Who's that Girl?


Part 2: Anonymous Bloggers

Originally posted: August 26, 2009 on TrishMcFarlane.com

Thank you to everyone who read and commented on yesterday’s post about the rights of anonymous bloggers, or any bloggers for that matter.  There were so many detailed comments that I think it’s fitting to dig a little deeper today in another post.

So, I asked a couple questions yesterday about the rights of anonymous bloggers.  I basically wanted to hear what people thought about having companies like Google being forced to disclose the names of anonymous bloggers.  The people who commented really hit on some key takeaways from not only this specific case (blogger ‘SkanksNYC’ and her struggle with being identified) but with other cases as well. 

It seems like the consensus is that regarding the First Amendment, there has to be some line drawn in the sand that says when you begin attacking someone in a libelous, defamatory way that act is illegal and you should no longer be protected under the First Amendment.  Free speech until you break the law.  Steve Boese said, “I am sure many anonymous bloggers love the freedom of being able to write pretty much whatever they want, with little to no consequences. But this anonymity can’t be used as protection in the case of likely illegal activity.”  This idea of there being consequences for bloggers if they break the law permeated most of the comments.  Lisa Rosendahl summed it up nicely when she said, “legal rights, precedents aside, if you aren’t willing to put your name on it (whether you choose to or not) don’t write it.”  April Dowling and Shennee Rutt agreed.

There was also talk about bloggers in general and whether or not they should be, or remain, anonymous.  The interesting thing for me is that when I think of all the “anonymous” bloggers I follow, or bloggers that do not share their name on their blog, I can’t think of one that I have not been able to eventually learn who they are.  If you begin commenting on blogs, get to know the blogger on Twitter or Facebook, get to know them through email, etc. you will find out who the person really is.  Often, it’s not that they do not want anyone to know who they are, but they may not want their employer to be attached to the blog, so when they write, they remain anonymous. 

The commenter’s were split on whether or not to blog anonymously.  Paul Hebert and Mike VanDervort each talked about believing in transparency when blogging.  Mike VanDervort, who does not blog anonymously said, “My personal feeling is you should blog out in the open. I do realize not everyone can do that, but it does enforce a certain transparency.”  I agree with Paul and Mike.  To the extent that it is possible, I believe the benefits of blogging as yourself  outweigh the reasons not to.  It does not mean you have to identify your employer or organizations you are affiliated with.  It means that you may have to state somewhere on the blog that the views you express are your own.  But, at least you’re stating to the world that you take responsibility for your words.

Contrast this with Shauna Moerke, the HR Minion, who started out with an anonymous blog.  Shauna says, “On the one hand, as a former anonymous blogger I would have hated to have been forced to identify myself. On the other hand, I would have never done anything like this chick did. Free speech is not meant to protect lies and if that’s what this blogger was doing then she should be held responsible.”  April Dowling  of Pseueo HR had similar views as Shauna.  April said, “I get why some people do the anonymous blogging thing, I did it myself for a while. The way this woman has chosen to be anonymous is cowardly. I’m all about free speech and freedom of the press but if you are going to publicly bash someone, have the nerve to at least own your words.”  As you can see, I couldn’t have said it better myself.

The last theme that ran through most of the comments was the blogger MUST assume responsibility for what they write.  That means whether they are anonymous or not.  Anonymity does not mean freedom.  I loved when Darci Stitt said, “Freedom means you can say it, write it, etc. It doesn’t mean you are free from the responsibility.”

So, the key takeaways were:

  • Be as transparent as you can when blogging
  • Don’t write anything you won’t take responsibility for
  • Don’t use blogs for personal attacks that cross the line into illegal behavior

Thanks to everyone for their comments.  Comments are what make a post better because it opens up new discussions.  Also, if you haven’t read the entire comment posted by Darci Stitt, check it out.  She gives a great example of the case of “Pitt Girl” in Pittsburgh.

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