Tuesday, November 01, 2005

"Outing" Bloggers

I originally wrote a post by this title a few days ago. Sadly, when I clicked "Publish", it disappeared. I decided that perhaps the post was not so important after all, and I did not rewrite it.

But now, I've changed my mind. This is a comment someone made on this blog just a little while ago:
*****, I'm warning you that if you start posting on a blog, I will reveal who you are to the world. You and I both know who you are, I will do it. Stay in the comments, not in the blogs.
What?! This is disgusting, despicable behavior. I don't care who this person is or what their motives are, there is almost no reason to ever "out" a blogger who wishes to remain anonymous. In addition, nobody has the right to try and censor someone from speaking the truth through terrible threats.

There are a few reasons a blogger might wish to remain anonymous:
1) They feel like it.

2) They want to keep their blogging and personal lives seperate. While a blogger may enjoy interacting with strangers online through a blog, or people they know offline as they live their real day-to-day life, they may not want to interact with strangers offline as they live their real day-to-day life.

3) Some bloggers' jobs may be affected by the content of their blogs. While an unfair practice, perhaps, the bloggers' need for privacy should be respected. One of the members of the Volokh Conspiracy blogs anonymously for this reason.

4) Many bloggers are perfectly willing to discuss anything, on or off their blog: But their spouses or families might not want them to; they may not want people bothering their family members about what they write; or they may have some other reason for choosing to remain anonymous. No matter the reason, it should be respected.

5) They feel like it!
The practice of threatening bloggers, more common than one might think, is sickening. It is also somewhat ineffective: After all, the threats are worthless once they're carried out. Once the names are published, the blogger has little to lose by continuing to do whatever they were doing (except certain instances). It's only the threat itself that carries weight: If the blogger wishes to preserve their anonymity, the outer has the threat to hang over their heads.

Sadly, some bloggers are unable to take the gamble and continue blogging despite the threat. The possibility of being outed is a risk they are unwilling to take - and they should be respected for it. Those bloggers that are willing and able to take the risk and call the outers on their bluffs should try and do so, so as to show them that bloggers cannot be bullied or censored by these terrible tactics. There are also ways of tracking the jerks online, and perhaps there are ways to "fight back" against them.

I have this particular jerk's IP address. If I see any more threats from him (or her), I will work with others to figure out a way to stop the threats.

I'd also like to point out the Godol Hador's response to the idiots threatening to out him, which was excellent, and the reason I wrote this post originally:
Well, my opinion is that it doesn't make much difference who I am. The important thing is that my views are my own, and are based on my search for the truth. No one has ever coerced me into posting anything I don't personally believe to be true, and all my posts represent my own personal opinions on Life, the Universe and Everything, not anyone else's opinions. The idea for this blog was mine, and remains mine.


And if you don't like my blog ...


Now can we please stop the identity guessing game and get on with the serious discussions?

Thankfully, his gambit paid off, and the threat never materialized. Hopefully, that is how all these inane threats turn out.

Stupid jerks.

UPDATE: Gil just wrote a post on this exact issue from a Halachic (Jewish law) standpoint. Short, succint, forceful, and wise. Read the whole thing, but here's the end:
Bottom line: "הולך רכיל, מגלה-סוד - A gossip goes about telling secrets" (Proverbs 11:13)
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  1. So what's your secret? Why among Jewish bloggers are you not as paranoid as Rushdie?

  2. I wrote this in an email to someone earlier... If I would meet you on the street, or in a shul, or at a friend's house, I would likely stick out my hand and introduce myself by my full name. You would see my face, and if my wife were with me, hers as well - and you would learn her name.

    I don't hide my views offline - I state them much the same way as I do online. It's not as if I have anything to hide or keep from anyone (and I'm not saying that those who choose anonymity do). Most aspects of our private lives I keep to myself, but that's something else entirely.

    Honestly, what will someone do to me? Tell people I'm a right-leaning conservative? That I'm an Orthodox Jew? That I'm a supporter of the President and Israel? I am proud to be all of those. It's hard to make up lies about me, possibly because I am so forthright with my views.

    Honestly, if someone really wants to do something to me, they'd be able to track me down online even if I were anonymous. I find it highly unlikely, and I'm just not worried about it. I'm not so naive as to think I'm important enough that someone would care so much about what I write, especially considering there's nothing all that extreme on this blog.

  3. I suppose the purpose for which I entered the blogosphere- to come to terms with my newfound crisis of faith- lends itself to a different dynamic.

    Anyway, kudos on your blog and for your outspokeness.

  4. Nice post, I plan on posting re this shortly.

  5. One's privacy is their own business, and it does not deserve to be invaded.

  6. R2J - I can see why that would be different, absolutely. That is similar to #2 - not wanting what they talk about with strangers online being brought up in their day-to-day life.

    Krum, thanks.

    IfYouWillIt - Exactly. (1 & 5)

    Mirty - another great reason. My wife didn't care (my mother did, but I convinced her), so I don't either. My brother asked me not to put up a pic of my nephew when I wrote about him, so I didn't. I refer to my friends with pseudonyms, because they might care - though those who've seen the blog have said they don't care.

  7. Anonymity is a choice that should be made by the blogger and no one else. If you know me well then it is not hard to figure out who I am, but if I wanted everyone to know that my last name is not really Benimble I would say so.

    It is actually Benimblay, but don't tell anyone.

  8. I've recently had some "real world" people come up to me and tell me they read something I wrote, or that they DON'T want me to write about something I participated in (I didn't).

    I'm not particularly anonymous, but I don't really want non-bloggers finding my site and reading it. For example, my patients. I think my blog is pretty benign, but you'd be surprised what people will get offended by. I did write a disclaimer in January which is right up at the top of my blog, which says something similar to what Godol Hador had to say, and at least one other blogger has copied and modified it for herself after she was 'outed.'

    One other reason why you might want to remain anonymous is that if you have children, they may be affected if people who are involved with them, like teachers, rebbes, parents of classmates, start reading what you write and are unhappy with your point of view.

    Blogs are updated frequently and come up quickly in google searches. So someone googling one of my kid's names might find psychotoddler and start reading it. This could lead to all kinds of problems.

    We each have many connections to other people, and have to decide if what we have to say is important enough to risk causing problems for them.

  9. PT - Extremely well put.

    As a note to all - while I choose to not be all that anonymous, and gave my reasons for that, I absolutely respect all who do, and understand all the reasons for doing so. I think it was clear from my post, but I'm repeating it nonetheless.

  10. The internet has also given amazing new opportunities to stalkers. 3 of my kids have blogs now, and I insist that they keep their real names off of them.

  11. PT - True. And good - you should insist as much.