Posted by: Patrick Allen Foster | January 25, 2014

On Blogging, Pseudonyms, and Such

1. A few days ago, an editor at the big-time science journal Nature decided to out the pseudonymous blogger Dr. Isis — that is, the editor announced her real name to the world. Blogger MarkCC has an excellent post with an overview of the events and good commentary on the larger implications of this behavior:

The community that we’re a part of isn’t something which has been around for all that long. There’s still a lot of fudging around, figuring out the boundaries of our online interactions. When people play games like outing someone who’s using a pseudonym, they’re setting a precedent: they’re declaring to the community that “I know Xs real name, and here it is”. But beyond that, they’re also declaring to the community that “I believe that our community standards should say that this is an appropriate way to deal with conflict”.

I don’t want that to be something that people in my community do.

People use pseudonyms for a lot of different reasons. Some people do for bad reasons, like separating unethical online behavior from their professional identity. But some people do it to avoid professional retaliation for perfectly reasonable behaviors – there are tenure committees at many universities that would hold blogging against a junior faculty; there are companies that don’t won’t allow employees to blog under their real names; there are people who blog under a pseudonym in order to protect themselves from physical danger and violence!

Once you say “If someone makes me angry enough, it’s all right for me to reveal their real identity”, what you’re saying is that none of those reasons matter. Your hurt feelings take precedence. You’ve got the right to decide whether their reasons for using a pseudonym are important enough to protect or not.

Sorry, but no. People’s identities belong to them. I don’t care how mean someone is to you online: you don’t have the right to reveal their identity. Unless someone is doing something criminal, their identity isn’t yours to reveal. (And if they are doing something criminal, you should seriously consider reporting them to the appropriate legal authorities, rather than screwing around online!)

I don’t publish in scientific journals like Nature, but as a blogger who operates under a pseudonym, this case did catch my attention. Mark also notes that an editor at a major scientific journal “has access to all sorts of information about anonymous referees and authors.” Do read the whole thing. H/T: Thoreau (another pseudonymous blogger) at Unqualified Offerings.

2. Freddie deBoer looks at Ezra Klein leaving the Washington Post and has some thoughts on the subject (“how much would it cost to replace Ezra Klein?”):

The essentially replaceable nature of many kinds of workers is something of a truism within the market-liberal thinking that represents the largest part of our media class. Why shouldn’t we pay less, even if at some reduction in quality, if we can get away with a major reduction in costs? You can send jobs abroad to China or India, as happened in textiles and manufacturing. Or you can just shed older, higher-salaried workers domestically, knowing that there’s lots of hungry young kids who will do the same work at a fraction of the cost. In a world with a growing division between the health of financial markets and the health of the labor market, the urge to look for a cheaper alternative threatens everybody who earns a decent living. Well, almost everbody.

Now comes word that Ezra Klein, having asked for $10 million dollars in investment money from the Washington Post and been refused, is heading out on his own. Apparently this refusal caused young Ezra a great deal of agita, if rumor is to be believed. Meanwhile, the Washington pundit world is apparently convinced that the Post‘s (and, presumably, Jeff Bezos’s) refusal to invest $10 million dollars in Klein’s venture is a terrible idea. Predictably, DC Twitter is now filled with showy appreciation for Klein and the kind of public well-wishes that are par for this particular course.

Incidentally, you could employ over 160 public school teachers at the median Washington DC teacher salary for $10 million.

It goes on from there.

3. Freddie also points us toward this post by Will Wilkinson:

There’s nothing wrong with blogging for money, but the terms of social exchange are queered a little by the cash nexus. A personal blog, a blog that is really your own, and not a channel of the The Daily Beast or Forbes or The Washington Post or what have you, is an iterated game with the purity of non-commercial social intercourse. The difference between hanging out and getting paid to hang out. Anyway, in old-school blogging, you put things out there, broadcast bits of your mind. You just give it away and in return maybe you get some attention, which is nice, and some gratitude, which is even nicer. The real return, though, is in the conclusions people draw about you based on what you have said, about what what you have said says about you, about what it means relative to what you used to say. … We all lost something when the first-gen blogs and bloggers got bought up. Or, at any rate, those bloggers lost something. I’m proud of us all, but there’s also something ruinous about our success, such as it is. We left the garden behind. A guy’s got to eat.

See also Freddie’s thoughts on the topic.

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