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The Debate Against Anonymous Bloggers

From The Aardvark Speaks’ archives, “Why I’m against anonymous blogs” is a well written justification of why you shouldn’t blog anonymously.

My experience from UseNet was that people who didn’t post with their real names either thought they were cool, or they just wanted to provoke the regular group members and start flame wars. It’s the same with weblogs, really: Many anonymous bloggers are anonymous only so that they can, under the relative protection of anonymity, lie as much as they want, denounce other people, verbally attack anybody without having to base their writring on facts, and generally just write any crap they wish without having to answer for it…I suspect that most of them would never have the guts to post under their real names because they know they’d instantly lose their credibility in the real world if somebody reads what they’re writing….

I’ve talked about this topic before, and I have to agree. You can stay anonymous by not clearly identifying exactly who you are, but help us to understand at least where you are coming from and why we should 1) care, 2) trust, and 3) read. If you are pontificating about the rain in Spain or number of terrorists inside of the United States, I will want to know how you know this and whether or not to take you seriously.

I like how the Aardvark’s author says:

Finding information about the author before reading the weblog can help you provide a first estimate as to the author’s competence for writing about whatever they’re writing about. I say a first estimate, because the contents of the blog will invariably affirm or invalidate that estimate.

Who you are, according to your bio, resume, or simple About Page, is backed up by your blog writing. When I am impressed, or concerned, about what I’m reading, I will always check the About Page to find out if this person can tell me how they are qualified to be writing about this, and giving me a hint, if not the facts, about this person’s sincerity and expertise.

If I like what I read, then the odds are extremely high that I will want to read more and probably monitor this blog for future posts.

Whether or not you blog anonymously is up to you, as is the amount of information you provide on your blog and About Page. You are in charge of what you share publicly. Just understand that your audience may need some form of information in order to make a connection with you.


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7 Comments

  1. Posted January 27, 2006 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    My main blog, polizeros.com, is political. Some political bloggers may need to hide their identity, esp. if they’re whistle-blower types. But yes, for the vast majority, anonymous blogging usually means flames aimed at someone.

    I’ve noticed these wordpress.com blogs don’t have a way to list an email contact address, so I put it on my contact page as a JPG, so spam harvesters can’t find it.

  2. Posted January 27, 2006 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

    I love it when journalists have biographies attached to their sites, as you say. It makes it more personal. One’s resume and alleged life experience however do not really mean a damn thing toward credibility. After Enron (Harvard grads), the current White House (Yale and Harvard grads and PhDs aplenty), the best newspaper on Earth (Walter Duranty to aluminum rods and Jayson Blair), ad nauseum, it should be obvious that credibility is something you build with individuals and constantly review, not something you are granted by a sheep skin or a corner office.

    If one can’t tell the difference between Paglia and Dowd without the byline, that’s on the reader.

    I don’t know how pervasive this is but for many, especially tech workers, job contracts today are often quite totalitarian. They contain non-disclosure and semi-legal intellectual property clauses that mean what you write on your site can either be grounds for termination or belong to the company (maybe not but they might make it a courtroom issue–got $70,000 to keep your idea your own? They’ve got that much to take it).

    Say a black writer who writes inflammatory race pieces lives in Little Rock and has kids that go to public school. Or an atheist blogger who writes diatribes against Christianity and Islam. In the information age, putting your name on a piece is giving a huge pointer to where you live and sorts of other tidbits including the Google map to the best escape route after fire-bombing your house,

    Writing is good or it’s not, in and of itself. Writing which cites facts or statistics should contain references alongside counter-references which it discredits logically. That kind of writing is difficult, a week or two for an article, and not well-matched to blogging. If you accept something slightly incredible without proof just because of the name behind it, well, that’s another fine mess you’ve gotten us into, Stanley.

    The trolls and flamers are obvious from the first paragraph. What should really happen is not some vague I’m-against-you-whoever-you-are social pressure pointed at those who don’t care and won’t feel it but a stronger acceptance among those who do care of the maxim: “Don’t feed the trolls.”

  3. Posted January 27, 2006 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    I agree with bob morris. There’s a need for whistleblowers protection. In that case I think it’d be a good idea to run the story on another persons blog. Like having a guest writer. You know how journalist can protect their sources; well bloggers should be able to protect their sources as well.

    Ashley:
    Yeah I kinda know what you mean. It does seem a bit egoistic. But it’s pretty hard to find a journalist who isn’t. I guess the justification is that it gives them more credibility. I judge credibility by content and not by their biography or awards.

  4. Posted January 27, 2006 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

    bobmorris: Actually, if you want to hide your email address in text, I’ve written about a couple methods to hide your email address, but the best and easiest for working with WordPress.com is to use ascii character entities to replace your email text. You can also use the silly but useful “fred at blank dot com” if you need to.

    I agree with the rest of you that privacy, especially for those whose lives are “at risk” is a good idea, but not for everyone else. We don’t have to know your name, though a first name helps, just let us know why we should take you seriously. If we want more, we’ll have to verify if what you say is true.

    As I said, your writing should back up your resume and your expertise. Without quality and qualified writing, then how can we take you serious no matter how many letters you have after your name?

    For those who need to blog with protection, bless their freedom inspired souls. For the rest of the lazy butts who expect us to flock to their blogs and enjoy what they have to say, let us know why we should care about what you have to say.

  5. Posted January 28, 2006 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    One excellent anonymous blog is Baghdad Burning, written by a youngish mom in Baghdad. No one knows who she is. And given the turbulence there and the directness of her writing, no doubt she needs to stay anonymous.

    http://riverbendblog.blogspot.com/

    Amother great way of anonymizing email addresses is the Hiveware Encoder. Enter your email address, it produces and encoded email link that can by cut-and-pasted into a blog, the email click works fine, but spam harvesters can’t read it.

    http://automaticlabs.com/products/enkoderform

  6. Posted June 23, 2006 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    Here is my definition of anonymity: you may not leave your real name and still that would not be anonymity (and anyway, “what’s in a name ?”). Anonymity is when you leave no handles for others to recognize you or get back to you.

    When someone knocks at my door without a name tag on his Tshirt or without telling a name, that’s not anonymity. Next time, I will know that someone from his face. But if he is wearing a mask, that’s anonymity, and that’s evil.

    When you call people up on the phone without telling your name, that’s not anonymity. Your phone number shows on their LCD display, and they can call you back, filter your calls, or setup a special ring tone next time you call. But if you hide your number, that’s anonymity, and that’s evil.

    When I leave a comment on Lorelle’s blog with a pseudonym in the ‘name’ field, that’s not anonymity. Lorelle knows it’s ‘yet another (pointless) comment from mandarine’. But if I change my pseudonym each time I comment, of if I do not leave a valid email address, that’s anonymity, and that’s evil.

    My point is: you need not (should not, must not) tell too much about you. In each context, you need to offer people a token that defines your identity in that context. It can be a face (on the streets), a name tag (at work), a pseudonym (for political blogging), a license plate (for the highway police), a social security number (for the hospitals), a phone number (for AT&T), a wisp of perfume (for secret lovers), a passport number (for customs), a eye scan (for defense contractors), you-name-it. If you give none or fake any, that anonymity, and that’s evil.

  7. Anonymous
    Posted December 20, 2007 at 8:21 am | Permalink

    I’m sorry, but I’m afraid the author makes a baldly fallacious argument.

    All people are biased, whether they can bear to admit it or not (in fact, by denying bias, one admits bias in favor of oneself). The anonymous fallacy (see here) is nothing more than an expression of the desire of the reader to quickly and efficiently categorize the writer according to the reader’s biases. It is effectively an ad hominem attack, but an even flimsier variation than the usual; instead of discounting the content of a given statement based on the identity of the author and his [real or alleged] flaws, it is based on his *presumed* flaws, with that presumption based *solely* on his *lack* of identity — a logical absurdity.

    In short: it is preemptive character assassination.

    It is true that to verify every statement on its own merits may slow the progress of a debate, and for that reason it may be advantageous to identify oneself if you are reasonably confident that doing so will not hopelessly derail the conversation with ad hominem and other associative fallacies, but experience shows us that all too many discussions suffer this fate — or worse — particularly online (see here).

    The bottom line is that a given statement is either true, false, or indeterminable [given available information]; there is rarely a need to know the identity of the participants in a discussion to determine which of these conclusions apply, except perhaps as unique aliases to avoid confusion, and unless the subject at hand entails questions of a personal nature.

    The author includes quotations which suggest that unless we can identify the writer, an online discussion will inevitably devolve into a cesspool of trolling. It is true that trolls are annoying, but their posts can be easily spotted and overlooked. The solution to mostly harmless annoyances — such as mosquitoes — is to ignore them if possible, and swat them if necessary. Those of us who prefer to remain anonymous (whenever possible) do so *because of* the tendency of trolls to derail an otherwise meaningful conversation. By remaining anonymous, little to no ammunition is available to the trolls, leaving only the substance of the discussion to assail. And as we all know, trolls are generally not equipped to participate at that level.

    Nowhere in any known variant of the scientific method does it state that the personal identities of those providing the data must be known in order to validate the authenticity of that data. It is a fallacy to suggest such a necessity. Please stop doing it.


9 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] Lorelle on WordPress -blogissa kirjoitetaan siitä, miksi anonymiteetti bloggaamisessa on huono valinta. Kirjoittaja siteeraa The Aardward Speaks -blogin tekstiä: Many anonymous bloggers are anonymous only so that they can, under the relative protection of anonymity, lie as much as they want, denounce other people, verbally attack anybody without having to base their writring on facts, and generally just write any crap they wish without having to answer for it…I suspect that most of them would never have the guts to post under their real names because they know they’d instantly lose their credibility in the real world if somebody reads what they’re writing…. (The Aardwark Speaks: Why I’m against anonymous blogs) [...]

  2. [...] I had originally posted this text as a comment to Lorelle’s post ‘the debate against anonymous bloggers’, but now that I have a functional blogging platform, it can fit nicely in here too (albeit with much less traffic). Lorelle underlines that readers need to know somehow who is behind the keyboard when they read something. Whether or not you blog anonymously is up to you, as is the amount of information you provide on your blog and About Page. You are in charge of what you share publicly. Just understand that your audience may need some form of information in order to make a connection with you. [...]

  3. [...] debate over anonymous bloggers has gone on since the beginning of the web, pre-blogging. For the most part, names that look like [...]

  4. [...] the years, there as been an ongoing debate about anonymous bloggers as more and more people take to the Information Highway to have their say. For some, anonymity is a [...]

  5. [...] subject of anonymous bloggers and those who leave comments is not exactly a new controversy. Basically the moment you [...]

  6. […] The Debate Against Anonymous Bloggers […]

  7. […] or related posts? Do you have a site map or index? Can they easily find out who you are, what the purpose and goal of the blog is, and how to contact […]

  8. […] are even debates today, long after you would think they would be settled, on whether or not bloggers should blog anonymously, and how they should protect themselves online. Many now say that with the move towards […]

  9. […] in many cases there seems no reasonable argument for anonymity. Lorelle the WordPress goddess has written at length about […]

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