Monday, June 8, 2009

On blogging anonymously

Much has been written about the recent uber-assholery of Ed Whelan, most of which is far more compelling than anything I could come up with. That said, I have to say that I am frankly a bit gobsmacked at the need for any compelling argument to be made; to me the proposition is fairly straightforward: Ed Whelan outed the identity of a blogger who had stated his preference for remaining anonymous, and he did so for reasons of personal pique - because the blogger had written things critical of Ed Whelan. Therefore, Ed Whelan is an asshole. Case closed.

But never underestimate the capacity for wingnuts to defy reason, sanity or logic. The various posts and comments I have seen in defense of Whelan have been truly astounding. I shouldn't be surprised. I recall a conversation I had, years ago, in an online bullitan board wherein I was called a "coward" because I didn't use my full name when I posted my thoughts and opinions in a forum that was for political discussion. Hello?? This is Texas, fergawdsake. Our per capita concentration of lunatics armed to the gills is waaaay above the national average. Furthermore, I live in a small town. I once got hate mail for writing a letter to the editor of my little small town newspaper. And talk about cowardly: The writer left his/her little note in my mailbox, no stamp and no signature.

I suspect that those who don't get it never will. But I think hilzoy offers the best explanation I have yet seen, for those who still need it. Here is the crux:
I think there is a presumption that people should be able to decide for themselves what facts about themselves to reveal; and that decent people should respect this, absent some compelling reason not to. Of course, there are compelling reasons: if it turned out that an anonymous blogger on a white supremacist site was in fact the person in charge of the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division, that would be worth knowing. But absent some such reason, I think that people's own decisions about what to reveal should be respected.

Thus, if I saw Whelan coming out of a DVD rental store with pornography, or found out by chance that he was HIV positive, I would think it wrong to publish those facts unless there was some very compelling reason to do so. Likewise, I would not publish his address and then, when he protested, write that he obviously wanted to avoid responsibility.

This is especially true when you do not know why someone has decided to keep something private. Whelan seems to acknowledge that there are situations in which someone might have good reasons for writing under a pseudonym:

"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."

By outing someone, you are deciding, on that person's behalf, to incur whatever consequences outing that person might have. If you don't know whether or not the 'extraordinary circumstances' Whelan mentions obtain, you ought to err on the side of caution, absent a strong reason for outing the person in question.

Whelan did not know that no such circumstances obtained. On the contrary: publius wrote him an email saying that he blogged under a pseudonym "for a variety of private, family, and professional reasons". Those could easily include reasons that, by any reasonable standard, would justify the use of a pseudonym. But Whelan did not write back asking for further clarification. He just arrogated to himself the right to decide whether or not publius' name would be public, without having any idea at all what the consequences might be, and, apparently, without caring.

What Whelan did added nothing to his or anyone else's arguments about the law. He had no reason to do this, other than pique. He outed publius as a law professor, but he also outed himself as a petulant bully. I hope he likes the publicity.


Mike Thomas said...

I've always been a bit torn on anonymous blogging. I can remember how upset I would get when "Nigel Tufnel" would seem to delight in using my real name to make all these personal attacks against me while he hid behind his too-cute pseudonym.
But even as mad as I got, I would never have dreamed of outing him had I known who he was. There is no question that Ed Whelan is a major league asshole for what he did. Inexcusable.

AnnPW said...

Exactly right, Mike. You can disagree with the concept of anonymous blogging, but outing someone because you're mad at them for writing mean things about you is just juvenile bullying. Of course, bullying, juvenile and otherwise, appears to be a rightwing staple - look at Dick Cheney and the Plame affair, another glaring example.

Mike Thomas said...

Speaking of juvenile bullying, I think I mentioned a while back that I had tried to start up a dialogue with another local rightwing blogger - Alamo City Pundit. But after leaving a couple of "negative" comments on his site (his term for it) - in other words I had disagreed with him - he began berating me as a troll and went so far as to track down the server from which I had posted and, after deducing that it was my employer, posted an ominous note asking whether my bosses knew what I was doing on their computer. Like he thought he was going to rat me out and get me fired or something! What an asshole!
Needless to say, I don't bother with him anymore. He is every bit as wingnutty as Texas Fred and there is no hope for any dialogue in that direction.

AnnPW said...

Oh, ick. Unfortunately, as you well know and as I mentioned in this post, Texas has a surplus of rightwing lunatics, TexasFred and "Alamo City Pundit" being just 2 sadly typical examples.

Today, TexasFred is celebrating the deaths of 10 apparent illegal aliens in an SUV rollover accident in Arizona. Says it serves 'em right. It's one of his Some-Might-Call-Me-A-Racist-For-This-But-Screw-Them posts. It's the toxic combination of venomous, seething anger AND braid-dead stupidity that makes such creatures as TexasFred and ACP so astonishing, and creepy.

AnnPW said...

Er, make that "brain-dead". Lord, I hate it when I identify too much with my subjects.