Free Markets, Free People


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.

UPDATE: Whelan is obviously unfamiliar with the First Law of Holes:

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?

~McQ

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37 Responses to Anonymous Blogging and Outing (Update)

  • As your post recognizes, it isn’t necessary to construct elaborate rules of blogger ethics to conclude that Whalen acted like an ass.  He lost his cool and lashed out in a petty, vindictive way, intending to do harm.  We have no idea whether his violation of publius’s privacy will do no harm or great harm, but whatever the consequences Whelan had a reprehensible motive.  I can’t imagine any set of ethics that would condone that.

  • I comment on blogs with this name, “Neo”, because my name is the same as a well known Democrat.
    I was once asked by Jonah Goldberg if I was that politician, when I e-mailed him.

    There is a funny story about the day my wife call Bill Bradley’s office and his secretary’s Caller ID showed my name.

  • As I’ve said elsewhere, I am singularly unimpressed with the defenders of  “Publius”.

    I am reminded of the signatories to the Declaration of Independence, and the consequences they all, to a man suffered at the hands of King George. I suggest the consequences “Publius” might now face pale in comparison. If we take that lesson, though, taking a stand means having the courage to subject yourself to the consequences… both good and bad… of that stand. That is the courage “Publius” lacks.

    One can fully understand why he would choose to write his stuff anonymously.  I’d be embarrassed by it, too.

    (Full disclosure: I’ve been known for years as “BitHead” but never made a secret of my real identity, posting under both banners on Usenet for years. Mostly, a promotional exercise, truth be told.  )

     

    • Shorter Bithead – as long as its an annoying liberal being outted, that’s fine. The principle of privacy – no biggie.

    • Yeah, but does all this really rise to the “Lives, Fortunes and Sacred Honor” level?

    • Eric – The issue, as I see it, is not defending Publius, but judging Whelan’s actions on the basis of some objective standard of respectability.  Forget the whole question of right and wrong for a minute.  Whelan could have chosen to be bigger than Publius or he could have descended to the level of pettiness and meanness.  He chose the latter.  And in doing so Whelan has revealed much more about his own character than he did that of Publius.

  • Everything the right does these days is full of fail.  From Tiller & Notre Dame to cheering torture to outing opponents who best them in a debate.  It’s probably just liberal media propaganda though.

  • So, is this viciousness a portent to the demise of the fledgling blogosphere? Is it the birthing of a Jerry Springeresque type of atmosphere surely to be promulgated by the main stream media so as to put things in the proper perspective for the masses? Is the blogosphere just entertainment?

    I don’t know, for myself, I can’t think of a greater waste of time than listening to backbiting old women. Then again, Springer’s got a certain audience and seems to be doing quite well with it.

  • Shorter Bithead – as long as its an annoying liberal being outted, that’s fine. The principle of privacy – no biggie.

    Oh, I’m sure there are some who will read it that way.  I can’t be held responsible for other people’s fantasies, however. 

    In any event, since when is anyone in a public medium protected as to their identity?  You’re not talking about law, here, you’re talking about courtesy, remember.  Exactly what part of Publius and his continuous attacks ,  can be considered courteous?  On what basis does he consider himself deserving of courtesy when he gives none? 

  • And by the way, Bruce, you should know better.
    Look again; I said nothing of the politics of the man.

    • I only know what you write. Publius is what he is and I’ve never seen you yet stand on principle when a liberal could be skewered.

  • Obviusly, in this case, you were judging by something other than what I wrote, since I didn’t say anything about his politics.  It’s true enough that I find his politics detestable and infantile, but I consider that to be a separate issue from what I wrote. 

    I accepted face value, your statement that your concern is for ethics.  Fine.  You tell me, Bruce, what is an ethical about questioning someone’s integrity, from behind a cloak of anonymity, where an in-kind response is impossible?

    • I reacted to what you wrote and applied your reputation.

      Everything I read, from both of them, never saw anyone’s “integrity” impugned. Instead you saw the usual back and forth of a political argument.

      Whelan’s excuse boils down to Publius being annoying. Tough sh*t. If you can’t handle annoying any better than that then you don’t need to be blogging.

  • If political viewpoints were not dangerous to hold professionally, this would not be a problem.

  • I reacted to what you wrote and applied your reputation

    It strikes me that my rep is something that you should revisit, then. The accuracy of it, as it’s been spread in certain quarters, seems an issue.  And since when do you listen to those quarters, in any event? 

    If political viewpoints were not dangerous to hold professionally, this would not be a problem.

    Mildly interesting but unavailing, since it plays the other way, too….It also wouldn’t have been an issue if ‘Publius” had the courage of his convictions.

    • Your reputation has been established right here in the comment section of this blog for years. I don’t have to look any further.

  • Explain to me how it is I stepped outside principle, Bruce, and when.
    And whose principles am I being judged by? Are these the same folks who encouraged leftists to take photos of RNC delegates in the hope of catching them in some compromising position, for example?

  • I cower behind my nom de guerre because I enjoy working and living in L.A.  I like my friends as well, the poor misguided liberals that they are.

  • I stand on the principle that since the left, collectively, has made outing conservative bloggers, etc, gfair game, that they have zero moral authority to complain about it.

    You, Brice, have stood on principle, and have the right to complain.

  • Agreed, Gronz.

    Further, I’ll stand with Don Surber on this.

  • Bithead,
    Imagine if you will, some member of the MSM decides that all of the criticism that member received from any given blogger, some of it quite venomous, gave them justification to out personal, private information of that blogger.
    I’m quite sure that if a Katie Couric or somebody similar, had posted personal, private information of a blogger wishing to remain anonymous, you would be up in arms.  I’m positive of it.

    Remember Joe the Plumber?  Remember when the media decided to publish all that information about him?  His tax situation, his real name, his employer, all of that.  Remember?  Remember the outrage?

    This is not that much different.

    Cheers.

    • Oh, absolutely right Pogue.  Ed Whelan used the power of a state agency to dig up a private citizen’s personal information.

      Retard fail, Pogue.  Retard fail.

      • Really?

        First of all, we don’t know how Whelan obtained the information he did.  He so far has just stated that, “I’ve been reliably informed that publius is in fact the pseudonym of law professor John F. Blevins of the South Texas College of Law.”  We don’t know how Whelan got this.  Did he or his “reliable information” dig through the trash, did he sift through documents from whereever?
        It matters not how he got this information, whether through invasion or a little bird told him.  The result is the same.  We have someone not putting forth by choice, personal and private information, and another making publicly this information not put forth by the original without permission.

        If this is retarded, then you should have no problem explaining the difference in outcome.
        No matter what method, no matter what motivation.

        So tell us.  How is the outcome different?

        • Oh come on, Pogue.  I’m explicitly not arguing the outcome, I’m arguing method.  If you were being honest here, you’d realize that the outrage over JTP was precisely because of the State resources used. 

          You’re whipped, and you know it, so you attempt to change the terms of the debate.  I’m not going to chase your red herring.  Just take your beating like a man.

          • Oh come on, Pogue.  I’m explicitly not arguing the outcome, I’m arguing method.

            And I’m arguing outcome.  Not method.
            Clearly it’s just a matter of degree.

            Just take your beating like a man.

            Pfft.
            The only thing you’re beating is your pecker.

          • Pogue.  Wake up.  Joe the Plumber did not meet the combined forces of the local Democratic Party machine and the national press as an equal.  Publius and Whelan more or less did meet as equals.   There’s absolutely, unquestionably, no equivalence here.  Again, you know it.  You’re beaten, oik. 

            I would rename my pecker “Pogue Mahone”, but it has a more intelligent output.

          • Pogue.  Wake up.  Joe the Plumber did not meet the combined forces of the local Democratic Party machine and the national press as an equal.

            Well, I never did state they were equal.
            I stated that they weren’t that much different.  In that you had the same outcome.  Personal and private information published without permission by political foes.  There’s just no getting around that.

            I would rename my pecker “Pogue Mahone”, but it has a more intelligent output.

            Heh.   You would rename your pecker “kiss my ass”?

            Eeww.
            You’re nasty.

          • “You’re nasty.”

            Hey, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

            I’m afraid we’re going to have to agree to disagree on the other, although I genuinely believe that you are smart enough to know better.  There are unbridgeable gulfs both in method  – which you haven’t argued, and for good reason – and in scope of outcomes.  Sometimes, a difference in degree is a difference is kind, or so my ontology professor used to say.

          • LOL.
            Dude, … you just can’t win on this battlefield, man.  I own this muthafukin’ turf.
            This is the ground I stomp on.

            Check it out…

            Hey, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

            Heh.  I never asked you what you wanted to rename your pecker.  That was your voluntary information.

            But nevertheless, let us part on common ground.

            I’m afraid we’re going to have to agree to disagree on the other, although I genuinely believe that you are smart enough to know better.  There are unbridgeable gulfs both in method  – which you haven’t argued, and for good reason – and in scope of outcomes.  Sometimes, a difference in degree is a difference is kind, or so my ontology professor used to say.

            Yeah; Okay.
            Was what Whelan did to Blevins as egregious as what the MSM did to Wurzelbacher?

            No.

            Clearly the difference in power of the MSM in relation to Wurzelbacher pales in comparison to this idiot at NRO in relation to Blevins.  There would be no denying that.
            But what the question at hand is, is what is right and what is wrong.  The same principle applies to the MSM in relation to JTP, as to Whelan and Blevins. 

            Take for example my wishes to remain anonymous for professional reasons (it doesn’t matter why I wish to remain anonymous).  My wishes for privacy should be held with the same sacrosanct no matter if I’m a lowly commenter on a blog, or a front page poster on a popular blog, or front and center asking valid questions to a candidate for president.
            It all boils down to the same respect for personal privacy.

            And unless I’m advocating criminal behaviour, or inciting riots, or displaying tendencies for criminal behaviour, no one, anywhere, should violate my desires for privacy.  Not Whelan, not the press, not anybody.

            You surely must agree, Mr. Smith.
            To do so would stiffle our inherent desire to express ourselves in the political arena.  And a violation does more harm to the process, than what Whelan claims to experience by someone’s “reckless blogging.”  Whelan’s actions should be condemned.  Or at least come with the acceptance of certain consequences.  And those consequences should be encouraged by his peers.

            Including you.

            Cheers.

    • Imagine if you will, some member of the MSM decides that all of the criticism that member received from any given blogger, some of it quite venomous, gave them justification to out personal, private information of that blogger.

      You mean, kinda like what angry lefties did in the wake of Proposition 8 passing, in California? Publicizing the names of and digging up dirt on proponents of the measure, with the explicit goal of getting some of them fired? Or John Aravosis’ AmericaBlog’s entire modus operandi, “outing” closeted Republicans?

      Sure, not exact factual analogues, but close enough for government work.

      The tears of sanctimonious lefty asswipes sustain me.

  • Remember Joe the Plumber?

    Of course.  But you’re going to find that my only comment on that was to the effect that it marked a certain desperation on the part of the leftist press. And so it did. Now, you can use that point in the case of Blevans, too, if you like, but it doesn’t quite seem to mesh. … There are several other differences which also tend to blunt your point. 

    Among these;  Joe wasn’t a bomb tosser, and never claimed anonimity.  And I don’t recall anyone having revealed Blevans’ tax situation, which is of course private infomration, or should be.

    • But you’re going to find that my only comment on that was to the effect that it marked a certain desperation on the part of the leftist press.

      Really?  So you had no opinion that the MSM made available private information of “Joe the Plumber”?  You didn’t think it was improper for the press to publish information as to who was the employer of “Joe”?
      Oh I think you do.  And that’s exactly what Whelan did.  He published the name and employer of someone wishing to remain anonymous.

      And so to you, that’s justifiable because he didn’t have, “the courage of his convictions.”
      So tell me, did “Joe the Plumber” have the courage of his convictions?  After all, he didn’t identify himself by his real name, Samuel Wurzelbacher.
      Wurzelbacher approached Obama with a valid question, although veiled in a hypothetical situation, and the press dug up his entire history without permision.  This was in my mind unconscionable and clearly a violation in ethics.  Wurzelbacher gave no one permision to dig up his personal, private information.  Yet the press did that, and they were rightly crucified by some, and the information was shamelessly exploited by others.
      Personally, I think Joe is exploited by both the Right and the Left.  But honestly, I hope he makes a lot of money in the process.

      And actually, Wurzelbacher’s scenario is a perfect reasoning to remain anonymous.  In this day and age, anyone willing to comment or question politicians and the media, is subject to an unsolicited hailstorm of scrutiny and subjective judgement.  Effectively turning one’s life upside down.

      And what’s most amusing to me right now, Bithead, is your asstounding hypocrisy on the subject.
      Do you or do you not, co-blog with people sporting the names “DavidL” and “Fersboo”?

      Do you think your co-bloggers have “the courage of their convictions”?
      Do you think they should be outed?

      Just to be clear.

      You know.

      Because if you like…
      Let’s see… you’re out of Rochester, NY.  Ulster County.

      Just say the word, mate.  And with a little bit of digging through the county’s website, I bet anyone of us could come with all kinds of information.

      Unless you think that would be wrong.

      Cheers.

  • Let me throw this bit out.  People who communicate under their own name will tend to choose their words more carefully because they shape their reputation.  People who can communicate anonymously/pseudonymously have more leeway, because they can avoid the results of these communications on their reputations for their ‘open’ lives. 

    This is why there are so many d!@#$ on the internet. 

    By removing publius’ pseudonym, he has put him in the situation of having to care about his reputation.  Effectively, he’s leveled the playing field (though maybe Whalen didn’t care about his reputation, I don’t care).  Publius now has to decide how he communicates effects his life.  While I hope that the content of his commuications do not change (presuming he does endorse them), the manner in which he communicates may be due for a retooling.

  • I can discern no ethical principle that obligates me to respect another’s desire to maintain a semblance of anonymity on the Internet. The appeal to netiquette is spectacularly dumb, inasmuch as netiquette is Internet custom (and increasingly antiquated custom, at that) not a set of normative rules.

    Sure, Whelan disclosed Blevins’ identity out of pique, especially considering that he had the better of the argument. Petulance is a venial sin.

    Had Whelan previously promised to keep Blevins’ identity confidential, then Whelan’s disclosure would have been a violation of that promise and thus genuinely dishonorable.  But Whelan undertook no such obligation. He didn’t owe Blevins a goddamn thing.