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Monday, June 19, 2006

 

Outing and So on

Lindsay Beyerstein has a post up about psedonymity, anonymity, and outing. There is a lot to respond to in the post, but let me just isolate one strand, in the part where she talks about the Armando business with some young journalists at Yearly Kos:
I was surprised by how much these journalists seemed to resent bloggers who guarded their identities. They felt that fake-namers enjoyed more freedom of expression (or less accountability) than they did. Money also came into it. Some people remarked that it wasn't fair that they, the full-time journalists, had to take heat for a pittance while other people were using pseuds to command a large audience while holding lucrative corporate jobs.

The journalists also insisted on their absolute right to out anyone they wanted.
Well, I'm kind of in a position to know what "taking heat" in this context means. I actually didn't and don't care about any heat directed at myself, especially considering the, uh, quality of the particular heat source. It was when someone deliberately decided to out my wife in a blogfight to which she was only a very minor party that I got skeeved: someone who would cross that line and justify it with total bullshit is someone who is not particularly concerned with lines of any sort. What next? becomes the reasonable question, and once I asked it of myself, I deleted my old blog.

So I am probably more sympathetic to these journalists than others in the blogosphere might be. When someone contacts you anonymously via a stolen foreign ISP to ask you "How are your children?" you become... alarmed. I think you'd have to be pretty naive to think that journalists have not been contacted personally with shit just like this. And yes, by the left as well as the right. (Only the Right relentlessly plays the stupid incivility card -- "eeek, the other side is impolite, we win!" -- because they are disingenuous morons.) This is not at root a political phenomenon. The internets are the internets. I've belonged to academic listservs, sports message boards, have seen the Mac vs PC flamewars in various forums... and I've witnessed some weird stuff. People just get totally bizarre and a few don't have any clue where to stop. I would not be surprised to learn that someone who publishes a column about, say, gardening, gets the occasional spooky threat. Sure, political debate is more heated, but the dynamic is the same.

As journalists move into the online realm, they are bound to attract this sort of unfortunate but really unavoidable sort of attention. And they don't like it, and they should not, and asking them to just roll with it is unfair. Have your kids be made the subject of a bizarre comment from an untraceable source, and then you can disagree with me.

But then. Journalists have more resources at their disposal to deal with such garbage than all but a few bloggers. Most of us are not affiliated as bloggers with any institution, and that does offer a kind of protection that we don't have. You write something for a paper that someone does not like, and they threaten you -- well, you don't need to try to make the Blogger Support Team pay attention to you. Presumably, your boss can find you a lawyer. We really are more vulnerable: most of us, anyway. (Note -- I have tenure, and so am much less vulnerable than most people, and also I can call on free legal advice through my union; community college professors are often represented by unions like the NEA, to which I belong. That doesn't change the wider point, though, as it had nothing to do with what I wrote or write as a blogger. I stand by everything, by the way.) So in this sense writing pseudonymously is for some the only shield they have under which they can participate in public discussion. And that is a good thing. American public debate is bound to be raucous, it should be, and the more the merrier, I say.

So in short I think journalists have some legitimate complaints -- but they also have more resources than those they complain of. And, please, on the money thing, we are hardly all corporate lawyers. I'm not rich. I do OK, but I'm not rich. And I know some pseudonymous bloggers who make far less than journalists -- and who risk far more than they do to write what they write.

Comments:
I still cling to this romantic notion that it's healthy for people to debate actual arguments, instead of looking for excuses to dismiss people they can't defeat by fair means.

Beyond that, I know anonymity is absolutely necessary for some folks- both right and left - and I'm an absolutist about respecting that (in the absence of law-breaking, natch).

Personally, I'm pretty much at the point where staying anonymous is holding me back from worthwhile opportunities....which might bother me more if I weren't a hopeless underachiever.

Regardless, I do worry that bloggers on the right and left simply aren't being realistic about how angry and crazy people are getting in this country. The idea of sending a death threat to anyone would never occur to me in a million years, but I increasingly feel like I'm in the minority...it seems like a lot of people have lost all perspective.
 
There was a diary on Kos last week (I think) on the anonymity issue which actually endorsed Online Integrity as being a necessary bulwark against uncivilized internets discourse. It was to laugh. I don't comment there, so I was unable to inform them of the heartbreak in store for them if they really believed that.
 
Thanks you Thersites. I heartly agree. Especially the part about having access to a lawyers. Since I've cost KSFO radio money because I've alerted their advertisers to what their radio hosts are saying (and they then decided to pull their ads) they have made vague threats of suing me. They are also want to expose my idenity so they can alert my employer what I am doing (they think I work for the competition or some nonsense). Of course it is the usual, "Blame the person bringing up the crazy stuff, not the ACTUAL crazy stuff."
The same stuff that we see now with the admin attacking the Times for talking about a public program because they don't want to talk about the program itself.

You can really tell when Karl Rove is back on his game. Being in trouble on the Plame case meant that they missed the NSA deal, so now they were prepared for the financal deal.
 
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