Sunday, June 7, 2009

Blogosphere Karma is Undone by Outing of Anonymous Blogger!

With regard to the whole "Anonymous" posting and outing issue making the rounds this morning, I'm throwing my two cents into the blogosphere along with everyone else.

My personal feeling is that it isn't Whelan's business to out anybody. However obnoxious he found Publius to be, whatever his own personal grievances against him may be, if Publius wanted to be anonymous then let him be.

Publius (John Blevins - now) offers his reasons for wishing to stay anonymous, which seem valid to me:

"Professionally, I’ve heard that pre-tenure blogging (particularly on politics) can cause problems. And before that, I was a lawyer with real clients. I also believe that the classroom should be as nonpolitical as possible – and I don’t want conservative students to feel uncomfortable before they take a single class based on my posts. So I don’t tell them about this blog. Also, I write and research on telecom policy – and I consider blogging and academic research separate endeavors. This, frankly, is a hobby.

"Privately, I don’t write under my own name for family reasons. I’m from a conservative Southern family – and there are certain family members who I’d prefer not to know about this blog (thanks Ed). Also, I have family members who are well known in my home state who have had political jobs with Republicans, and I don’t want my posts to jeopardize anything for them (thanks again)."

James Joyner at Outside the Beltway nails it on this one. He points out that sometimes in the interest of public good, it is necessary to out people - for example, when a public official is abusing power. "Here, however, there is no public benefit achieved. Whelan is simply annoyed that Publius had been 'biting at my ankles in recent months' and critiquing his blog posts. Jeopardizing a man’s career and family relationships over something so petty is simply shameful."

I've struggled for a while with the issue of anonymous commenters. Many blogs have moderated comments and some require an email address. I quote Stacy McCain here who addressed this issue in his post today. Comments on his blog are moderated. He said, "What I won't tolerate is an anonymous commenter of mysterious motives trying to use my bandwidth to attack me. (Effectively, that is. I have no trouble approving abusive comments so long as they are so self-evidently idiotic as to be unpersuasive.)"

My blog comments are not moderated because frankly, I don't get enough for it to be a problem. I've had both types of commenters Stacy mentions though, I've had anonymous commenters who want to push their agenda and I've had the ones who are so ignorant I don't have to bother with them. The point is, they choose to be anonymous. In some ways I find it cowardly but then I also understand that maybe they have valid reasons.

Consider, for example, the issues that Blevins cites for wishing to post anonymously. He was concerned about career and family issues. And what of the civil service employee who is forbidden to express his political opinion publically? He could lose his tenure or retirement or his job because he wanted to express an opinion.

So in the case of Blevins and Whelan, you have to consider, is it worth screwing up somebody's life just to "out" them? What did Whelan gain from it? What does Blevins lose? Should NRO take action and fire Whelan?

The whole sordid business upsets the karma of the blogosphere and really should have been a private issue between the two of them.

In the spirit of aggregation, here are some of my blogging buddies and what they have to say:

Outer Objects to Outing at Legal Insurrection
Will Blevins/Publius Be 'Dooced'? at The Other McCain
I'm OK with the whole outing gestalt at A Conservative Lesbian
Obsidian Wings, outed at Althouse
Poll: When is it OK to Out Anonymous Bloggers? at Hot Air


Gary Farber said...

You've got "anonymous" and "pseudonymous," two completely different concepts, confused.

Lots of writers use pseudonyms; that doesn't make them in the least anonymous. An anonymous person is someone with no record.

Pat Austin Becker said...

Point taken, Gary, but the issue is the same. The blogger using the pseudonym Publius lost his anonymity thanks to the outing by Whelan. But technically speaking, you are correct.

As to those who leave comments under "anonymous" there is no record. And that can be irritating!

Carol said...

Pat, I have to disagree with you on this one. Publius stated reasons for posting anonymously seem a little weak to me. As I wrote over at my place, when have you ever heard of a professor's job being endangered because he's too liberal?

Anyway, outing somebody doesn't seem very nice and I can't imagine I would do it. On the other hand, if someone has something to say they should say and not hide behind a fake name.

yukio ngaby said...

I gotta disagree with Carol on this one. Certainly a professor's job can be endangered by his/her political views no matter what the bent. You can be liberal in the wrong way (it's not hard at all in the labyrinthine and shifting academic world).

I personally see nothing wrong with pseudonyms and pen-names-- especially in the realm of non-professional blogging.

Anonymity is different-- as Gary Farber smartly points out.

Red said...

I don't know. I say if you're going to play you have to know at some point you'll have to pay. That's a risk he (Publius) took. The Marquis of Queensbury rules do not apply to the blogosphere (unless it's mutual). No need to vilify Whelan. They both made choices.

snaggletoothie said...

I blog anonymously and I feel no need to justify that to anyone. I'm sure that someone with skills could crack in and discover my name and address. But who would? I just have a tiny blog that I spend time on for my own amusement. I doubt that anyone would think I am worth that much trouble.
I think that anonymity is the default setting of the net. I don't feel that the blogger whose anonymity was breached had any obligation to justify his choice.
I am convinced that the blogger who outed his fellow blogger, despite any protestations to the contrary, acted as he did out of malignant hate, spite and revenge. He was unhinged and behaving irrationally.
Even though the whole episode was weird and out there it was all just business as usual for the net. The net remains a frontier were rules and standards are still in the midst of being defined and set.