A lot of people who have the privilege of writing under their real/legal/given names perennially attack bloggers for posting under pseudonyms. It’s happened to me, but the biggest target in the NZ blogosphere is probably the various pseudonymous posters at The Standard.
The charges are that pseudoynmous blogging (though let’s face it, they always call it “anonymous” blogging either because they don’t know the difference, they don’t like using big scary words, or they know it sounds scarier and more random) is unreliable and not worth reading, because:
- you don’t know who’s writing it, and you can’t judge the words on their own merit without knowing if the author has red hair
- you don’t know if it’s always the same person writing it, because anyone could have the password to that account (in fact I’ve recently seen specific allegations of this directed at a Standard poster: “oh, I know X used to have the password, but then Y had it and now I don’t know.”)
- the writer never has to “back up” their opinions the way Real Writers Using Their Names do
And there are doubtless plenty of other reasons why you should just stop reading this right now because I’m incapable of having anything worth your attention if I haven’t shown you my birth certificate.
And all these arguments could have some validity to them. Certainly when a troll with a rapidly-shifting pseudonym pops up in blog comments we often just say “Ignore them, they’re a troll.” When a person’s writing has a lot of obvious bias in it, you may well find yourself saying “I wonder if there’s an ulterior motive to this.”
But there’s a big problem for me around all this, and that’s the long and honourable history of pseudonyms being used right there in the mainstream media which so often calls pseudoynmous bloggers mean names.
Take the editorial of the NZ Herald. Do you know who writes it? What their allegiances are? Which political party, union or business lobby group they’ve inevitably worked for as a press secretary? Certainly a lot of the more politically-active bloggers and personalities do, and that’s why you’ll see comments saying “Obviously they let [person] write the editorial today.”
But does your average Herald reader (they’ve still got a few, I’m sure) have a sodding clue whose work they’re reading? Are they given any better reason to accept that opinion piece beyond “it’s published under the mighty banner of the Herald so they must be on to something”?
As for ulterior motives, changing identities? Well, I look around at all the known attempts to make products go viral, to spam review pages or to astroturf comments on blogs … and let’s be honest, they’ve all been pretty arse.
If I, for example, am simply the sockpuppet of [pick a political party] designed purely to sway political conversation about [pick an issue] in [pick a direction], fuck me but I’m doing a fantastic job. Four years’ blogging, 500 posts on a wide variety of topics, random periods of activity and down-time which to the untrained eye might look exactly like the work of a person who sometimes has time to blog and sometimes doesn’t?
Whoever’s running Ideologically Impure deserves some kind of political-spin-doctor Pulitzer.
Let’s look at other examples of pseudonyms. In media: were Ann Landers’ words of wisdom less valid, less accepted, because she wrote as Miss Manners? How did anyone know that she had any basis for offering other people advice on etiquette? Because they read her columns and thought “that sounds like good advice” and accepted the pseudonym as a reliable guide.
They could also probably tell she wasn’t multiple people in a dark and smokey room by the way her writing style was consistent and she didn’t go from saying “Wearing white at another person’s wedding is rude because it distracts attention from the bride” one week to “HOOTERS IS A TOTES KEWL VENYOO, YO” another.
So pseudonyms: OK when they’re printed by a respectable source. When they’re just some member of the rabble who’s got a login and a pretty premade theme? Unreliable, useless, shut up shut up shut up, how dare you have opinions not sanctioned by Proper Editorial Authorities.
The final charge I want to deal to is the idea that we pseudonymous types are cowards for sticking behind pseudonyms. In a country the size of NZ, where everyone knows everyone, where our media and our political press departments overlap hugely, where a Cabinet Minister is more than happy to release the private financial details of people who cross her and literally doesn’t care when the Human Rights Commission says she did anything wrong …
You people who have the honour of being paid for your opinions really want to question why I’m sitting here behind a pseudonym?
Well fuck you, that’s why.
None of this even addresses the “side” issue, for me specifically, of blogging as a ranty feminist. Kate Harding covered it very well many years ago.
There’s many reasons for pseudonyms, and many people used them. Mark Twain, for example. Or Martin Sheen.
I know of people who’s lives would be at risk for revealing their names. And I also know people, like myself, for whom it’s merely a chosen pen name (my real people identity isn’t exactly the internet’s biggest secret).
Arguing about hiding behind pseudonyms is just another form of ad hominem, designed to detract from the fact they have no real response.
Which probably tells you all you need to know about the authors of these attacks on pseudonymity. They’re basically attacking the left through ad hominem because they don’t have any other arguments.
Unfortunately sometimes it’s coming from people ostensibly ON the left …
Well, there is that. Just have to be aware that we do have wolves in sheep’s clothing hanging around.