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Anonymity Of Blogging

Posted by on Jun 22, 2009
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There was a news story that someone on Twitter pointed out coming out of the U.K. The story is titled Ruling on NightJack author Richard Horton kills blogger anonymity, and it talks about this police officer who’d actually won an award for his blog, but wanted to keep his anonymity because he was a police officer, and, it turns out, many of the things he was writing about he had inside knowledge on.

The judge decided that people who write blogs don’t have the right for any expectation of anonymity, The Times outed him, and now not only is he in trouble, but his blog is gone, and that’s that from the NightJack.

I’m of mixed thoughts on this topic, as I’m betting many of you are. On every one of my blogs, I’m Mitch. On my business websites I’m Mitch. I do have a couple of websites where I don’t mention my name, but it wouldn’t take a heck of a lot for anyone to figure out who I was, especially if they read the disclaimers.

But there are a lot of you out there who are hiding your identities for whatever reason. Though this ruling was in the U.K., you can be pretty safe in figuring that the same rule would apply here. The basic premise is that blogging gives you a public platform, and thus, even being hosted on your own site, the expectation of privacy isn’t valid and won’t be honored. At some point, if you irritated someone else, or someone decided to dig a little bit, you will be found out.

The question is whether you’re exhibiting behavior that makes you need to worry about it or not. For instance, many commenters here don’t use their real names. Y’all know I kind of like to have a real name of some kind to respond to, even if it’s only a nickname. Some of the rest of you believe that you’re protecting yourselves by using the fake name, whereas others of you believe you’re helping to enhance your SEO by using those names; both are false premises. I probably know who most of you are because you’ve forgotten some basics of how to hide yourself, or at least how to try to hide yourself. So, I do know some of y’alls names, but I’m not going to out you because, well, you haven’t irritated me. :-)

Still, this issue of anonymity needs to be explored further. If you had someone on the inside of a corrupt company who was telling the rest of us what was going on, and we wanted to keep getting that information, wouldn’t we be happy with that person having anonymity? Sure, the company wouldn’t be, and they could get an injunction of some sort to get that information, but how secure would we be with that?

We could go to what I’ll call a vanity or community blog site, create an account there of some type, and start writing, making it somewhat harder to track us down if we used some kind of account from a place like Yahoo or Excite as our email address. But those types of sites don’t usually get a lot of attention, so your complaints would be lost in the crowd noise.

And, for most of us, if someone was saying a lot of negative things about us, we might want to know who was saying it, and would be frustrated by someone hiding behind a wall of anonymity, making accusations that we’re not sure how to respond to because sometimes fighting makes you look as guilty as not doing anything.

There is another side, though, which goes with what I’ve always said; sometimes, there are consequences for your actions, and if you feel you’re in the right and can put up with it all, then by all means do what you do, whether you’re the outer or the outee (I know it’s not a word, but it fits here anyway).

I think it prompts an interesting discussion and something to think about. Basically I have nothing much to hide, but I know some of you do. So, what are your thoughts on some of this?


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13 Comments »

I read about this as well. I can only think of a few reasons why a person should be able to not be known behind some blogs. But in the cop case, he shouldn’t have talked about live cases. He should have updated everybody after each case was closed.
.-= Deneil Merritt´s last blog ..Flashback Monday – Recap Of Last Week Posts, Blog Updates, Resources, & Latest News =-.

Mitch Reply:

Deneil, I think what he might have been doing was getting information out in a way to inform the public without embarrassing the department too much, as well as protect himself. However, the big question of privacy is an interesting one overall. I don’t have anything to hide, but many people do. Are my thoughts on the subject legitimate enough to impede upon the beliefs of everyone else? If I’m not under that kind of pressure but someone else is? There’s the issue.

Deneil Merritt Reply:

I have read a few blogs were its best for the blogger to their privacy. I think in those cases where there legitimate reasons for the blogger to have their privacy. Then I think they should be able to do so.
.-= Deneil Merritt´s last blog ..Flashback Monday – Recap Of Last Week Posts, Blog Updates, Resources, & Latest News =-.

June 22nd, 2009 | 5:59 PM
Althea Garner:

This is a ‘dynamite’ topic and even though I still have 47 confidentiality agreements to get out tonight, I feel compelled to stop and add my two cents!

Yeah, I agree with Deneil. If it’s confidential, rather don’t talk about it at all!

If you can’t stand behind your name when stating your opinions or responses, what is left? Freedom of speech is not something we should be ashamed of and if we have something to say, then we have to have the b*lls to put our name to it, or shut the hell up!

Posting anonymously (unless it might get you killed, in which case we only speak to certain authorities and ask for the ‘witness protection program’) is usually done on seemingly trivial matters and the poster takes the cowardly route in saying things he/she would not otherwise say, because a name is not attached.

It’s easy to type a black e-mail, when you know that the person/organization doesn’t know who you are, but if they did…. would you still tack your name on that black e-mail or post?

Unless you are prepared to have your post splashed all over the front page of the newspaper, or have your boss or your mother/wife see it, then rather not post!

I wonder how many of these anonymous posters realize that data forensics can trace their post/e-mail even if it is deleted and also trace them through their IP address!

I will admit this:
In the real estate industry, almost every agent has their name and picture on their biz cards, web site etc. I went against the grain because I wanted to attract people who weren’t looking for a face or a name – rather people who were attracted to a service, so only my business name and logo appears on my web site and biz card with phone numbers.

Seems to be working for me, but when the phone rings, they get the name and any other details they require.

Proud to attach my name – even if I am completely wrong in my assumptions!
.-= Althea Garner´s last blog .. =-.

Mitch Reply:

Hi Althea. You know, I’m totally with you on those people who spout all kinds of garbage. My first introduction to what I’m going to call the modern internet, back in 1996, was newsgroups, and I couldn’t believe a lot of the hateful stuff people would say. I knew that most of those people wouldn’t have dared say that stuff if someone was standing in front of them. I hate when people hide behind anonymity to be nasty towards others.

On the other side, if one were trying to protect themselves from harm, and were posting items under an anonymous name, is it legitimate and safe to force them to use their real names? True, blogging and writing anonymously might not be the best agent for changing their lives for the better, but if it was how they needed to begin so they could progress later,… I’m just not sure.

I guess my biggest problem here is that I know I can’t decide to have it both ways. I’m just not sure which one I hate, or fear, most for others.

June 22nd, 2009 | 9:13 PM

I use a psedonym as you can see here. But it is no great secret that this is my pen name and if you care to investigate, you will get my real name in double quick time without any help from me or anyone else. This pseudonym is to reflect what my blog tries to do, present my musings. Me being a man with the name starting with Rum.

This is not to hide anything. This is to keep my blogworld intact for it does for me.

I have a rule which is our family one handed down from many generations, which has been handed down to my son too. If you cannot do something openly and preferably at home, do not do it. I would include writing/blogging in it.
.-= Rummuser´s last blog ..Do Indians Celebrate Fathers’ Day? =-.

Mitch Reply:

Good stuff, Rummuser. You know, one point about anonymity is what’s coming out of Iran these days. These people would be risking their lives if they’d had to use their real names. I know there’s a place for anonymity, so I don’t condemn that at all. But it does make the overall question harder to decide upon.

June 23rd, 2009 | 4:36 AM
John Dilbeck:

Good morning, Mitch.

You bring up an interesting topic. I’m not sure I have anything useful or interesting to say about it, however.

A few years ago, I made the decision to be open about who I am and it would be very easy to find me, should someone want to do so.

Maintaining privacy while publishing on the Internet seem to be conflicting goals, and I’m not sure it’s possible.

But, I won’t tell anyone how to behave, except when they’re participating on my sites.

I have one community social networking site where I recently instituted a real name policy. Now, all members must use their real first and last names or I’ll delete their accounts.

I was tired of people wanting to advertise on the site, but not take part in the conversations.

There were some objections, but they’ve been dealt with, and now I think all of us on that site will have a better experience.

Other than that, I guess each of us gets to decide for ourselves.

Act on your dream!

JD

Mitch Reply:

Thanks for your opinion, John. I actually believe I could do it, but what would be the overall point? Years ago I had a vanity blog on one of those “diary-blog” sites, with an assumed name, and I basically ranted about the news of the bad; the bad news. It actually helped me get some of that stuff out of my system, I have to admit. And I never personally attacked anyone, which I thought was pretty good also. In the end, though, it was just for ranting; I felt weird trying to add anything personal to it, and I kept trying to go out of my way to make sure I never gave up anything that would lead back to me, mainly because of my business blog.

In the end, I realized that anonymity might have its place, but if my blog writing really wasn’t going to produce anything except “I agree” or “I disagree”, then it was taking away from my primary goals, which are to inform and share, and of course potentially make money in some fashion down the road. so, I write here, and I’m keeping it real, and having a heck of a lot more fun.

June 23rd, 2009 | 3:50 AM

Over at my blog, I don’t have a problem if folks know who I am… and as you may or may not know, Jake is my nickname, but I state my real name, Jeff, is all over the place…

I do have some sites that I just use Admin or something different because of a certain forum that likes to screw people over that use that script…. but like you said, it’s not too hard to figure out!
.-= Jake´s last blog ..Internet Marketing is Full of Surprises! =-.

Mitch Reply:

Thanks for getting into the conversation, Jake. My real first name isn’t Mitch either, but it’s what everyone calls me, and I’ve called myself since I was 13 years old, so there you go. There are few Mitch Mitchell’s in this world born with that name; even the most famous one, the drummer for Hendrix, was really named David, I believe.

Still, I have my name here and everywhere else, my picture’s there on the right with the parrot, it’s on my main business website, and probably only on my finance blog might some people get confused, unless they decide to look at the About page, which I hope they do from time to time.

June 23rd, 2009 | 2:31 PM
Khaled:

I can see why some people use a pseudo name if it can be damaging to their career to express views that may go against their employers views. I use my own name and its less confusing If I post on blogs, but on the forums I use, I often just use a nickname, but anyone wishing to see my real name only has to click on my profile and its there to see. When it comes to a picture of me Im not so keen on that so use a picture my daughter drew of me which I quite like.

Mitch Reply:

I’ve always wondered about that picture and now I get it. lol On forums, you pretty much have to use some kind of pseudonym to get by; sometimes those things can get nasty for whatever reason. I see that as something totally different than blogging, but maybe it’s not. If everyone had to use their own names, people would behave better, that’s for sure.

June 24th, 2009 | 8:40 AM