lukegilman.com : The Blawgraphy
Life of a Law Student, University of Houston Law Center

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Please note: I'm no longer updating this particular blog, but keep it around for archival purposes. Visit me at the current blog at www.lukegilman.com

Anonymity and its Discontents – Anonymists and Eponymists

Why do we blog? Reading Emily Gould’s Exposed and David Lat’s new Project Truman spurred some thoughts this weekend that have been long accumulating on the nature of blogging. I’ll tiptoe around the more obvious freudian explanations for the urge to blog to note that there are two distinct camps of bloggers with very different instincts and motivations in the medium – I’ll call them the Anonymists and the Eponymists.

Eponymists

I am an eponymist. Woefully unable to think of a clever turn of phrase or decent latin maxim for my website, it is self-titled or eponymous and since my URL is my name I, unsurprisingly, blog as myself. I don’t fictionalize or disguise my identity and I choose to speak as and for myself. Consequently, I take responsibility for what I say and therefore try not to say anything on the blog that I wouldn’t say to someone’s face. Though occasionally sarcastic and intentionally provocative I choose to trust in an intelligent and sophisticated readership that can tell the difference between argument and invective. Raised in a rural backwater where everyone knew everyone else’s business anyway this seemed the most natural thing in the world to me, utterly prosaic and sensible. Many people I know are simply horrified by it. A number of my law school classmates have openly surmised about its potential to undermine my career as if it were only a matter of time. While I could certainly see situations in which blogging would be inappropriate or might cause a potential employer to look elsewhere I am simply undeterred. Anyone who would make their living by words should learn to live by them.

Anonymists

On the other end of the spectrum are Anonymists – who are anonymists because they seek to mask their identities in some way. Most simply don’t reveal their names, using a pseudonym of some sort and taking pains not to reveal any identifiable information such as the city they live in or school attended. Some go so far as to take on an alternate persona, a woman writing as a man, or to openly fictionalize (or claim to) the contents of the blog so as to dislaim any responsibility.

I would argue that the anonymists far outnumber the eponymists in the blogosphere, mostly because the internet makes it possible. There are lots of good reasons to blog anonymously. It enables you to say things that need to be said without the fear of reprisal and it often engenders the kind of frank and open conversation that isn’t entirely common even among close friends. But for that anonymity, the risk of exposure would limit the value of otherwise valuable information. This is of course the same logic that prompts whistle-blower protections.

I raise the distinction merely to say we should recognize and respect which camp we fall into. Some bloggers obviously need to figure out which one they are up front – hint, it’s a one way ratchet – there’s no such thing as anonymizing yourself ex post facto on the internet. On the other hand revealing a previously anonymous identity can be tantalizing and even lucrative (see the anonymous lawyer’s book deal). Having it done for you, on the other hand, is painful and sometimes expensive (see the cautionary tale of Dr. Flea). By our choice we may be at times foregoing rewards or avoiding some risks. Less obvious are the issues of interacting with other people in our lives – I initially thought my girlfriend would appreciate an occasional shout out on the blog – that hasty decision was summarily reversed and remanded. That was a fairly minor incident and easy to remedy but others are less so. In the next few weeks I’ll be building on this idea to see where it takes me.

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