The privilege of real-name blogging

Brian Edwards is the latest to wade into the “anonymous bloggers” debate.  I’ve previously posted about the reasons people use pseudonyms, and my personal “justifications” for arguing that a pseudonym does not automatically render a person’s statements worthless.

But there’s the other side to it, the side I glossed over in that post:  the privilege of real-name blogging.

To Brian’s credit, he includes talkback radio under the heading of “anonymous commentary”, and when prompted in comments, the truly anonymous editorials of the Herald and Listener, but it’s pretty clear that it’s bloggers Brian has in mind when he talks about “cowardice”, when he states

More contemptible by far than the anonymous correspondent is the anonymous blogger, particularly in a democracy like New Zealand where freedom of speech is limited only by the laws of defamation.  Such lack of spine contrasts starkly with the courage of those anonymous bloggers and pamphleteers who are the advocates of freedom and democracy in totalitarian societies.

Brian also notes that of course, we “anonymous” bloggers (and seriously, the only thing that truly offends me about this eternal argument is people’s insistence on pretending there’s not a clear difference between anonymity and pseudonymity) will object to being labelled cowards.  So well done, Brian, you’ve got me.

You’ve also got privilege.

You’ve got the privilege of being a person in a career, in a social position, in a financial situation, which mean that stating your personal political biases for the world to see doesn’t pose you any risk.

You get to get up in the morning and sit at your computer and type whatever you darn well please into the text field.

You don’t have to worry that your manager will see it, and if not fire you, just mildly bully you on an ongoing basis at levels HR refuse to acknowledge until your work situation becomes unbearable.

You don’t have to consider that future employers might labour under the impression that a  person’s opinions about completely unrelated policy makes them unsuitable for employment.  Or that having political opinions at all rules you out of all public service, NGO, or media roles – or the entirety of customer service.

You do have the same concerns about scum like C*m*r*n Sl*t*r using your personal opinions to attack you – but again, you’re in a position and a career where you’re fairly well protected from such attacks.  You’ve got clients and contacts who are already well-aware of your political leanings.  Anyone who might have had a problem with them probably doesn’t work with you.

You don’t, therefore, have to worry about people saying “Look, I know he’s a turd in the NZ media punchbowl, but some people do take him seriously, so we can’t employ you.”

And you know, none of that is really your fault.  You shouldn’t feel bad for being in the kind of position where you can say whatever you like with no fear of damaging reprisals.

What is your fault is not realising that that is a type of privilege.

And lacking that privilege is not cowardly.

People protecting themselves by using pseudonyms, and thus giving themselves more freedom to express their opinions – and knowing that those opinions don’t come with the “established columnist” and “expert media advisor to H1” bonuses – are not “cowards”.  They’re people with a much clearer picture of how the world works for people who aren’t Brian Edwards.

And seriously, Brian.   “Anonymity Pandemic”?


PS. Just for Brian, who thinks

My position is that there often is and that anonymity permits or encourages people to be less considered, less reasonable, less restrained and more aggressive, more intolerant and more abusive than when they put their names to what they have written or said.

I haven’t even used the word “fuck” once!  …  Oops.


  1. peterlepaysan

    I have to confess to using “bullshit” in response to Edwards sanctimonious rant. Mea culpa!

    Actually blogs are are the latest version of town hall meets, corner soap boxes from generations ago.

    Were hecklers ever obliged to identify themselves? No, the speakers took them head on.

    The hecklers were either cheered or derided by the involved crowd.

    Tim Watkin over at Pundit has taken a similar pious whimpering whimpish line.

    Both (male) media types need their names up there.. The rest of us in the real world offer an opinion and get on with our lives.

  2. Dovil

    The funny thing was is that I used a made up name for the primary purpose of commenting to his post (‘Trevor Whateveritwas’) to show that just because something looks like a real name doesn’t mean that it is, and the point was ignored or went over his head. He was instead outraged that I was possibly impersonating someone – how many Brian Edwards are out there in the world?

    I think this was just something out of his comfort zone. Every point made that argued that this was more nuanced than he was making out was either ignored, distorted or insults were flung. He was arguing from his own position and just couldn’t, or wouldn’t, put himself in the shoes of someone that wasn’t himself. At not one point did I see him stop to consider that someone might actually have a point. A bit worrying and a little bit sad.

    • QoT

      It was an excellent point you made, too. But actually addressing things like “the shit people with female-identified usernames put up with” would undermine the whole “you’re a bunch of cowards so Imma ignore you” tone of his piece.

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