Saturday, October 21, 2006


Atrios liked this comment on Feministe about attempts to "out" one of the bloggers there. I did too, so I'll reproduce it and Atrios' response. Feministe in italics.

Yeah, that’s probably true, but it leads to a different interpretation. AB’s argument is that pseudonymity is bad because it gives people license to do things for which they would be held responsible if they were posting under their real names. But even posting under her real name, AB is pretty much immune from consequences. She can behave like a batshit loon and not worry about losing her job. The bothersome effect of pseudonymity is that it gives the rest of us the privilege that AB takes for granted. And that’s the real problem: not that it gives others impunity, but that it creates a situation where impunity ceases to be her special privilege.

This is absolutely correct. The ability to participate in the public discourse is something which previously was available only to a select few, and is now open to everyone. Part of what allows that is the ability of people to not attach their name to everything they write. People who have job and income stability (say, tenured professors) take for granted that they can say just about anything in a public space (such as the internets) without fear of consequence. Many other people, not so much.

The only reason to care about the identity of the person at the other end of the internet is to allow for real world consequences for online activity, consequences that some people are largely shielded from.

There's no reason people should worry that their boss is going to get called if they make some whiny asshole upset on the internet, or that their phone number will get posted, or their children brought into the discussion. But there are assholes on the internet who happily do such things on a regular basis, and it's perfectly sensible to hide a real world identity which has nothing to do with what goes on in the virtual world.

If I'd blogged under the name "Roger Smith" instead of "Atrios" no one would have been the wiser. Knowing what they believed to be a real name would they have been entitled to know all of my personal details? Of course not. And, if not, a name really confers no meaningful information.

Certainly anonymity lets people be bigger assholes than they might otherwise be, but for the most part who cares. It's the internets.
In fact, that latter bit about "Roger Smith" and "Atrios" is why I chose such an obvious pseudonym- because if you are using one, it is fair (I think) to make it apparent. Aside from that, I'll just add that I believe the same thing now that I did in 2002- that there's a tradition of pseudonymity and anonymity online that goes back further than the Internet, and the reason is simply because it's not supposed to matter who you are, where you are, or what your background is. All that matters is what you write.

Yes, it means that you have the same kind of impunity that "opinion journalists" generally enjoy (at least those that are patriotically correct), but the tradeoff is that you can't rely on your background for validation either. You could have a doctorate or never have finished high school. You could be a captain of industry or the lowliest worker. You could, as the saying goes, "be a dog". If the dog has something to say, more power to him.

One thing I do disagree with, though; the whole "it's the Internet, nobody cares" thing is growing passe. Newspaper editors wouldn't be wetting themselves at their circulation stats were that still the case. This isn't 1997, or even 2002, when I started this damned thing. Things have changed.

(Among other things? Libertarianism isn't anywhere near as dominant as it was, and the conservative bloggers are nowhere near as important as their liberal counterparts. There is still a hegemonic conservative discourse out there, but it's not the same world it was. Maybe I'll make OSC happy and change the site name to something more appropriate.)

(A GRRM title maybe? His books are pretty damned good too.)

In any case, the internets DO matter. And, thus, so does the tradition of pseudonymity.

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