The recent outing of John “publius” Blevins by Ed “classless piece of shit” Whelan, while a gross invasion of privacy and obvious proof that Whelan is a limp-dicked coward, prompted me to think about the eventual downfall of psuedonymity in blogging. Because really: it’s only a matter of time.
Psuedonymity is great. Blevins explains most of the cogent reasons why he blogged anonymously (not wanting to frighten students, not wanting to have to deal with family issues, not wanting to danger his tenure) and they’re all entirely reasonable. And of course many of the net’s most notable bloggers blog either semi- or completely psuedonomously: Hilzoy at ObWi (and now the Washington Monthly’s blog as well) is the most immediate and obvious example, but consider also Digby or TBogg or Fafnir.
The problem with pseudonymity is this: it exists only by common compact. This means that, like any other protection provided by commonality, it’s only as good as everybody is willing to let it be. With an essentially infinite audience you will, sooner or later, find somebody who is both willing to fuck your anonymity over and is able to do so. And it’s basic human nature that we tend to distrust anonymity at a root level, so when you do get “exposed” as the author of your own opinions new observers will inevitably be inclined to trust you slightly less. (It’s silly, but it’s almost always the case.)
Now, of course, the rejoinder is “but nobody cares about my dithering on the blogotubes,” and this is mostly correct also. But that’s only true so long as you don’t write anything of consequence. If you strive to be the internet equivalent of a Man of Parts – and, false modesty aside, most widely-read bloggers are not just dicking around on a computer once they get up to the several-thousand-pageviews-per-day mark – it will, sooner or later, happen. If you protect your secrecy like Batman, then it will take a while. If you are like Blevins and don’t make it too hard to figure out, it won’t. And regardless of when it finally happens – when it happens, it will be a pain in your ass.
This is why I blog without a psuedonym. Yes, I know most people think of me as “MGK,” and that’s fine because nicknames are fun. But if you Google “Christopher Bird,” links that eventually come back to me show up on hits numbers two through four. (Including, as the second hit, an article I wrote for Torontoist wherein I insulted Conrad Black repeatedly and viscerally.) If you Google “Christopher Bird toronto,” the first six links are all me. I am not a hard person to find, internet-wise, and that is when I share a name with a somewhat famous deceased botanist/science writer and a recently-in-the-news ornithologist.
This wasn’t a choice I made lightly. Back when I started blogging back in 2001, I weighed the pros and cons of psuedonymity versus being open. I went with “open,” mostly on the basis that occasionally I piss off people with things I write, and when people get pissed off with somebody semi-anonymous the first thing they go for is your privacy. (The second thing they go after, as the first comment to this post illustrates, is your character.) I wanted to avoid that.
I know it’s cost me as much as it’s helped. I’m doing my applications for my post-school legal article right now, and conservatively I figure about a quarter of my potential jobs will disappear the moment they read this blog. I know for a fact that it cost me at least one firm job back when we were applying for firm jobs this summer. And that sucks, sure. But if I am being honest, the essential “no, fuck you” part of my character demands that I be open about what I do.
I’m not saying psuedonyms are wrong or stupid. I’m not even saying don’t use them. I’m just saying that I think what happened to John Blevins/publius is the inevitable end result of being really good at blogging, and if you strive to do this thing well – be prepared, or get proactive. Either/or.