Saturday, September 12, 2009

Anonymity on the Web

A commenter to my last post notes, indirectly, that I blog anonymously and that others do not. The implication is that I am not in a position to describe someone who blogs with his full identity as cowardly. I explained in my response to that commenter why I had mentioned 'cowardice' in the context of the post and that, in fact, I thought it was beside the point; so, I removed the term. But, I did think about the implication.

The non-anonymous blogger in question is David Bernstein, who contributes to the group blog The Volokh Conspiracy. Normally, I post comments/replies to blogs which publish something of interest to me. Thus, if Bernstein allowed comments on the posts to which I took exception, I would have commented there. However, he typically does not open comments - a source of irritation to many who frequent VC - so I could not address his posts on Marc Garlasco on that site.

Enough back matter.

I assume that someone who shares his/her identity on a blog (1) has no reason to not do so, and (2) may have reasons to do so. As to (2), I can think of some possible reasons: a) if the author is posting on a group blog where all the other contributors reveal their identities, it might be uncomfortable to not do so ( it's possible that the owners of the blog require contributors to use their names ); b) in some cases, being known as a blogger might be advantageous - professionally or personally. Certainly, being a contributor to VC is considered a feather in one's professional cap among many libertarians and conservatives. Also, posts to a well-known blog could increase interest in one's articles, books, etc.

What about (1), the absence of reasons to remain anonymous? Let's invert it and consider reasons to remain anonymous. These reasons will vary from person to person, naturally. Some might think their blog views could endanger them professionally, or simply give rise to some professional complications. Others might not want friends or relatives to see whatever inner thoughts are disclosed online. Some simply may not be comfortable with being too open on the WWW - either because they are worried about cranks [or worse] tracking them down, or because they regard blogging as a way to try out and express views without worrying about who will read them, or because they are just not comfortable with that degree of openness to the world.

My own reasons for anonymity on the Web, both here and as a commenter on other sites, are a combination of professional concerns and old-fashioned discomfort with the insanely public nature of the enterprise. I do not worry about my employer or colleagues, but I do have some concerns about having my students 'hear' me at my least guarded. And, as I have no clear conception of what I might want to do on this blog in the future, I don't want to impose a cause for self-censoring on myself.

The old-fashionedness is probably self-explanatory. There may be another aspect to it: simply not being a person who desires publicity. Self-effacing on the downside, not self-promoting on the upside.

At any rate, why people do or do not prefer anonymity online is an intriguing question. I do not think everyone who prefers it is cowardly, by any means, although some may be.

But I was amused that the commenter who intended to imply my cowardice commented as 'Anonymous.'

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