To pseudonym or not

Not to make this my own personal blog, but there’s been another series of events over the past few days that, I think, in a small way relates to what we’ve been doing here. These events all relate to the idea of bloggers using a pseudonym instead of their real name.

As those who follow the liberal blogosphere as closely as I do are aware, the blogger publius over at Obsidian Wings was “outed” late last week by Ed Whelan, a current blogger for the National Review Online, and a former Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the OLC. From the looks of it, the two got into a verbal scuffle, and Whelan decided that publius’ identity was fair game.

When we at DL Cinci first started this blog, we all decided to use pseudonyms for a variety of reasons. For one, some of this was a lark – I don’t think that any of us truly thought we’d still have the blog actively running almost four years later. But I think mostly, none of us really knew with 100% certainty what we were getting into, and so we felt it was a good idea for us all to use fake names, just to be on the safe side.

I had originally decided to take on the pseudonym of a character from Saved By The Bell, because I figured that if I was going to pick a fake name to write under, I might as well use the most ridiculous one possible that had a fun pop culture aspect to it (my first choice was the name of the dog from Family Guy – sadly, that one was already taken). I changed mine a few months ago, somewhat because I just tired of using that name anymore, and somewhat because my posts on the tea parties were starting to gin up some debate and interest, and I figured that if I needed to defend my arguments further, it might be a good idea to not use a pseudonym like that. I still choose not to use my real name, though it probably wouldn’t be too difficult to figure out who I am – I don’t think there’s too much controversial that I’ve said on here that would get me into trouble, and judging from the traffic on the site I’m not too concerned about an angry mob waiting to take me down.

I know many bloggers in town, and probably know a few that blog that I’m not even aware of. Some use their real name, and some use a pseudonym of some sort. Those that use pseudonyms have very good reasons not to use their real name. There are doctors, lawyers, professors, civil servants, and people from many other walks of life that have something intelligent to add to the blogosphere, but fear that using their real name could affect their career. Many would rather not use their real name because they feel it could affect their family life in some way.

I think there are few reasons why a blogger should in any way be forced to reveal their identity. If someone is using their blog for the sole purpose of slandering or demeaning a person or group, then they should be identified. If someone is giving out inside information on an entity which could be damaging, then they should be exposed. If someone is passing themselves off as something that they’re not (i.e. former sergeant in the armed forces, medical doctor, etc.), then they should be revealed. Generally speaking, as long as someone is making general arguments as a regular citizen, and isn’t unfairly trying to destroy another person or entity, there’s no reason to tell them they shouldn’t be allowed to voice their opinion without using their real name.

Spite, disagreement, revenge, or anything in that family should never be a reason for a blogger to be “outed”. When these are the reasons, it’s not about the outed being malicious; it’s about the outer being malicious.

Doing it for these reasons is pure intimidation and thuggery, and it works on two different levels. First, it puts the identity of the outed blogger on the internet for all the world to see, and can jeopardize their family, safety, or job security (ask Dan Drezner how it went for him after his identity was exposed).

Second, it also serves as a warning shot to anyone that ever wants to blog anything under a pseudonym. ‘You want to put something out there? Fine, but I might dig up your identity and put your name out there. And it doesn’t have to be because you’re trying to use your blog for malicious purposes. No, I can just decide to do it because I don’t like what you’re writing’.

So what happens then? People with intelligent viewpoints decide not to post them on a blog, for fear of having their identity revealed, and putting themselves (and their family) potentially in professional or personal danger. And I'd love to say that this is a bi-partisan issue, but about every recent "outing" seems to be of a liberal blogger, and the level of threats against bloggers seems greatly to come from the right-wing side (there really is no lefty equivalent of Free Republic/Little Green Footballs etc.).

In the end, a post, article, or comment should be judged based on the quality of that piece, and not necessarily by whether that person attaches his/her name to it. That's how arguments ought to be waged, by making a quality case and refuting the points of your opponent in a clear and intelligent manner.

That didn't happen here. This was purely a case of a writer not liking criticism that he received, and deciding that, rather than challenge the blogger's criticisms, he should just go ahead and personally attack the blogger personally. Maybe if a blogger feels that another blogger isn't worthy to criticize him/her, that blogger ought to just ignore the criticism. Or, if it bothers them that much, then maybe blogging isn't the right medium for that person.

(For what it's worth, since I began writing this post a couple days ago, Whelan did apologize to publius, and he did go further than the usual "I'm sorry if you were offended" perfunctory line. Granted, it took him two days to do so, and he spent the majority of those days defending his actions. Perhaps having the majority of bloggers on both sides of the spectrum take the opinion that he crossed the line finally got to him. Whatever the reason, publius has accepted his apology. He's a better man than I. This is kind of like having someone push you in front of a bus, defend their actions for days on end, and then say 'sorry about that, let's be buds now'. But that's not my call.)

5 comments:

rev.ritchie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
rev.ritchie said...

AB,

I really don't like you. So I am hereby outing you.

A.B. said...

BLACKMOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOORE!!!

grif said...

Okay. My real name is Matilda Oxnard. I am 6ft 7in and work as a showgirl in Vegas during my summer breaks from the beauty academy.

rev.ritchie said...

Me, I am a real life reverend, but I have lived a life of sin. That includes late-night visits to Matilda Oxnard. I am only 5'8", but somehow... my eyes were at the right elevation.