Free Markets, Free People
And apologizes to Publius for doing something he shouldn’t have done and can’t undo:
On reflection, I now realize that, completely apart from any debate over our respective rights and completely apart from our competing views on the merits of pseudonymous blogging, I have been uncharitable in my conduct towards the blogger who has used the pseudonym Publius. Earlier this evening, I sent him an e-mail setting forth my apology for my uncharitable conduct. As I stated in that e-mail, I realize that, unfortunately, it is impossible for me to undo my ill-considered disclosure of his identity. For that reason, I recognize that Publius may understandably regard my apology as inadequate.
Ed Whelan has written both publicly and privately and apologized. I know it was not an easy thing to do, and it is of course accepted. I therefore consider the matter done, and don’t intend on writing about it anymore.
Hat tip to Whelan for apologizing and making it public. That took some courage. And to Publius for the gracious acceptance. Lesson?
You don’t get to decide whether or not the privacy concerns of another are legitimate (unless very specific types of exceptions are extant – “shouting fire in the theater” type) – that’s why we talk about privacy rights. It appears Whelan has finally figured that out.
I enjoy analyzing arguments. Not two people shouting at each other mind you, but arguments people make to support their positions.
Yesterday I posted about Ed Whelan of NRO outing Publius of Obsidian Wings (no, I’m not going to use Publius’s name). I found it to be a very juvenile reaction to what appeared to me a fairly typical blog war – someone wrote something, another disagreed, and they went back and forth hammering each other’s arguments. But in terms of provocation that might warrant what Whelan did, I found nothing.
Simon Owens, at Bloggasm, contacted each of the parties involved and talked to them about what had happened. If you’ve read each of their blog posts, the reasons given are mostly a recapitulation of those. However there were some other interesting arguments used, one of which I found very wanting.
Whelan even objected to the term “outed,” which has been used by many (including me) to describe what he had done to Blevins. “I think the word ‘outed’ confuses understanding here. I think people are drawing on the ugliness of identifying that someone is homosexual. In this context, to say I outed publius, well publius doesn’t exist. I identified who’s hiding behind publius. I think to identify someone who is blogging behind a pseudonym is very different than exposing some private aspect of a person’s life. I think that the term outing confuses things.”
I don’t think it confuses anyone but Ed Whelan. He claims that publius didn’t exist. But neither did the person pretending to be straight. In the case of the homosexual, both personalities may have had the same name, but one of them certainly doesn’t exist in reality. It is a pseudo-personality. Outing is a completely apropos description of what Whelan did and nonsense such as this argument is just epic rationalization in an attempt to justify the unjustifiable.
Publius makes the argument that he’s not really anonymous, but is instead an established personality with a reputation. And the reputation, achieved while writing under that name and on that blog is of value to him and something he doesn’t take lightly.
“It’s one thing for an anonymous commenter to come in and just be a flame thrower, but what I do is I write pseudonymously, and I have a reputation of my own. It’s an online reputation. It’s a reputation that I care about, that I’ve invested a lot in, and I don’t want to be embarrassed in the blogosphere. I try to think through my arguments. To say there’s no real world effect, I don’t agree with that, because if I write something stupid, I’m going to get called out for that. In fact, I have written stupid things and I got called out and it affected my reputation. So I do have some reputational incentives to be honest, to be respectful in all these things.”
Given that, the arguments on both sides should have been dealt with on their merits and nothing else.
“A law professor should especially be held to minimal standards, and I was surprised that this guy was a law professor given the poor legal understanding of his posts. Let me be clear, I have no objection to bloggers who want to hide behind pseudonyms, but if someone is hiding behind a pseudonym to take cheap shots at me, I don’t think I owe him any favors.”
And outing him did what to enhance Whelan’s arguments or counter those of Publius?
Zip. Zero. Nada. Nothing.
The fact that Whelan’s outing of Publius added nothing of weight to his arguments nor took away from those of Publius smacks of petty vindictiveness. He knew he could hurt Publius by doing something to him that Publius had carefully avoided over the years. In a word it was petty. Juvenile. Something a 10 year old would do.
The more I read Whelan the less I care for him. He may be a heck of a bright guy intellectually, but socially and ethically he’s still in grade school.
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?