Saturday, June 18, 2005

Blogging While Anonymous*

Atrios has an interesting post on the topic, and I want to pipe in, too, given that some mean-spirited people might view "Echidne of the snakes" as a made-up handle, too.

Pseudonyms have been used in writing for a very long time, much before blogging was invented. Think of the Federalist Papers, think of Currer Bell and George Eliot. The reasons for writing anonymously are many and some are better than others. The Bronte sisters chose to write under male names because the literary markets of the era discriminated against women. The anonymous writers of the Federalist Papers didn't want their identities contaminate the message, perhaps. More recently, Carolyn Heilbrun chose Amanda Cross as the name to use when she wrote detective fiction, because she was an academic and the academic circles looked down on the detective novel genre.

The reasons for choosing anonymity vary, clearly, from protection of ones career or reputation to defenses against unfair markets to concerns with the purity of the message. In countries with authoritarian regimes anonymity may be the shield which stops a writer from being killed or his or her family from being hunted down.

But anonymity could be selected for more nefarious reasons. A writer might wish to cause harm and havoc and not be caught doing it, or someone might present a message in total conflict with that person's own lifestyle. There could be outright fraud involved or at least dishonesty. This is the case those present who dislike anonymous writing. How can someone attack Echidne of the snakes if nobody knows who she really is?

This argument is less powerful in blogging than it might be in the case of something like anonymous leaflets being spread all over a town, slandering a person's reputation, say. Bloggers tend to stay put on their little blogs and the same made-up handle stays put, too. If one becomes well-known enough, like Atrios, for example, then the pseudonym takes an equal validity to a real name. Atrios responds to his critics as Atrios. And so do other pseudonymous bloggers. Even I talk back to my commenters as Echidne.

The ability to Google people provides a very good reason for writing anonymously. I don't want my little mother harassed for what I say on my blog, and this might well happen if the harassers knew other names for me. (And, yes, I do get hate-mail. Nowhere near as much as love-mail, but I do get it.)

But none of these are the reason why I chose to start a pseudonymous blog. My impetus was the desire to write without the baggage that goes with who I otherwise am, the desire to recreate a personal voice. It is fun. And it was initially a purely literary exercize, with a little bit of magic thrown in. Now Echidne is someone who sort of exists, and if I started another blog under, say, "Olive the Omnivorous Ovary", I'd feel a fraud. Weird, isn't it?

Anyway, what do you think about anonymity in the blogosphere?
*Strictly speaking, pseudonymous. I'm freely mixing the two here because most of the critics do so.