Anonymous Blogging and Outing (Update)
There’s a bit of a kerfuffle rippling through the sphere today (which means, of course, that most of us are going to comment). Ed Whelan, who blogs over at NRO has outed Publius who blogs at Obsidian Wings.
There seem to be mixed feelings as to whether what Whelan did is “ethical” or not. In terms of ethics, we’re essentially talking about right and wrong. Is it right or wrong to reveal the name of an anonymous blogger?
And the answer?
Well, it depends. It depends on what action by the anonymous blogger might drive such a decision by another blogger. I’m sure if I thought long and hard enough I could come up with a few that I think would justify doing so. But one of them wouldn’t be because some blogger had been “biting at my ankles in recent months.”
I’m sorry but that comes with the territory of blogging.
Heat. Kitchen. Either grow a thick skin or quit blogging.
If you are going to write and post publicly, and if you have any prominence whatsoever, someone is going to bite at your ankles. But that certainly isn’t a good reason to out someone who, for whatever reason they may have, has chosen to remain anonymous by using a pseudonym.
Oh sure, you can flog him or her for not having the gonads to use their real name and come out from behind the screen and stand by what they say (and that has some validity as an argument), but you don’t just decide you have the right to violate that person’s privacy because you’re annoyed.
For years I was simply “McQ” on the net and the blog for various and sundry privacy reasons. Certainly there were those who knew who I was, but they too respected my decision to maintain my anonymity. And that included people I annoyed on a regular basis. The decision to use my real name was mine and mine alone. As it so happens, I decided that if I wanted to be taken more seriously I should be willing to sign my work with my real name.
I find Whelan’s outing of Publius to be very bad form -unethical- especially for the reason given. If I had a nickel for every anonymous ankle biter I’ve endured for years, I’d be retired. The trick in dealing with them is not to do something as juvenile and “ethics challenged” as violating their privacy, but instead by making tight and considered arguments which leave them little room for rational criticism. At that point they usually do one of two things – go irrational and begin the inevitable descent into ad hominum attacks or go away.
What Whelan just did instead was create a martyr and become the bad guy. And his poor judgment in this case ends up hurting his own credibility while adding at least sympathetic weight to his antagonists arguments.
Many people on the internet want anonymity for a variety of reasons. Certainly some abuse it. But the unspoken rule of netiquete is you don’t reveal another’s private information publicly over some silly disagreement – ever. Whelan did exactly that and for that act, deserves all the condemnation he’s now receiving.
A blogger may choose to blog under a pseudonym for any of various self-serving reasons, from the compelling (e.g., genuine concerns about personal safety) to the respectable to the base. But setting aside the extraordinary circumstances in which the reason to use a pseudonym would be compelling, I don’t see why anyone else has any obligation to respect the blogger’s self-serving decision. And I certainly don’t see why someone who has been smeared by the blogger and frequently had his positions and arguments misrepresented should be expected to do so.
Of course the desire for privacy is always “self-serving”. Why that is a justification for outing someone remains a mystery. Whelan, however, thinks he has the right to be the sole arbiter of what is or isn’t a “compelling” reason.
Few reasonable people are going to buy into that bit of illogic. If, as Whelan admits, a person can have a compelling reason for privacy, where does someone like Whelan derive the right to determine it isn’t compelling enough?