to his employer and family members. So, is that really worth it? I don’t think so. After all, we live in the US and it’s not like he couldn’t find another job or agree to disagree with his family.

But don’t let us have all the fun.

What say you?