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March 28, 2009

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Doogan = sanctimonious jackass

Another reason to be anonymous is to let the opinions speak for themselves without being clouded by opinions on the personality of the writer or their public reputation.

An example I thought about: Joe Smith has a blog. He works for the CIA, or some other agency with a security clearance. Now his writing may have to do with a totally unrelated topic like botany or chess-but he may rather not have people finding out and judging him on that. He may not want interference with his work either.

So Joe may write under a psuedonym and let his expertise show instead of his reputation.

Hilzoy - I worked for twenty years in Boston radio. I am male and used my real name, but pretty much all of my female colleagues and competitors used a nom de microphone, often their mom's maiden name or some such, on the air.

All it takes is a letter or two from a guy about to be released from prison, who'd really like to meet you [really happened!], to understand why.

Doogan is an oaf.

Carol: yes, that's one of the things I loved about the early pseudonymous days. No one had any idea who most of the bloggers were, so their arguments had to stand or fall on their own. -- As I said, it's be different if you are, say, Peter Orszag writing your blog: then it matters that you, in particular, think what you do. But not for most of us, whose authority, if any, comes from our arguments themselves.

And the privacy isn't just the blogger's privacy, but the privacy of everyone who lives with (or even near) the blogger as well. Even a blogger who has inherited a fortune and can stay at home has relatives or neighbors who would rather be left alone as well.

This article from The Electronic Frontier Foundation outlines the history of anonymity in our country and how it strengthens our discourse.

Doogan is not too bright.

Hilzoy, those days were wonderful. There were no celebrities, and there was the thrill of discovery of a person who really knew what they were talking about and was accessible.

After decades of listening on TV to grandstanding bought and paid for "experts", it was great listening to real knowledge and expertise straight from the horses mouth with no filter or editor.

That's what really threatens the Doogans of the world. Once it was up to his caste to be the official "eyes and ears" of a place, interpreting it to the outside world. He was well paid for that too.

Now any ordinary Alaskan can be those eyes and ears and report on what's happening and for free, too. That would have been bad enough, but the fact that they are better writers than him must really gall him as well.

That's a fairly standard intimidation tactic of the fringe right. I specifically remember the case of the Frost family in Baltimore, who publicly supported SCHIP. Michelle Malkin published their home address and phone number so her readers could harass them. Nice.

Thanks for calling attention to this.

I just sent him a love note. Anyone is welcome to join in letting Rep. Doogan know that his theories of anonymity in relation to public speech are wrong, in the ethical not factual sense of 'wrong':

Hey Mike,

I'm impressed. I live in [another state], and from time to time I work with our legislators here on issues that concern me.

I thought I had seen the most egregious examples of thin-skinned, thoughtless and arrogant abuses of power by state legislators that were available in this great country.

Your ill-advised, malicious jihad against a blogger, which culminated in revealing her identity to the world against her express objections, set a new standard for me.

The next time I hear a state legislator make a remark that reflects ignorance of our nation's history, an imposition of the official's personal beliefs onto the public and reckless disregard for the impact on private citizens, I will think to myself:

Well, it didn't top that fool in Alaska...what was his name again?

Love,
Phoenix

I agree with most of that, but I do wonder whether this is a special case. This is more a devil's advocate position, but I'll throw it out there.

Presumably, AKMuckraker entered into the political arena with the intent of affecting the political discourse, doing harm to some people's political careers, helping the careers of others, highlighting some issues, disparaging the pet issues or arguments of others, and so on. Insofar as that influence meant something to someone -- did something, affected change -- she could not expect for people not to mind what she was doing.

In other words, it's not really Doogan's job to worry about the consequences of exposing AKMuckraker's identity. That's her job. It's an unfortunate truth that the people with legitimate, pressing reasons to stay anonymous might be thereby less likely to take part in vigorous political discourse -- but really, the same is true in almost any public arena. Witnesses refuse to testify in criminal cases, government officials are quoted off the record, and so on. To analogize a bit, it's not like a reporter quoting AKMuckraker outed her, a political opponent of AKMuckraker's did it. Insofar as AKMuckraker values herself as a potent political weapon, it's equally true that Doogan is under no particular obligation to honor the reasons for her anonymity.

Well, this certainly hits home for me. I go back and forth on this (a lot -- probably to the annoyance of others), but i want to make the decision myself.

People don't think about the professional repercussions. For me, it's probably 40% a worry about future jobs, and 60% worry about my students. I also suspect my voice would change if I were public (i'd be less of a smarta**, but maybe that would be a good thing).

but anyway, maybe these concerns are silly -but it's still my choice to make. this is even more egregious though, b/c it seems like an attack on the press.

For Martin's education:

By CoffeeandInk, a list of Reasons people may prefer pseudonyms or limited personal disclosure on the Internet:

* Because it is a standard identity- and privacy-protection precaution
* Because they have experienced online or offline stalking, harassment, or political or domestic violence
* Because they wish to discuss sexual abuse, sexuality, domestic abuse, assault, politics, health, or mental illness, and do not wish some subset of family, friends, strangers, aquaintances, employers, or potential employers to know about it
* Because they wish to keep their private lives, activities, and tastes separate from their professional lives, employers, or potential employers
* Because they fear threats to their employment or the custody of their children
* Because it's the custom among their Internet cohort
* Because it's no one else's business

What harm was being caused by AKMuckraker's anonymity, to anyone? If none, then a decent political opponent will no more reveal the identity of a nom de plume used for political blogging than he would shoot a friend in the face.

doing harm to some people's political careers

This is a pretty strange way to characterize participation in a democracy.

Having a "political career" isn't some kind of right. If you want such a "career," you can expect that about half the people are going to try to "do harm" to it -- by voting against you -- every time you run for office. That's part of the job description: you hold your job at the will of the voters. People expressing their opinions about whether you should be in office is a sine qua non of a healthy electoral process; people should not be penalized for it.

Should we give up the secret ballot so that we know the identity of everyone who is "trying to harm" someone's "political career"?

Martin, I'm not sure that I follow your argument. You write:

Presumably, AKMuckraker entered into the political arena with the intent of affecting the political discourse, doing harm to some people's political careers, helping the careers of others, highlighting some issues, disparaging the pet issues or arguments of others, and so on. Insofar as that influence meant something to someone -- did something, affected change -- she could not expect for people not to mind what she was doing.

Now, you're not wrong that AKmuckraker clearly intended to affect the political careers of some people who might therefore resent AKmuckraker; and there have been campaigns to expose pseudonymous propagandists for as long as people have used pseudonyms.

But what I'm not seeing in your comment is much of a moral judgement, either of AKmuckraker or of Doogan.
Do you have any objection to anything AKmuckraker said (and it seems obvious to me that a sufficient objection to a pseudonymous propagandist's behavior, for example acts of slander, dishonesty, or incitement, would justify attempts to pierce their pseudonymity)?
If you don't find the content AKmuckraker wrote objectionable, do you object to their attempt to remain pseudonymous as being illegitimate or unethical in its own right?
You say it's inevitable that someone, in this case Doogan, would seek to expose AKmuckraker, but do you think that this pursuit was reasonable, or ethical? You state that the consequences to AKmuckraker of her exposure weren't something Doogan should worry about, but surely the only reason for Doogan exposing her was to cause those consequences, so how can Doogan be disinterested in them?

If all you meant to say is that you're unsurprised by Doogan's actions, well then you're quite likely right not to be surprised. But the question isn't whether you're surprised; it's whether you're disgusted.

Whether or not AKMuckraker reveals her name ought to be her decision. No one else has the right to make it for her

This is wrong. Of course people have the right to say who she is. That's not taking a position on what should or should not be done in this case, but of course people have the right to out her.

I'm not saying I don't understand the predicament, I was ticked off recently when the number of search engine matches on my real name increased from 1 to 2.

But people have the right to do that, until we decide together that they don't.

U.N. agency eyes curbs on Internet anonymity

Sounds like the powers that be in some countries are getting annoyed with actually having to respond to criticism so they want to shut it down. Doogan should feel right at home in China.

Warren, I'm afraid that the burden on me is much less than you suppose. Hilzoy argued that AKMuckraker's anonymity is sacrosanct. Pointing out that it is not does not also compel me to weigh in on any action taken by AKMuckraker or Doogan! Sorry.

Here's hoping AKMuckraker takes Doogan to court, not only for using state resources against a private citizen for his own vengeance, but to make it clear that this attempt to silence her violates the US Constitution.

Quoting from a thread on palingates:

” Anonymous communications have an important place in our political and social discourse. The Supreme Court has ruled repeatedly that the right to anonymous free speech is protected by the First Amendment. A much-cited 1995 Supreme Court ruling in McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Commission reads:

” Protections for anonymous speech are vital to democratic discourse. Allowing dissenters to shield their identities frees them to express critical, minority views . . . Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority. . . . It thus exemplifies the purpose behind the Bill of Rights, and of the First Amendment in particular: to protect unpopular individuals from retaliation . . . at the hand of an intolerant society. ”

I think there is a difference between an anonymous someone who is writing about policy, like the original Publius (so far as I can recall it was only policy and not attacks), and one who is writing the names of politicians in articles. I think it is hard to argue that people who have things written about them don't have a right to write about the author.

If I post your name on my website, shouldn't you have the right to post mine on yours?

I think Doogan abused his position (to put it mildly) this instance to intimidate someone with less power into silence. But just for the sake of argument, would a politician be in the wrong for outing someone they suspect is backed by organized interests?

jrudkis: I think it would be fine if, say, George W. Bush posted something about "hilzoy" on a blog. I also think that if I had divulged details of his life that he took to be private, I would have no right to complain if he did the same to me, though I think it would be wrong of him.

But George W. Bush has decided to make his political identity public. There is no big mystery about who he is. So writing about, say, one's opinion of his speeches (as opposed to the exact location of the weak point in his chain link fence, or his favorite lunch place now that he's retired) does not divulge anything he hasn't already decided to publicize.

The same holds true of him discussing hilzoy, or hilzoy's arguments. It does not hold true of revealing my actual name.

Martin, I asked those questions because I thought the answers were important ones in determining your position on the questions this episode raises. I certainly claim no power (not desire) to compel you to answer them; for one thing, I have no idea who you are.

You assert that "Hilzoy argued that AKMuckraker's anonymity is sacrosanct". I don't believe that's true (the closest I can see her coming is her closing line in the original post, "the fact that [Doogan] thinks that bloggers should not be anonymous does not mean that he gets to make that choice for others."), and I don't know what "sacrosanct" means in this context (revelation of a pseudonymous blogger's identity is a criminal act? an inexcusable social trangression? mildly naughty?). In any case, I'm in no strong position to defend Hilzoy's position, nor even to define it.

Still, if you weren't commenting in this thread "to weigh in on any action taken by AKMuckraker or Doogan", what were you doing in the thread?

And sven: I think that one should not out people absent a very good reason. There really are some nutty people out there, as well as nutty bosses, etc. How are you imagining that the support affects the argument? I mean, suppose it came out that TPM was funded by the American Nazi Party. TPM does very good work. They are very rarely wrong when they state things as fact (as opposed to saying something like: hmm, I wonder whether X might be true?) It would be bizarre to discover that they were funded by Nazis; it would make me question Josh Marshall's judgment; but ... ??

In that case, there's no identity issue, since Josh blogs under his own name. So suppose that, say, Digby turned out to be a Nazi, or funded by them. Or maybe one of the pseudonymous bloggers at RedState. -- I'm not sure how I'd react to this, but I think it would take something extreme like knowingly being supported by Nazis to get me to consider outing someone for this reason. I certainly wouldn't react like this if RedState turned out to be funded by some business group.

I mean: my default is just: people have a right to decide for themselves what to disclose, and political bloggers who make arguments and observations should have their arguments and observations scrutinized, not their actual selves. (Again, it's different in the case of bloggers who make their identities an issue. If it turned out that Peter Orszag's blog was actually written by someone else, that would be different, because the blogger is pretending to be a specific person. Likewise, if I wrote a blog claiming to be Paris Hilton's best friend and writing about what she does when the cameras are off, I think it's fair game to point out that I am, in fact, a Phil. professor living in Maryland.)

When you call yourself a muckraker, and post about the divorce of a politician's sister, or her wardrobe, I really don't think you have a right to anonymity.

jrudkis, I've almost never read Mudflats; I take it from your comment that the posts you refer to were personal in nature? Or are you referring to some of the weird issues that arose with respect to Sarah Palin and that had genuine public-policy, abuse-of-power, and personal enrichment implications? And if the latter, were these posts prurient and personal, or were they more about establishing the simple facts of cases relevant to genuine matters of the public interest?

If the posts to which you refer were truly personal and inappropriate, that would make AKMuckraker a much less sympathetic figure, and could easily explain why a genuinely victimized target of AKM's posts might seek to expose their identity; but I'm not sure the posts were so personal without knowing more, and I'm not sure it would as easily justify exposure committed by a third party.


I have thought about the connection between free speech and anonymity for years, with muddled results.

Generally speaking, I believe in my opinions; otherwise I'd have different opinions. I value the freedom to express my opinions, though I don't feel compelled to express all of them to my friends and relatives -- some of who are easily shocked. If I am an atheist, I don't need to bludgeon my churchlady aunts with that fact. But I'd have a bit less respect for myself if I was afraid to own to my opinions when directly asked about them.

Insisting on anonymity before I express an opinion seems like surrendering a bit of my right to free speech. Surely some of my opinions are abhorent to some people -- people who might choose to make my life miserable, even in violent ways. (Godbothering aunts eschew violence, as a rule, but they have other ways of inflicting misery.) A simple way to avoid fuss and bother is to keep my opinions to myself. But what's my freedom of speech really worth, in that case? A different way is to express my opinions "anonymously". That represents a sort of freedom: the freedom of speech, not really my freedom of speech.

I do sympathize with people whose own, personal freedom of speech is constrained by the circumstances of their life. That description probably fits most of us, come to think of it. You don't have to live in a totalitarian state to worry about the consequences of expressing some of your opinions; having personal acquaintances not all of who are your intellectual clones is already a motivation to partially stifle yourself. Most people, I think, are inclined to pick and choose who they exercise free speech with, who they express particular opinions to. Telling Jane you think Bob is annoying -- but not telling Bob -- is a kind of self-censorship. Not as extreme as the kind you might have adopted in the old USSR, but similar in a way: you have to restrict your audience.

The trouble comes when you want to stand in the public square (or on the world-wide web) and announce to anyone within earshot that Bob is annoying. Or that gods don't exist. Or that blacks are smarter than whites. Or that FEMA is building concentration camps. You are not choosing your audience when you speak publicly; you are not sharing confidences with intimates. Quite the opposite, in fact: you are seeking a large audience for your views. A large anonymous audience, please note.

Wearing a mask while standing on the soapbox is not sneaky, exactly, but it's not exactly a vindication of your freedom of speech, either. That most of us feel constrained to post pseudonymously is not a ringing endorsement of "freedom of speech".

The best guarantee of anonymity is, in the end, obscurity: if nobody pays attention to you, nobody's going to come after you. Goes for bloggers, goes for politicians, goes for movie stars and "celebrities" of all kinds. But if people do pay attention to you, can you really insist on anonymity? Would I respect the "privacy" of Matt Drudge, for instance?

So, I guess I can't unequivocally endorse a "right to anonymity" for bloggers, any more than I would endorse such a right for politicians. But I would no more advertise a blogger's home address and phone number than I would a State Representative's. I would expect to be frowned upon if I did.

Mike Doogan deserves to be frowned upon. He deserves obscurity even more, and the sooner he gets it the better I will feel about it.

--TP

hilz- Specifically I was thinking back to the Daschle-Thune campaign in South Dakota, when two paid Thune operatives raised all kinds of hell pseudonymously (Jeff Gannon was also involved somehow IIRC).

What offends me most about Mike Doogan outing Mudflats is the reason he gives: HE has a theory that you can say what you want, as long as you are willing to stand behind it using your real name. He doesn't say why that's important to him or the public he serves, and he didn't give any reasons why Mudflats in particular should be outed. He did it because it offends HIM.

I try to imagine Mike "The Scold" Doogan lecturing James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay (who wrote some of the most brilliant essays about our Constitution anonymously) on the evils of keeping one's identity secret. Fly, meet swatter.

Warren Terra,

I love the name, by the way, and never had a chance to say so.

It can certainly be argued that Palin's sister's divorce mattered. But so can anything.

If someone decided to write about my divorce, I am certain I would think it was open season on that person.

It can certainly be argued that Palin's sister's divorce mattered. But so can anything.

Given Sarah Palin's actions as governor, I think this is a disingenuous answer.

Given Sarah Palin's actions as governor, I think this is a disingenuous answer.

What actions? And even if Palin was culpable, what about her sister and father and ex brother in law?

Invading something as personal as divorce and putting it in the press while claiming anonymity is not reasonable.

Invading something as personal as divorce and putting it in the press while claiming anonymity is not reasonable.

Depending on whether the court cases were sealed (and thus in the public record or not) is one criterion; unsealed court records are in the public record and would have to be considered much less invasive than sealed court records.

Also, when abuse of public power is entwined and entangled with a private matter, I question how invasive it is or how private a matter it is.

Also, when abuse of public power is entwined and entangled with a private matter, I question how invasive it is or how private a matter it is.

You don't think that if someone were to opine publically about your divorce that you would think it was fair to opine back?

It really would not matter to me if my divorce was a public record if you then chose to further the pain for me and my kids by expressing whatever you thought about it. I would find you fair game.

You don't think that if someone were to opine publically about your divorce that you would think it was fair to opine back?

If you were a public official using public funds and power and, moreover, dragging in uninvolved third parties about that divorce, I really don't see how that "private" matter is still private.

I clearly fall on the other side of anonymity than almost everyone else here. When I was diagnosed with depression after a suicide attempt almost 20 years ago, I quickly found out the extent to which people are supposed to hide mental illness. I said then that I was never going to be afraid to talk about it, with anyone who was interested, and likely some who weren't. So, I post about it in blog comments, and in my own blog. I know perfectly well that any prospective employer who does even a cursory search is going to find it. For all I know, this is why I've had no luck finding a job for the last two years. If I didn't do it, or posted anonymously, I'd feel like I was hiding. It's important to me to use my real name.

As for others, I'm a little bit torn. I have no objection to people posting anonymously. There's a lot of value in it. There are also a lot of reasons, stated above, why it is important for some people. Still, when it comes to politics, I find it a bit hard to endorse a right to post anonymously, whether you mean "right" in its legal or ethical sense. Engaging in politics almost always involves some sort of personal attacks. It can also be defined as participating in democracy, but it is also personal. Further, I'm not sure why an elected official ought to have any less right to privacy than anyone else. Sure, as a practical matter, it's impossible to have it so, but standing for election isn't any more participating in democracy than political speech is.

I think that this particular instance of exposing someone is petty and contemptible. On the larger issue, I'm torn.

Doogan didn't out Mudflats over her coverage of Palin etc. He did it in revenge because she wrote a post that was critical of the rude tone he used in some emails to his constituents. He seems to have a bee up his butt about bloggers in general--regards them as unprofessional upstarts who are driving the legitimate newspapers out of business--combined with a personal anmosity toward Muckraker over her response to his emails.

So the Palin circus doesn't enter into it.

If you were a public official using public funds and power and, moreover, dragging in uninvolved third parties about that divorce, I really don't see how that "private" matter is still private.

Each person who chooses to convey information about my divorce would be in my opinion fair game.

So the Palin circus doesn't enter into it.

Not for the guy who exposed her, but for whether we should feel she was unreasonably exposed, I think it does matter. She threw her hat into the ring at least as much as Palin's sister did.

Each person who chooses to convey information about my divorce would be in my opinion fair game.

Why? Prior conditions do not hold if you use public power and funds. It is most certainly NOT fair game when you yourself has changed the conditions. Are you still holding that your divorce is private when state power is abused to influence the proceedings?

Are you still holding that your divorce is private when state power is abused to influence the proceedings?

I hold that if you want to talk about my divorce, you have no right to be anonymous.

Is that really hard? Honestly, there is little in life that is as difficult as divorce, and I think if you want to talk about my divorce, I will feel free to talk about you in every detail I can find: your name would not even begin to be the bottom of my barrel.

If palin doesn't enter into as a motivation for Doogan, then what are we discsussing? Doogan outed her. Doogan had a motivation for outing her. The motivation was revenge. In fact he spent months preseverating on about her before he figured out who she was. Creepy. I wonder about his mental health, frankly.

The only way that I can see how Palin enters into it is as a justification for perserving Muckraker's cover. Doogan is a Democrat in Palin-occupied Alaska. He knows what Palin supporters are like nnd he knows what he has unleashed upon Muckraker.

If palin doesn't enter into as a motivation for Doogan, then what are we discsussing?

I am discussing whether she had a right to be anonymous, regardless of who outed her. And I think her posts about Palin and her family, though relatively innocuous, make her not very sympathetic.

If she stuck to policy, sure, but if you are essentially posting daily about people, I think it is fair for people to respond.

Do the Hyde Park speakers have to hold up their birth certificates? I know Hyde Park is in England. I'm trying to think of something that weblogs are the equivalent of. Doogan clearly thinks that blogs are wannabe newspapers and therefore should have the reporters' names posted.

Blogs can be like newspapers or like a section of a newspaper. Talking Points Memo, for example, is investigative journalism (and no moniker). A bunch of Daily Kos diarists, now that they have crashed the gate, have outed themselves and said that they were doing it to increase their credibility. I does seem to be a cultural norm that those who want to be believed outside their own circle of peers need to use their name. Monikers don't confer respectability like a real name can. So it may be that it will become narmative that those blogs which function as newspapers will refrain from monikers.

On the other hand lots of blogs are not like newspapers. They are more like the Hyde Park speakers: just people who like to think and write and discuss stuff. it is more public than dinner table conversation but not discourse for all the world to see like a newspaper or TV; after all you have to go look for a blog. It isn't on the screen at the Y. No blog headlines visible in newsstands on the sidewalk.


So ... I don't think that our culture has adjusted to blogs yet. The rules are being made up as we go along. Doogan outed Muckraker for personal revenge becaue he saw her as a newspaper wannabe and felt that she should be held to the same standards as a newspaper. I suppose your argument is that since she commented on the Palin corruption and abuse of power which requires periferal mention of the sister (since that's who the power was being abused for) that makes her the equivalent of a newspaper. But I'm not sure I agree. Everyone in Alaska chats about this stuff. Blogs are a way of chatting with more people. Muckraker's content came from public records. She didn't reveal anything that wasn't already known.

Besides people can respond oto bloggers: if the Palins wanted to they could have commented on Muckraker's blog. So could Doogan.

Jrudkis, what you appear to be saying is that when the governor of Alaska, and her husband, make use of public resources to hound the ex-husband of the governor's sister-in-law, anyone who comments on this is "fair game" and shouldn't expect to be able to hide behind anonymity.

So your argument would appear to be that politicians have a right to make use of public resources and power to persecute people involved in a family matter such as a divorce and residency/access for the children, but because a divorce is involved, anyone who comments on the abuse of public resources and power is "fair game" for attack by the politician - who has already demonstrated that she has no qualms at all in using the powers granted her by the state to attack people for personal reasons.

I don't find that position defensible, yet it's all I can get out of what you're saying. Surely the most defensible use of pseudonymity is to attack the abuse of public powers in private concerns - such as Palin and Todd Palin demonstrated with regard to their ex-brother-in-law?

Warren: Hilzoy did not reference the particulars of AKMuckraker's track record as an analyst or Doogan's legislative career; she essentially argued as an abstract point that outing is beyond contempt; to use my word, sacrosanct (I accept the counterclaim that this is exaggerated slightly; the point still stands).

(Parenthetically, I understand why Hilzoy argued that way -- if you DO engage in the particulars of the principals, you're conceding the point that AKMuckraker's anonymous status is contingent on specific things she does or doesn't do; if you argue that the death penalty is wrong, then you can't argue that "it also doesn't work"; same thing here, Hilzoy was explicitly not arguing that AKMuckraker's anonymity is an earned quantity.)

I stated in my first post that my intention was to put forth a devil's advocate argument. My intentions were clear and clearly stated. Your choice to wilfully misunderstand me is not the same as me being unclear.

In the arena of public discourse, signed comment occupies a superior position to unsigned comment, for very good reasons. That there are legitimate "last-resort" reasons to include anonymous comment in the debate is not a reason to elevate it beyond its standing in those "last-resort" contexts (whistleblowing, testifying against the mafia, etc.).

As for my own identity, if you click on the links I entered into the comment fields, it's readily accessible. I could be as unpleasant as you are and demand to know why you haven't researched my identity before claiming ignorance on the subject; but it's not polite.

In the arena of public discourse, signed comment occupies a superior position to unsigned comment, for very good reasons.

Yes. But here's the thing: this comment is signed.

I've signed with a name I adopted 8 years ago, which I have used consistently - if not, obviously, universally! - for that time. I did not adopt this name to commit fraud or for any other illegal purpose.

Granted, it isn't the name my mum calls me by, or the name by which my co-workers refer to me, or the name under which my government taxes me and under which I vote.

But adopting a pseudonymous identity, and using it consistently, is very different from leaving anonymous comments or posting anonymously. Aside from what got lost when greatestjournal went down, what I've written under "Jesurgislac" is freely available and is known to probably more people than know the name I vote under!

Trying to claim some special virtue in using "my real name" doesn't fly.

I think that violating pseudonymous privacy is okay when the person is posting lies. That covers the real abuses I can think of right now. Apart from that, yes, people who out others are doing something contemptible. There's a continuum of chosen exposure, and both Jesurgliac and J. Michael Neal are making good choices. For themselves. It justcisn't the business of anyone to say that everyone must expose so much.

The divorce of Palin's sister was blogged about because it tied into her abuse of power. Using her office and government time to settle a vendetta against the sister's husband who was a trooper. It tied into Troopergate and THAT is why it was blogged about. Abuse of her power.

Martin: I did write this about her record: "she didn't purport to have any sort of inside knowledge about the things she wrote about, or claim any special authority; she was just an informed observer." And I think those points are important: as I've said earlier, there are blogs where the identity of the blogger is important. But Mudflats is not one of them.

following jesusgislac's lead above, i hereby out myself:

my real name is "kid bitzer".

the fact that i employ various harmless drudges to write my lines is no one's business but our own.

J. Michael Neal: I'm not the first one to point this out, but at a distance, there is no real difference between the truthfulness and openness of your handle and Jesurgliac's. What matters is the content. I'm willing to believe that your name is J. Michael Neal, but I've known people with names far less plausible than Jesurgliac, too, and I'm not digging around to validate either one. But if more people at large used pseudonyms the way Jesurgliac does, there'd be fewer occasions for what they say about themselves to be used as weapons, without at all impeding anyone's ability to be truthful about themselves.

d I think her posts about Palin and her family, though relatively innocuous, make her not very sympathetic.

If she stuck to policy, sure, but if you are essentially posting daily about people, I think it is fair for people to respond.

Where I differ with you is that I think when a divorce is tied intimately to abuse of power, that IS public policy. I do not think it a proper or honest thing to separate the two. Those details were MADE public by the abuse of power. I don't think I can make it simpler.

In the arena of public discourse, signed comment occupies a superior position to unsigned comment, for very good reasons. That there are legitimate "last-resort" reasons to include anonymous comment in the debate is not a reason to elevate it beyond its standing in those "last-resort" contexts (whistleblowing, testifying against the mafia, etc.).

Um, yes, but these positions are not dynamic. After repeated posts and writings, it could very well be argued that a) your pseudonym IS you (as others have argued), and b) in the fabled marketplace of ideas, your pseudonymous writings have withstood the test of competition and have now occupied a more respected place, in spite of the pseudonym. In other words, it's the ideas that have proven to be worthy of respect.

Like many another commenter here, I'm somewhat torn on the issue of internet "outing". Protection of anonymity/pseudonymity as a defense mechanism against harassment or retaliation seems like a good principle to uphold: anonymity as a shield against responsibility for one's words ... not so much.

Which principle should apply is rarely an easy choice. One would hope that there would be a built-in "correction" operating in the public perception (and thus the relative weight and credibility) of a named, vs. an anonymous blogger, say, making charges or accusations against a public figure - or anybody, really - but give the shape of today's media (including the Internet) who can tell?

NOT a simple issue.

Nobody here is arguing this, but I've run into extreme claims that self-chosen names are innately false in ways birth names aren't. Taken all the way, that would make all of our choices false and make it a good idea to mandate what we say & how we say it. But if we're allowed to choose our grammar, then I think it makes to support the choice of handle, too.

When I first discoverd the Internets in a burst of enthusiasm I commented all over the place. To me part of the fun was choosing new names ( I didn't realize it was a no-no!) So I posted under all kinds of anmes, mostly current and former pet cats. It was ony after reading somewhere a bout sock puppets that I realized my error. I have nw cut my names down to two. I suppose I could hide behind TSElliot can claim the multiplicity of cat names but the truth is I have just had an awful lot of cats and wanted to give them all a chance.

Anyway to me it all comes down to this: if a person is the target of lies and the liar is hiding behind a maoniker, then by all means out the liar. Other wise it is the person's choice to use their public name or not. Public names are generally considered more respectable and credible so a writer who strives to be percieved in thsoe ways would be well advised to use a public name. The choice, however is the writer's.

Muckraker didn't spread lies about palin or private information about palin's relatives. She discussed stuff that was in the regular newspaper.

gwangung: Where I differ with you is that I think when a divorce is tied intimately to abuse of power, that IS public policy. I do not think it a proper or honest thing to separate the two. Those details were MADE public by the abuse of power. I don't think I can make it simpler.

To put it a different way:

If your divorce is talked about in public because a relative of yours used her power as a public official to intervene in the conflict, then it's your relative you should be angry at for making it public, not some anonymous blogger who writes after the fact about the public issue of abuse of state power.

Or if your relative intervened at your request, you can be angry at yourself as well.

Either way, anger at the blogger (much less revenge) seems like just another example of displacing the responsibility for your own actions onto someone else (among other things).

FWIW, this is apparently the post that got Mike Doogan so mad he decided that it was wrong for AKMuckraker to be anonymous.

What's the money quote from Doogan's outing AKM? "My own theory about the public process is you can say what you want, as long as you are willing to stand behind it using your real name."

Apparently Doogan takes "say what you want" quite literally: when several dozen of his constituents e-mailed him about their concerns, he "saved them all up, and sent one response; one response with over 30 people in the “To” box. He didn’t send a copy & paste identical response to each of them individually, nor did he send one email which blind copied all the recipients to keep emails and identities private." That's straight reporting: the only commentary in it is the last sentence: "The tone of his email was snarky, and superior, and dismissive." (Obviously, that's a judgment call. It just appears to have been a judgment call that Doogan's poor e-mail technique let a lot of people make.)

When several of these people (Doogan's constituents, I remind you: people whom Doogan was elected to represent), got mad at Doogan's form e-mail, and complained (some of them using "Reply All"), Doogan again exercised his "theory of the public process":

“Are you people nuts? You send me — and everybody else in the legislature, from the looks of things — Spam and then lecture me on email etiquette — as if there were such a thing? Here’s an etiquette suggestion: Abandon your phony names, do your own thinking and don’t expect everybody to share you obsessions.”
Oh my. As AKM cheerfully points out, when an elected representative refers to his constituents writing to him about their concerns as "spam" and their concerns as "obsessions" which they shouldn't expect him to share, he has problems which will not be resolved just by outing the name of the pseudonymous blogger who made fun of him for it.

I have a feeling that Doogan is one of those old school journalists who is deeply offended by the existance of new technology.

I stated in my first post that my intention was to put forth a devil's advocate argument. My intentions were clear and clearly stated. Your choice to wilfully misunderstand me is not the same as me being unclear.

...

As for my own identity, if you click on the links I entered into the comment fields, it's readily accessible. I could be as unpleasant as you are and demand to know why you haven't researched my identity before claiming ignorance on the subject; but it's not polite.

In all honesty, I forgot at some point that you intended to present a devil's advocate position, in part because you seemed to sincere in your suggestion that pseudonymity is evil (and though it's not relevant to you, I find it deeply vexing that people in this thread so frequently confuse consistent adoption of a single pseudonym with anonymity, a far different proposition).
I'm sorry you feel that I was being unpleasant or willfully misunderstanding your position. Whether or not it speaks well of me, any misunderstanding was certainly not deliberate; and I intended no personal unpleasantness, however I may have regarded the argument being presented.
And as to your identity being fairly easily to determine: that's nice, although (1) I hadn't clicked the link because it wasn't all that terribly important to me and (2) I was actually making something of a point when I said that I had no idea who you were - the point being that your identity didn't matter, as it should be possible to assess your arguments on their own merits.

Hilzoy - I would rather that people, and in particular my students, not be able to google my name and find my collected political opinions.

Have you googled yourself recently, especially on Yahoo? Or looked at your very own Wikipedia entry? Your identity has to be one of the worst kept secrets in the universe.

oh, well sure; but just because you read it on wikipedia doesn't mean it's *true*.

it could be part of a special deep-cover operation to keep her real identity secret!

as well as her real species-membership!

Y'know, I've often wondered, given Hilzoy's stated preference that her personal/professional life and her blogging identity not be linked, whether it would be appropriate to delete that information from Wikipedia. But I'm really quite unsure about the ethics of it all, as it's (so far as I know) factual, interesting, and not obviously actively harmful, and I've never seen Hilzoy be terribly upset by its being so readily available.

"But I'm really quite unsure about the ethics of it all, as it's (so far as I know) factual, interesting, and not obviously actively harmful, and I've never seen Hilzoy be terribly upset by its being so readily available."

I'm not registered to comment on Wikipedia, and I'm largely unfamiliar with their policies, and specifically unfamiliar with their policy on such a matter, but as a practical point, it wouldn't seem to be up to you, me, or even Hilzoy, but rather to the Wikipedia community and their established (or new) policies.

So far as my extremely limited knowledge goes, you could delete it, but someone else could put it back, and back and forth you'd go until the entry was frozen or somesuch decision was made by The Many.

Or maybe nobody would argue. Try it and see.

Actually, I haven't googled myself. I gave up policing it to some extent when I had been identified several times, by name, on the Monthly (their RSS feed screwed up), Sullivan, Glenn Greenwald, and Brad DeLong (I think, in this case, as a result of the Monthly's feed.) I did delete the hilzoy stuff from my Wikipedia entry several years ago, but haven't kept up on it since I gave up anonymity as hopeless.

When I saw a comment at ObWi saying to Hilzoy, "I grew up in Tamil Nadu and even there had heard of your father," I figured allusions to her RL identity were allowed. But in general, anyone who follows the semiannual discussions of Internet pseudonymity and still doesn't get the points that Jes enumerated in her first comment loses my respect: there's been some nasty, nasty episodes of "outing" done by people who "fell off the cluetrain long ago," as the kids today say.

Hmmmm.

So, correct me if I'm wrong, but is Hilzoy actually saying the "outting" of bloggers who choose to remain anonymous is unethical?

AKMuckraker has a great post up on Mudflats which explains why she felt she needed to use a moniker and how she feels about the ethics of outing. As usual her writing is funny but biting. She isn't backing down.

"So, correct me if I'm wrong, but is Hilzoy actually saying the 'outting' of bloggers who choose to remain anonymous"

She's apparently addressing the 'outing' of bloggers who wish to remain pseudonymous; she's not addressing anonymity. It's unfortunate that she used the terms interchangeably, since they refer to quite different things.

I think a lot of people here are missing a key underlying point. What the hell difference does it make what name a poster or author uses? Are we not supposed to be weighing the value of the writing or communication based on factors like cogency, validity, relevance, presence of sound logic and arguments? Where does the name of the poster enter into that evaluation?
I find Doogan's outing of the Mudflats author to be mean-spirited and indefensible. He has provided no cogent explanation or defence of his action, and based on extracts from his emails published elsewhere, he clearly treats opposing views with contempt and derision. I shall be making a note of his name so that I can donate to his opponents in the next electoral cycle.

"I think a lot of people here are missing a key underlying point. What the hell difference does it make what name a poster or author uses? Are we not supposed to be weighing the value of the writing or communication based on factors like cogency, validity, relevance, presence of sound logic and arguments? Where does the name of the poster enter into that evaluation?"

It doesn't seem like "lot of people here are missing [this] key underlying point," since the overwhelming majority of people, starting right from the begining of the comments have made exactly this point, including Hilzoy in her post.

It seems a lot more like you didn't bother to read the comments, or post, before commenting.

She's apparently addressing the 'outing' of bloggers who wish to remain pseudonymous; she's not addressing anonymity. It's unfortunate that she used the terms interchangeably, since they refer to quite different things.

A distinction sans a whole lot of difference.

"A distinction sans a whole lot of difference."

On the contrary, a person who is anonymous has no known identity. A person who is pseudonymous is someone who is perfectly well known, but simply not using one's birth name.

If you post regularly as "JadeGold," you are pseudonymous, but you are not anonymous. If you change your posting handle every time you post, you are anonymous, and your identity is not recognized.

You're also apt to be called a sock puppet, and in many places on the internet, banned.

Pseudonymity has a decades-long history of respectability on the internet, going back to pre-Usenet days. Anonymity has always been deprecated.

These two conditions are, in fact, completely different things. Crucially so, since we traditionally frown on one, and are fine with the other.

Again, you make little or no sense. At the risk of being aware of all internet traditions™, sockpuppetry is entirely another matter.

Pseudonyms are but a tool of anonymity.

I have no idea why you're so married to the notion they are completely different things. but my original question remains--is it unethical for someone to "out" another who wishes, for whatever reason, to remain anonymous?

"Again, you make little or no sense."

Fine, I give up. This isn't some wacky notion of mine, but a principle that's held since long before Usenet. Whatever.

I have no idea why you're so married to the notion they are completely different things.

Um, because they are?

but my original question remains--is it unethical for someone to "out" another who wishes, for whatever reason, to remain anonymous?

Wouldn't presume to speak for anyone else here, but I would not go along with the "for whatever reason" clause. If, e.g., I'm doing something illegal, unethical or trashy, and I'm using anonymity or pseudonymity to avoid accountability for that, and outing me has no worse consequences than my being held accountable, then outing me would not be unethical. If, e.g., my political message makes you and/or your political allies uncomfortable and your intention in outing me is to shut me up for the sake of comfort, that would not be an ethical reason for outing me.

This isn't some wacky notion of mine, but a principle that's held since long before Usenet. Whatever.

I defer to your awareness of all internet traditions.™ It is truly useful for us to have your knowledge of UseNet lore and mythology.

Hogan; You are right. Obviously if someone is engaging in some illegal/threatening activity or conduct, "outting" would be justified. My "for whatever reason" was misplaced.

is it unethical for someone to "out" another who wishes, for whatever reason, to remain anonymous?

"For whatever reason". Supposing you had adopted the name "JadeGold" in order to defraud or carry out other criminal/hurtful actions: it would then be ethical to reveal that your real name is Ernst Stavro Blofeld.

Supposing you were carrying out criminal/hurtful actions and you had adopted the name "JadeGold", but your pseud had no connection with your villainy. It would then not be ethical to reveal that your real name is Anakin Skywalker.

Supposing that you had adopted the name "JadeGold" for your own good reasons, which you are under no obligation to share with the rest of us, and you are merely taking part in the age-old tradition that a writer may adopt a nom de plume, or nom de microphone, or handle, while retaining a degree of privacy about their personal life: it would then be absolutely unethical to reveal that that your real name is [deleted].

And until I know that you have adopted the handle "JadeGold" in order to carry out some criminal or malicious enterprise under its cover, I shall presume you innocent - and shall certainly not reveal who you really are.

Would you want me to? It's usually a good rule to behave towards others, as one would wish to have others behave towards you. Do you want your real identity posted on the Internet, linked to "JadeGold", for anyone to read? Would you consider that to be ethical behavior?

I should add that I don't have any idea what JadeGold's real name is. (Though I'm pretty sure it's not Anakin Skywalker, since I think it likely that JadeGold is older than 10 - and it would be quite a coincidence if it were Ernst Stavro Blofeld.)

But I'm confident that JadeGold didn't adopt that handle to be malicious or defraud - so I wouldn't spill it even if I knew it.

I've often wondered, given Hilzoy's stated preference that her personal/professional life and her blogging identity not be linked, whether it would be appropriate to delete that information from Wikipedia.

The proper thing to do would be to leave a message in the Discussion page, addressing this issue. If, after a set period (perhaps a few weeks or so), there is no reply, go ahead and delete (Be Bold). If there is a reply, use the Discussion page for what it's there for, and explain your reasoning.

Wiki isn't all that hard to get, and no, you don't need to register to edit (although it's preferred). I've made a few edits myself.

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