Why I'm against anonymous blogs

My rant about the suckiness of anonymous weblogs has created quite a resonance, both in the comments and e-mails to me. I realise that the subject is somewhat touchy, and I wasn't saying that people shouldn't blog anonymously (or psydonymously), I'm just saying that I don't like anonymous blogs, and with a handful of exceptions, I don't read them. Here's a number of reasons why:

1. Sex, lies and flames

My experience from UseNet was that people who didn't post with their real names either thought they were cool, or they just wanted to provoke the regular group members and start flame wars. It's the same with weblogs, really: Many anonymous bloggers are anonymous only so that they can, under the relative protection of anonymity, lie as much as they want, denounce other people, verbally attack anybody without having to base their writring on facts, and generally just write any crap they wish without having to answer for it. Which is, I guess, why the majority of warbloggers is blogging anonymously. I suspect that most of them would never have the guts to post under their real names because they know they'd instantly lose their credibility in the real world if somebody reads what they're writing.

If you have your name on your website, you have to think before posting. You have to check and double-check your sources for credibility. You can't just use any term to attack somebody; instead, you have to think about whether the term you're using is adequate and to what degree it is justified. This by itself improves your credibility immensely; it also makes it much harder for others to attack or ridicule you.

And for those who think that a pseudonym makes them much cooler than they actually are, let me tell you that that's just a delusion: if you think you need a pseudonym, this just shows that you're totally, completely, utterly uncool. In fact, you're so uncool that you even think your real name isn't good enough for you. Now that's pretty pathetic.

2. Personality

I briefly touched upon this in my Martinkus vs. 19 posting. For me as the Ikea customer, it doesn't make much of a difference if the box with my table inside was checked by T. Martinkus or by controller #19 -- I just want to be sure everything's in the box, right? And yet, while I never wondered who #19 was, this wasn't the case with T. Martinkus. Odd as it may seem, a name changes a lot. It says that my table was inspected by a human being, just as a signed blog says it's written by a human being (rather than by R. Robot). The fact that I know nothing about the person doesn't matter; the assurance that it actually is a person is a good start.

3. Competence

Finding information about the author before reading the weblog can help you provide a first estimate as to the author's competence for writing about whatever they're writing about. I say a first estimate, because the contents of the blog will invariably affirm or invalidate that estimate. An intelligent American law professor may still write a lot of nonsense on European politics, or he may turn out to have a much greater insight than you thought at first. Ultimately, some information, however little it may be, will help you achieve a much better understanding of what the person is writing about - for example, John Robb made very little sense to me during the Iraq war, and I almost wrote a nasty bit about him, when I was told he had a military career behind him and things suddenly fit together; my criticism would have been totally out of place.

As information about the author gives you a glimpse at somebody's potential competence, the fact that somebody is withholding this information can be interpreted as an attempt to hide one's incompetence. I may be doing a lot of people a lot of injustice, but I kind of see it that way. Actually, it takes some guts to put your name under a piece of writing where you're not really 100 per cent sure if it's correct because you're not an expert and you haven't had the time or the means to do the proper research. And it takes even more guts to admit that you were wrong. Anonymous blogs never admitthat they were wrong because they don't have to. That's why writing a signed blog builds character: you're accountable for what you do, so you have to react appropriately (publish a correction and/or apology) if you do wrong. That in itself is a show of competence.

4. Identity

Some of the weblog gurus (David Weinberger presented an excellent paper to that effect at BlogTalk) will not tire to tell us that weblogs are all about identity -- the contents of the blog, they say, are secondary to the (self-)expression of the individual who writes them. I wouldn't go this far myself, but one thing is true for me too: unless somebody writes totally gripping prose, the less I know about them personally, the less I feel compelled to return to their blog and read it on a regular basis. There's nothing more boring than a blog where I can't envision the passionate individual behind it. And it turns out that people who are truly passionate about what they write will invariably sign their stuff with their name, because they know or feel instinctively that writing anonymously makes them a phony.

5. Politics

There's one exception to all this: I can understand bloggers who are living in countries where they might face repression or political pressure if they posted under their own name. This does, however, concern only a very small minority of bloggers.

For the rest of us it's a matter of thinking about what we want to say and how we say it. There are a few topics that I am very consciously not talking about in my blog, but I don't feel that I have to start an anonymous blog just to write about these things. When, every now and then, there's an irresistible urge to write about them, I check again if it's really necessary, and if it is, I'll find a way to do it. It takes a certain command of writing, but it's possible to write a fierce criticism without pissing off the people you're criticising.

6. Protection

Does an anonymous blog protect you? Well, maybe, maybe not. If someone cares enough to spend enough time on investigating, the identity of a blogger can be found out. As for whether you still want to identify with what you write today ten years from now, I'd say you don't have to and very few people would expect you to.

My own experience with anonymous writing that had severe repercussions a couple of years later was a brief comment written by my ex-girlfriend in a student newspaper. It was published anonymously, but one professor at university was convinced that I had written it. Seven years later, these three lines effectively destroyed my potential academic career. If the article had been signed, things would most probably not have happened this way: not only would it have been clear who the author was, lacking the "protection" of anonymity, the article would most likely also have been phrased differently.

The opinions expressed here are those of Horst Prillinger and his only. Please note that while he is taking great care to ensure that all the information displayed here is correct, he cannot be made responsible for any factual errors that may occur. Under no circumstances is his employer in any way responsible for anything published on this site.

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Last update: 27.06.2003; 18:22:38

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