As most of you know by now, former Washington Post editor Tom Grubisch published a cranky column today lambasting pseudonyms on the internets. Even if you grant Grubisch his central thesis – that pseudonymity lets people behave like absolute jackasses without worrying about real-life consequences – it is not that big a deal. Believe it or not we bloggers have dealt with the jackass problem since Usenet. They’re called trolls. When someone shows up at a site that you pay to host (say, washingtonpost.com) acting like a complete heel and violating to forum standards, ban them. I doubt I have as much tech savvy as whoever the Post has running their web operations and yet the principle never gave me much trouble. The only reason I can fathom for letting trolls run free is if you really need to illustrate the ravening online hordes and nobody else is that masochistic.
Maybe Mr. Grubisch hates it when bloggers engage in (gasp) media criticism from behind the mask of pseudonymity. As speaketh Atrios, Publius called and asked me tell Mr. Grubisch to go Cheney himself.
This and other media hand-wringing about nasty mean bloggers comes into sharper focus when you recall the revealing incident when Daniel Okrent, writing as the ombudsman for the NY Times, published a private citizen’s name and hometown without his permission. The power gulf could not have been more stark between Okrent, standing on the world’s largest soapbox, and an ordinary guy who wrote an email. While I don’t mean to suggest that most journalists would behave as abysmally as Okrent did, the vast power that exists between a journalist and an ordinary, named critic must feel reassuring. Even if you never would, you could. But then the power disparity stays frustratingly out of reach when the critic refuses to expose himself being named and shamed. As bloggers increase their audience, wouldn’t you know it, the soapbox gap isn’t that big anymore. If I was a cranky reporter who hated criticism that situation would freak me out as well.
Other excellent commentary Ezra Klein and Kagro X. If nothing else read this by Hilzoy, whose feelings about pseudonymity jibe pretty well with my own.
Not yet (or bothering to) read the article, one other thing which strikes me is that a stable pseudonym is really just about as good as a name, you have a reputation investment involved.
(I made a deliberate decision a long time ago to not create a stable pseudonym, just instead use my real name, but there are plenty of friends who went with the stable pseudonym route)
Hey, my previous comment is awaiting moderation. What gives?
Un-named Administration Official
Mind if I steal Karl Rove’s Pseudonym?
Why, this is ridiculous. Without name recognition, we can’t engage in ad hominem attacks, lambasting people for their race, their credo, or their ethnicity. We can’t call people Brek Girls, because they have nicer haircuts than us. We can’t call them “Magic Negros” because they have the audacity to run for office with a dark shade of skin. We can’t call them stupid, PMS-raging, bitches because we don’t even know what gender they are.
Why, with pseudonyms, we are forced to address them almost entirely by the content of their commentary, with grammar naziing being our last bastion of elitest rhetoric to defend us. We may be confronted, not as booming voices of authority, untouchable in their Ivory Towers, but as yet a few more voices in the rabble of political opinion.
That would be completely unacceptable.
After all, the greats never used Pseudonyms in their day. Just look at Mark Twain, Shakespear, and Poor Richard. Where oh where is the courage and honor of yesteryear?
You might also title this: More Journalists With Too Much Spare Time. Don’t forget to check the comments section to this story. People make some good points in support of handles (employers googling everything you ever said, stalkers locating their victims) this is my favourite so far:
Dang posters n’ bloggers, comin’ in here, askin’ questions, takin’ our jobs.
I assume Mr. Grubisch lives in the proverbial glass house. Feh. What else?
Yeah. And he checks every single one to make sure it is accurate. Much easier than blocking an ISP when someone acts like a douche. WTF do they need with a phone number for? This also means they also get the person’s physical address. Creepy. Or at least an obnoxious marketing ploy.
The Other Steve
Back in the days of usenet, I was nowhere near anonymous. I had my phone number and office address in my .sig.
I actually received phone calls complaining about my postings. Once, I posted a response criticizing a product and the vendor sales rep called me up trying to resolve the issues. That was nice.
But a few times, the phone calls were not nice.
Remind me again what prevents you from using your neighbor down the street, your pet dog, or your 4th Grade English teacher’s name/phone/address and run off on your rants with anonimity regardless?
Nicholas makes the same point I was going to. In the case of a blogger, although you might not know their real name, everything they’ve ever written for their blog is out there in the open for anyone to see. And Google makes it pretty easy to find comments they leave on other blogs.
At that point, what does it matter whether or not you can connect the pseudonym to a real person? You still get a consistent, and entirely open and searchable collection of that person’s views. If they’re a jackass, it takes only a few minutes to figure that out.
Compare with these pro journalists. Sure, they write under their real names, but who cares? Can they claim that their entire output is available online, for free, to anyone who cares to check it out? In most cases, no. A lot of newspapers with an online presence hide back issues behind registration, if not pay barriers. (Although I think this is becoming less common.) And those are the ones with comprehensive online archives, which is most of the big ones but not all rags by far.
And let’s not even start with all the insider journo schmooze events that go on, particularly on the Beltway beat. Nobody talks about what goes on in those, but you know they talk shop in there. Bloggers don’t have secret No Homers clubs.
The main reason fo anonymity on the Tubes is protection from the jackasses. Jackasses who can, and will, track you down and try to cause you harm for daring to disagree with them or piss them off. That’s just one of several reasons that sensible frequent Tube-dwellers will protect their identity and thereby their locations.
In my case, I have a real email address which has been seen, and in many cases used, by dozens of posters here. I have a real name which is known to the blog owner. I probably do more to make myself available to others on the forum than any other anonymous poster here, and will continue to do so as long as I can without exposing myself to the crazy people.
I don’t get paid for the considerable services I render here, which includes humor, insight, commentary, and a deep regard for the use of profanity and references to body parts as part of political rhetoric, and I don’t have an institution to both present me, and protect me from the maniacs, and I’ll do whatever it takes to protect myself.
If mister Grusbisch doesn’t like that, he can, as was said earlier, go Cheney himself very much.
If Mister Grubisch is wondering what he gets in return, I’d start by pointing out that I could have told him here on the ‘Trons back in 2002 that an invasion of Iraq was going to be a huge mistake and fail to make America safer. Perhaps he can point here in his crummy paper I could have found that information at that time?
By “nobody else”, you mean no other site on the internet, outside of this, the Rumpus Room of political commentary?
And, Tim, why haven’t I been banned? Seriously — I should have been, and it really bothers me that I wasn’t.
Yeesh. Not banning everybody you want is not the same thing as failing to ban anybody.
I feel as if I am missing something. If you want to get banned you know what to do. If you want me to read some comment that I apparently missed, throw up a link and I’ll take a look.
I was thinking about the exchange with Darrell some weeks ago. After that exchange, he vanished, and hasn’t returned. I’m assuming he got banned. If so, well, he certainly earned it — but so did I.
This observation isn’t original with me, but it sure is strange that a guy who’s supposedly so “concerned” about transparency and bogus identities writes up his complaints in a paper that’s passed more than its share of disinfo from “anonymous sources”.
The WaPo’s desperation is almost tangible, now. I always urge anybody who, like me, lives in the national capital area, to cancel their subscriptions, and hector their acquaintances into doing the same.
Oh, I get it now. John and I have no idea why Darrell disappeared. As far as I know we didn’t ban him, he just stopped posting. You can tell when we ban somebody with a presence in the community because one of us almost always says something about it.
Last year, before I started my little blog, I wrote an email to my city’s local radio-Rush-wannabe. We wrote back and forth to each other a couple of times and I used my full name. Then all of the sudden, this radio talk show host got a *blog* on his station’s website and what was the first thing he copied and pasted on his *blog*? My email messages without his responses. When I found out, I asked him to take them down. (He has deleted the entire thing twice since.) He accused me of asking him to be a mind reader in order to figure out who I am. He had my full name and googling it pulls up me and another woman with my name, but not in my city. It’s fairly easy to figure out who I am — but I don’t broadcast it. I could lose my job. The radio talk show host didn’t seem to understand that.
Frankly, none of the calls sound very nice. I don’t want to argue about my political beliefs on the phone. If someone had a problem with a post I wrote, I’d suggest they write a response to it. That’s what the Internet is for. Some of us (like me) hate talking on phones.
He posted some comment in one of the dead threads from last week. I was looking for an old post I wrote, and I came across it.
Okay, I found the thread. Here’s Darrell’s latest post, in all its glory:
“This observation isn’t original with me, but it sure is strange that a guy who’s supposedly so “concerned” about transparency and bogus identities writes up his complaints in a paper that’s passed more than its share of disinfo from “anonymous sources”.
The WaPo’s desperation is almost tangible, now. I always urge anybody who, like me, lives in the national capital area, to cancel their subscriptions, and hector their acquaintances into doing the same.”
I wonder if they’re just pissed because people on the internet are copying *their* cute trick.
“Tom Grubisch” is really just another one of DougJ’s clever pseudonyms. No way in Hell that’s a real name. You rubes have been had!
(Is there any rule against a spoofer becoming a columnist?)
I don’t get all the complaining about the vitriol, do you? Since I’ve started blogging and commenting, I’ve had more friendly interaction with conservatives than ever before. The local liberal blog that I write for is linked to by all the conservative local blogs. And we’re quite vitriolic.
I just don’t see how the incivility is a problem. We all get along pretty well out here in the blogosphere.
The point of taking away anonymity is that people would be more polite if they weren’t anonymous. But I think it’s the rollicking, anonymous give and take that allows people to get along on the internet as well as they do.
It isn’t just that taking away anonymity has the downside of intimidating people, it’s also that the problem it seeks to solve doesn’t actually exist.
My feeling is, if you can’t deal with vitriol don’t talk politics. I’ve had vitriolic discussions with people in person that’d put anything I’ve seen online to shame.
Mostly, but occasionally you get fuckers who are beyond-the-Pale level creepy. Like that Nicolai guy who used to post here. Remember him? Mind you, I think banning someone like that is an adequate solution to the problem. He’s probably the only poster here I wouldn’t want to bump into in a dark alley by myself. Even Darrell’s probably civil in person.
That’s not what you wrote in the Washington Post, “Mr. Grobisch.”
My guess is that the radio show host is thinking, “Everything I say is out in the open, associated with my name; why shouldn’t that be the same for everyone?” He doesn’t realize that he is his [brand] name to everyone who hears him. For most people, even those who are in the public sphere in one way or another, that doesn’t hold true. My real name is plastered all over the Internet; I’m on the first page of Google hits for my last name, for example. But I maintain light anonymity in blog commenting because I don’t want my “brand name” to be diluted by my off-the-cuff political thoughts.
All of this is Al Gore’s fault. If he’d invented the Internet better, pseudonymity wouldn’t even be a problem. (Sorry, I couldn’t figure out a way to work the Clenis or the Clagina into it…)
The Other Steve
Darrell likes to argue in dead threads… It’s the only way he can get in the last word.
I might go by “Zzyzx” but it’s not like that’s not an accurate way of identifying me since I’ve been using that since 1992.
Zombie Santa Claus
Do you ever play “Kingdom of Loathing”?
Elementary my dear Snuffy: If the Clenis hadn’t been so busy … clenising, he would have kept a better eye on on Al, and made him create a better internet.
ZSC – nope. I’m not the only Zzyzx out there alas.
Tom Grubisch is right. Only people who have brown-nosed their way up the ladder to a major press, radio, or television news outlet and then bend over for whosoever happens to be in power should have the right to “inform” the public and express appropriate opinions on public affairs.
Only they have the necessary experience to know how to report all the news that fits. Zeus forbid that the hoi polloi should get involved. What would become of our democracy? All sorts of unvetted, therefore dangerous, comments might get published.