(This article has been developed from a comment I left on Nick Baines’ blog, where there was a good debate about the rights and wrongs of anonymous blogging.)
Good Reasons for pseudonymous blogging
I think the right of bloggers to post anonymously/pseudonymously is important, for a number of reasons, but I like the term coined by Nick – “principled anonymous blogging”. Some bloggers have good reasons to conceal their identity, and that should be respected. Here are a few justifiable reasons for bloggers to use a pseudonym:
1 – Physical Danger
For many people, to deny them anonymity is to deny them a voice or put them in physical danger. Consider refugees or campaigners from abroad. What about victims of domestic violence – why should they not be able to speak in public without fear?
2 – Over-heavy restrictions imposed by employers
In this country, we see bloggers sacked If a blogger defames their employer or violates a reasonable contract, then I have no problem with sanctions being taken.
However, in the UK we do not have the balance right yet between freedom of expression, and the right of employers to restrict employees’ actions outside the workplace. This question is tied up with the need to create rational British (and particularly English) laws guaranteeing a right to express an opinion.
3 – Widening political participation
At a time when renewal/broadening of our political process to help individuals participate is perhaps the single most important challenge we face, we should not frighten people away from expressing their views publicly.
A good number of established bloggers have started out without revealing their identity, including me. In my case, I needed to distance my political commentary from a short-term contract in a workplace which required political neutrality. This was one of the coincidental reasons why I have ended up editing a non-partisan blog.
4 – Fear
There are many, many, examples of posts that would not have happened if not made anonymously. One example was the “Dave Walker reposts” here, which were part of a blog campaign starting in summer 2008. Much of the reporting of that saga – some by insiders whose jobs were at risk – would not have happened without anonymity; many people had been subjected to extended bullying at work, and were *frightened*.
Stick to one pseudonym
To me the key point about acceptable anonymous/pseudonymous blogging is that it be done with a consistent identity, so that debate is transparent.
There is an argument that different pseudonyms are acceptable in each niche or community where a person participates; I’m not commenting on the detail of that question here.
Pseudonyms in the wider media
If we are going to question blogging anyonymity, then we have to come up with a set of criteria which we also apply to pseudonyms used elsewhere and far before blogs even existed.
Newspaper diary columns, and writers in general, have used pen-names (or maiden names), for centuries. This is often ignored.
Online anonymity isn’t usually anonymous
In practice, most websites and online companies will divulge identities when faced with a demand from a Court of Law, as has been seen in recent Court Cases.
There are very few publishers in the UK who would conceal the identity of an abusive author. However, a whistleblower would be in a diifferent category.
My (obvious) conclusion is that it is not “anonymity” which is the problem, but rather “the abuse of anonymity”; the latter is where our laws should focus.