On blogging and anonymity

After reading the ridiculous Ann Bartow saga over at Feministe (count me as a diehard zuzu supporter, and one who really hopes to see her return soon and in good spirits), I started thinking about the idea of anonymity in blogging, and how I feel about it.

When I’m reading other people’s blogs, I really like it when commenters and posters clearly identify themselves. Somewhere like Cambridge Common, this is particularly helpful because I’ll recognize a fair amount of the names and be able to contextualize them somewhat (you know, recognizing one of the Harvard Republicans I met at a somewhat bizarre dinner, seeing a post by that one guy and knowing it’s probably not worth reading, and so on). Other non-Harvard blogs seem to have a more equal mix of full names, pseudonyms, and totally anonymous commenters.

Full names, in my experience, tend to be linked either to prominent figures (like Althouse, or other bloggers who blog under their real names, often on blogs sharing that name) or to commenters who don’t blog at all, but comment regularly and have no problem putting their names out there.

I enjoy pseudonyms, too. They’re often entertaining (Raging Moderate is still one of my favorites, though I often don’t agree with the comments attached to it) and once I’ve seen the same one comment a few times I get a pretty good idea about the beliefs behind the name.

I have mixed feelings about totally anonymous commenting, though. On the one hand, I understand that people blog from work or school and have very good reasons for not wanting their employers or colleagues to attach them to certain topics, blogs, or comments. I also understand that very personal comments leave a person vulnerable, and it would be a shame to miss out on the insights someone might have to offer because they don’t feel comfortable sharing their identity along with those comments. There’s also the question of The Crazies figuring out who you are, stalking, harassing, or assaulting you. Scary possibility, and one that unfortunately has become reality in some instances. (I don’t have links off the top of my head; people who know of specific cases should feel free to comment and I’ll update the post.)

Here comes the but…

…But I wish everyone could feel free to identify with their own statements. Now, I’m not one for outing, and I’m not one for deriding folks who stay anonymous. It’s not my place to judge someone else’s situation, or demand that everyone just pony up and identify themselves. But I do wish everyone could feel as comfortable as I do sharing my identity.

And speaking of my identity… it probably isn’t very apparent on this blog in particular, but anyone with a little initiative could easily follow the trail to who I am. The only reason I don’t have a full profile up on this blog is that I’d like to limit my stalkers to the really dedicated folks who go to the trouble to do the research. On other sites I comment using my initials (the name I prefer) as my pseudonym, and my details are pretty fully available in places like Facebook. I’m not afraid of being connected to anything I write online, although I will admit to cleaning things up a bit from Isn’t This the Ladies Room? for a few reasons–in case my parents stumble across it (doubtful), because I’ve had some problems with discretion on various online journals in the past (I try to use pseudonyms for those who aren’t my intimate friends, and I would gladly do the same for them if they asked), and because I just don’t think I need to be blogging about my sex life, at least not in particularly specific terms.

Here’s the other thing about anonymity that bothers me, though. Well, not so much anonymity as electronic communication, which I think is sort of anesthetizing in nature. As someone who belongs to a couple of email lists, I know that having extensive conversations exclusively online can mean that things get ugly in a hurry. Even when words are attached to a name and an email address, they’re still not really attached to a face. It’s so much easier to attack someone in an email than in person. It also means, I think, that you feel a sense of involvement without actually doing the work to build community.

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