Anonymity Isn’t the Problem

by Karoli on March 31, 2007 · 149 comments

When I came to the blogosphere, I did it anonymously. Until 6 or so months ago, I posted as DrumsNWhistles. I attended Blogher last year as DrumsNWhistles, though I did give my real name alongside the handle to people I met. I started my blog on Blogger, and then migrated to my own domain, figuring that by owning and maintaining my own domain, yet continuing to blog under a pseudonym, people would understand that even if I wasn’t using my name, I was a real person by virtue of the fact that a web host and registrar knew who I was.

Of course, my host and registrar were also supposed to keep that information private and were paid to do so, but somehow failed to do it, and so someone thought it might be a good idea to out me on AboutUs.org. They posted all of my personal information as listed in my supposedly private WhoIs file — name, phone, address — the whole schmear.

I seriously considered ending this blog right then and there. Just walking away. I knew I hadn’t made friends when I posted the anti-Scientology posts (and kept posting them) and had the site hacked twice in two consecutive days. As I saw it, I could keep writing here, or I could shut it all down and move elsewhere, or I could shut it all down and not blog at all. The third option was one I was leaning toward.

At the same time, I also knew that when I had commented on other blogs I wasn’t taken especially seriously, because there was no association for anyone to make between the words I was writing and the person writing them.

I wrestled with the question for awhile and went back through what I had written here to see if, by revealing my identity, my kids, my business, my job, my husband or my family would be at risk in any way, particularly since I’d decided that if I kept writing, I wasn’t going to be quiet about how I felt about Scientology and what they are doing, and I also wasn’t going to back down from writing about the Caremark issue and their abuse of discretion when it comes to how they administer benefits. With that decided, it seemed to me to make no sense to blog on a different domain with a different handle or to give it up entirely. Besides, I didn’t WANT to give it up entirely. I had fought long and hard about joining the conversation at all and once I joined it, I didn’t especially want to leave it.

In the end, I realized that my job and my business might definitely be at risk, but I would have to deal with that one on one if the issue arose, but my family was likely not. I was willing to take the chance with the possibility of financial loss, but not with my family. So I wrote this blog post and changed my name to my first name only. I also separated the posts about politics and put those over to the political blog because I know from past experience that politics can bring out nothing but the worst in people, and I didn’t want that spilling onto this. (Fortunately, it isn’t high-profile enough to attract attention, so I get the opportunity to express my opinion and still fly under troll radar, at least for now).

However, if I hadn’t been outed, I’d still be anonymous. I liked being anonymous, because it afforded me the freedom to be exactly who I am and tell my story exactly the way I wanted without having to worry about it bouncing back on people I love. That isn’t the case as much now, especially when you have a weird name like mine. Andrew Keen is completely off the mark when he blames last week’s mess on anonymity — it is the lack of personal ownership and responsibility that is the heart of the problem. Whoever wrote those posts owns them. The only problem is there is no way to know who wrote them. We can only know who didn’t write them.

All of this is to say that when I talk about standards, or principles for blogging, I am not saying that this or that or the other thing is bad, provided that there’s some way to weight the honest voices from the ones who really do simply seek to disrupt or hurt others. For me, that was to put my pseudonymous self on my own domain with a stand-alone site. For others it might be as simple as having a private profile stored somewhere that is verified (sort of like the PayPal verified seller/buyer process). Or some other solution of one’s own choosing.

I should have had the right to remain behind my pseudonym as long as I behaved like any other responsible citizen, and so should others (with the responsibility attached). Being outed was an irresponsible, spiteful act, and tempted as I was to be intimidated by it, I chose instead to live with it and keep going, mostly because I loved what I was doing and didn’t want to be intimidated into a choice I didn’t want to make. Don’t mistake my call for responsible anonymity as a call to abolish it. Quite the opposite is true.

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