More on the Anonymity Issue

by Little Miss Attila on June 7, 2009

Everyone still seems pretty exercised about this. Don Surber thinks outing a pseudonymous blogger is just fine, which boggles my mind. North Dallas Thirty (in addition to linking me in a way that made me blush) understood the germane issue, though: Ed Whelan’s intent was to bully Publius for hurting his widdow feewings. He wanted to threaten his challenger’s job, his family relationships, and his standing in the community because Ed Whelan couldn’t argue the issue on its merits.

Surber turns that reality on its head by calling Publius “thin-skinned,” but Publius wasn’t the one who decided to draw someone else’s “family, friends, and colleagues” into an online quarrel about politics. That was Ed Whelan’s decision. I hope—and trust—that this didn’t impress his colleagues at NRO, which has been, in the past, a publication for grownups rather than vindictive schoolchildren.

North Dallas Thirty nails it, here:

Whelan has inadvertently made it clear that his whole point in doing this is to create problems for the blogger with said blogger’s “family, friends, and colleagues.” This has nothing to do with what was said; this has everything to do with creating trouble outside the blogosphere for someone who disagrees with you with the sole intent of getting them to stop doing whatever it is with which you disagree by hurting them somehow.

That isn’t honest dialogue; it’s hostage-taking.

I have to admit that I’m even more shocked that this childish, stalkerish behavior came from the right side of the b-sphere. It’s an embarrassment to have people who are supposedly on my side on several issues taking things to this level of indecency.

Look: when I started blogging I wasn’t sure how long it would last, and I knew that “the internet is forever.” I also wanted to be careful as a female, since I have been physically assaulted in the past; I didn’t want to attract stalkers. I was also mindful at the time that my husband and I were considering having a family, and I didn’t want any child of ours threatened by being brought into any kind of political quarrel. So I started out going by my nom de internet only.

Once it got to a certain level, it became necessary to make a decision: I would either have to go public and endure the career hit that would incur, or I could continue to hide behind the blog-persona. By that time, it was clear that parenthood was not in the cards for us. I chose to go public, but not everyone has the freedom to do that. And if I really knew how many gigs it’s cost me—and could put a dollar amount on that—I don’t know how I’d feel. (The figure is, at least two jobs and several thousands of dollars. But no regrets.)

I do recognize that online anonymity/pseudonymity has some destructive potential, but it also gives us voices that we would not otherwise have. Lots of voices. I had personally thought that the cure for bad speech under a pseudonym was more speech under more pseudonyms, but perhaps I was wrong: I guess the cure is vengeance.

Ed Whelan chose to ride into the wild, wild West on a horse that he picked: his name, and the standing he has as a writer for NRO. When someone got a bit caustic with him, he decided to cheat instead of fighting it out, and he lashed out at the other party, hiding behind not anonymity, but rather NRO’s skirts.

I don’t see why I should respect that in the least.

UPDATE: I see that some clarification is in order:

1) I had thought that the exceptions would be obvious, but not so. Outing is fine when one is fighting back against criminal conduct, bona fide stalking, threats, or libel.

2) I have no intention of defending conduct I regard as unethical when it comes from people who are “on my side” of a given argument. If anything, I will probably complain more loudly.

3) If you want to see North Dallas Thirty’s full reasoning, you might want to click over to his site, rather than complaining in the comments section here that my short quotation doesn’t make it clear. Go on: we’ll wait.

4) If you saw the names I’d been called in the past you might have a better notion as to why I think Ed Whelan overreacted. Some of them are downright creative, such as “skanky gash.” It goes on from there, and naturally encompasses all the usual slurs against women.

5) If the playing field is now “level,” does that mean Publius now has a staff job working for a nationally recognized magazine, like Whelan does?

UPDATE II: More from the Washington Monthly, where it’s not clear what Jonah Goldberg has been smoking, and from Legal Insurrection, who thinks that Ed Whelan and neo-Publius may “deserve each other.”

Perhaps they do. My only dog in this fight is to retain the viability of anonymous blogging, which I do see as analogous to the 18th-century pamphleteers’ efforts.

{ 2 trackbacks }

The Anchoress — A First Things Blog
June 8, 2009 at 10:20 am
Okay, I’ll weigh in on this “outing” of anonymous bloggers thing « The TrogloPundit
June 9, 2009 at 6:12 am

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Stoutcat June 8, 2009 at 5:44 am

Amen to that!


William Teach June 8, 2009 at 7:07 am

Excellent points, LMA!

Me, I just keep using my blogname because it goes with the blog theme. But, people can find my real name if they want, right on the About page. But, if some people want to be anonymous, hey, that is part of the fun of the Interwebz and blogging. If Whelan has such thin skin, he should get out of the politics game.


Hyman Roth June 8, 2009 at 7:09 am

You are not Ed Whelan; how do you know his motives? How does one “inadvertently make it clear”?

1) Ed Whelan writes under his own name, and takes responsibility for what he writes.

2) Anonymous liberal trolls (like Publius/Blevins) harass him (with specious leftist lies).

3) Ed levels the playing field.

4) Publius/Blevins cries like a little girl.

If you want a mediocre racist partisan like Sotomayor on the Supreme Court, just keep helping leftists like Publius/Blevins (Whelan’s “poor widdle victim”) and keep attacking conservatives.


mrclark June 8, 2009 at 8:28 am

Ol Ed outta know that actions like this are pretty much ‘career ending’ actions…for him, that is. None to worry, I’m sure he’ll find a cozy home to people who are known for this over at Huffpo or DailyKOS


Samuel Goodin June 8, 2009 at 8:45 am

I used to love NR, back when I was maybe 17. But as I got older, I found it to be more and more irrelevent. From it’s focus on New York culture (I lived in Oklahoma at the time) to the issues that seemed to have nothing worth reading in them, to the reason I quit subscribing (a renewal campaigne that seemed to call readers criminals) I have generally found I only miss Roman Genn’s caricatures.

NRO has been following the same path. Not as quickly, but there is only so much Goldberg and Hanson can do.


Jeff G June 8, 2009 at 9:47 am

I hate this kind of throaty outrage.

The fact is, there are certain anonymous persons in the blogosphere who get off the destruction of people’s reputations via the search engine and the archive.

Relying on their sense of decency or their consciences to get them to stop is a non-starter; legal action is expensive and difficult.

As someone who’s had his family attacked, let me tell you this: outing works, so long as you let people know you are committed to it. I don’t out people who disagree with my positions. I out people who use their anonymity and search engine architecture to try to harm me personally.

I take the protection of my name seriously. And until you’ve been on the receiving end of high profile attacks designed to brand you a racist, or a homophobe, etc., you should temper your indictments against those who are put in the position to make a choice.


jh June 8, 2009 at 10:57 am

Well said


Hyman Roth June 8, 2009 at 3:27 pm

Among the things that Publius/Blevins wrote about Ed Whelan:

“a know-nothing demagogue”


“a legal hitman”

Ad hominem attacks against a debate opponent (while hiding behind a pseudonym) are over the line. Publius/Blevins is in the wrong, and got what he deserved. Except all of this puzzling sympathy from conservatives. He doesn’t deserve any of that.


Little Miss Attila June 8, 2009 at 3:35 pm

I’m sorry, but those are the types of phrases that I would expect a National Review writer to be able to shrug off–with or without a laugh.

And I’m not proffering sympathy: clearly, Publius was being obnoxious. I just don’t think what was said rises to the level of justifying even the effort required to dig up someone’s real identity–not to mention actually publishing it.

Even Whelan referred to it as “ankle-biting.” Well: was it, or wasn’t it? These phrases are cartoon-like when applied to an NR blogger; they weren’t a threat to the man’s reputation. If anything, drawing that kind of flack probably enhanced his reputation.

Whelan made himself look bad, and NR along with him.


Hyman Roth June 8, 2009 at 4:13 pm

I don’t believe in double standards. I would not expect you to tolerate being insulted personally during a debate. Especially not by some anonymous weasel.

No more free passes for liberal misbehavior. No more double standards. And no more piling on fellow conservatives to do the liberal’s dirtywork.

In the final analysis, a conservative who enables and defends an abusive liberal troll is not much different from a conservative who voted for Obama.


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