August 14, 2002
Pseudonymity And Anonymity

A lively discussion on pseudonymous websites started at USS Clueless and has since spread to at least a dozen other sites. Den Beste lists most of these at the end of his entry, but 'Robert Musil', The Man Without Qualities, reminds us of some pertinent older posts.

I already said most of what I want to say on the subject in a post on July 5th, but here are some further thoughts:

  1. I'm not entirely comfortable with pseudonymity myself, but whenever I think of 'coming out of the closet', like Paul Palubicki ('Sgt. Stryker') and Porphyrogenitus, something happens to deter me. As I've mentioned more than once, I'm a high school teacher. Ten days ago, an anonymous creep posted a couple of pornographic pictures in the comments on my site, and it was 4-5 hours before I noticed and deleted them. These were not mere cheesecake: they were full frontal pictures of naked men with erections (and stupid grins). If any of my students had visited my site, knowing that it was my site, and seen those pictures, I think that would have been grounds for immediate firing. (The pictures may in fact have been posted to get me in trouble. I still have hopes of identifying the sender, though the AOL abuse people seem to be in no hurry to answer my e-mail.)
  2. I have not told my employers and colleagues about my blog, since I don't consider it any of their business. So far as I know, none has noticed. I use a nearly identical weevil symbol as a kind of trademark on my 'professional' real-name website. So far, and so far as I know, only one of the 1000+ members of the internet Classics list has noticed the connection, though I've told a few others.
  3. My pseudonym is easily penetrable. Try a 'whois', as the nasty little boys at WarbloggerWatch did a few weeks ago. There is also more than one obvious Google search that would lead directly to my real name. I always sign my real name when e-mailing other bloggers, so writing me a non-offensive note would do the trick. After the first month or two, I added "(but call me 'Dr. Weevil' in public)" to my signature, since some people had already printed my real name on their blogs. Pictures from two different NYC blogger bashes are up on the web, some of them on my own site.
  4. I agree that pseudonymity is something likely to lessen the average reader's interest in what is said, all other things being equal. But so are several other factors. A silly name doesn't help: more on this below. A light-on-dark color scheme alienates more readers than it attracts, but it doesn't seem to have hurt PejmanPundit. Other things are rarely equal: if the content is good enough, readers will come. And even an elegant redesign has not made WarbloggerWatch worth reading, except by those of us who hope to derive a low enjoyment from observing the intellectual pathologies on display.
  5. It may be true that real-name ('onymous'?) bloggers are, on the average, more trusted, and more trustworthy, than pseudonymous and anonymous bloggers. But there is a great deal of overlap between the two categories. Though I won't name any, there are plenty of 'real-name' bloggers I find useless. There are also plenty of pseudonymous bloggers I find well worth reading. In some cases I have met them and know their real names: Asparagirl, Orchid (Daily Dose). At least one I have met twice and still only know her first name: Ravenwolf. Others I would not have known were using pseudonyms if they hadn't said so more than once on their blogs: Juan Gato, Edward Boyd (Zonitics). On the other hand, I think 'Diane E. Moon' is the real name of the author of Letter from Gotham, but it sounds a bit like a pseudonym (since the goddess Diana was often identified with Luna, the Moon). Brendan O'Neill has rudely suggested that Sasha Castel is a pseudonym, but it's not. In some cases real names have been published, but only because some asshole 'outed' them: besides myself, this category includes 'the Timekeeper' at Horologium. Many pseudonymous bloggers use obviously fake names, which is a nice way of letting people know what they're dealing with: those I link to include N. Z. Bear (The Truth Laid Bear), Mindles H. Dreck (More Than Zero), Robert Musil (The Man Without Qualities), Max Power (Sound and the Fury), and Silflay Hraka. In short, it seems plausible that pseudonymous bloggers would not be worth reading, but actually looking at them shows that this is not always the case.
  6. A "silly" title or pseudonym will annoy the likes of Brendan O’Neill, though some of us consider that a plus. I can't find the reference, but somewhere A. E. Housman compares two scholars, one of whom "wore his frivolity on the outside", the other "on the inside". The first was often underestimated because of the witty language he used in making his arguments, though his scholarship was quite sound. The second was overestimated by those who thought a grave manner a guarantee of quality, though his actual arguments were often arbitrary and shoddily constructed. Much the same might be said of some bloggers and legacy journalists.
Posted by Dr. Weevil at August 14, 2002 12:51 AM

I toyed with the idea of pseudonymity when I began blogging - if I were still a high school teacher I certainly would have done so. In general I suppress certain things - my blog is not all of me; it is the public part of me.

I also didn't tell my family. At first, it was a matter of - ahem - shame that I was spending time doing this. After that it became lurid fascination, and indeed my mother found me by googling about 3 weeks ago. She is very amused.

Posted by: Michael Tinkler on August 14, 2002 02:56 PM

Er, if you have a pseudonym because this stuff could cause you grief, why make it so easy to crack?

Posted by: Anton Sherwood on August 14, 2002 04:05 PM

Pseudonym? What pseudonym?

Posted by: Fleming Ayniss on August 14, 2002 05:09 PM

...tempest in a teapot. Clever pseudonyms guarantee my first visit - thus my enjoyment of Dr. Weevil, among several.

Posted by: Dennis McNiece on August 14, 2002 09:13 PM

I've several examples of people being the subject of quite serious harrassment and even sued over commentary on the Internet. There are some real whackjobs out there. So there are I think some real legitimate reasons for anonymity.

Posted by: Robin Roberts on August 16, 2002 12:42 PM