The Outing of a Blogger: The Fear of Being Found Out

Filed as Features on March 30, 2009 10:27 am

blog anonymous mask over word bloggerIn “The Outing of a Blogger: Social Transparency or Violation?” and “The Outing of a Blogger: Is it Legal to Reveal a Blogger?” I’ve covered some of the issues around the outing of an Alaskan blogger by a local politician and the legality of such actions.

There have been a variety of blogger outings lately, some with positive outcomes. Fake Steve Jobs Blogger, Daniel Lyons, admitted that he was stunned that it took so long to be uncovered, enjoying the attention. For Lyons, his blatant lampooning of Steve Jobs turned into a career booster. Lyons expected to be found out. Most anonymous bloggers worry they will be.

One of the greatest things about blogging is the freedom and ability to have your say, no matter what it is. One of the greatest fears is being found out.

Many bloggers live in fear of being found out, some at the risk of their lives. Others fear that their right to express themselves without persecution, even of the social kind, will be taken away by exposure. For those who blog anonymously, the law is one issue, but the social stigma is a bigger one.

Living in Fear of Being Found Out

Life in the NHS reported sadly on the outing of the Fat Doctor blog in 2007, a blog that continues to be updated in spite of the unwanted attention.

Some wicked person had found it, printed the whole thing out and shown it to her boss, now that is below the belt. For those of us who blog about work, and in particular those of us who have professional responsibilities to uphold we are always in a precarious position. Fat Doctor provided us with some wonderful insights into her life, yes her work life but also about her home and family life, her childcare arrangements and of course her illness. I know that those of us who read her recently will miss her and hope she will be back very soon.

The thought of being discovered and outed is on my mind a lot now, so I am becoming increasingly worried about blogging about work per say unless I am talking about things personal to just me or so general as to not really matter. It does tend to cause your creativity to suffer though. Why am I worried? Well I am now doing a job which is specific and only I do for the whole county. If anyone who knew me well were to find this blog it would take them just a few minutes to discover it was me and while I don’t think I have broken any codes of confidentiality, professional practice or indeed moral responsibilities to my employer it is still a consideration. Hopefully I don’t know anyone quite as mean as the person in Fat Doctor’s office, but you never know.

Before the unfortunate outing, The Fat Doctor shared her fears over the anxiety of being publicized on a major industry newsletter and being found out.

So why am I nervous? Because a lot of my colleagues, including those I’ve griped about in this venue, subscribe to ePocrates…what if Colleagues are more particular about their e-mail than I am? What then? They will no doubt recognize me, and that would be misfortunate to say the least. Will my boss force me to take the blog down? I’ve written my fears of this before. Time and again. If that were to happen, I’d be back with a new moniker.

This determination to “have her say” has kept her blog going, in spite of the exposure, though she continues to keep it as anonymous as possible. Her fan base has definitely grown as she’s not only set an example, but continues on with her passion in spite of the obstacles.

Reading through the many posts written in support of the Mudflats revelation by US state representative Mike Doogan of Alaska, the issue of anonymity came up but wasn’t that important. Most agreed that they didn’t care if the blog writer was a journalist, expert writer, or professional anything. They liked what they read and were drawn in by the sincerity. Some readers were also bloggers – including anonymous bloggers – so they understood with a profound empathy, and suffered at Mudflat’s exposure.

OmegaMom, a fellow anonymous blogger, wrote in support, saying:

I’ve been anonymously blogging for about three and a half years now. I was anonymous on boards and listservs before that. Oh, not anonymous anonymous–anyone who really wants to figure out who I am and where I live can probably do it. Part of it has been a general sense of “there are some Real Whackos out there, so it’s a good idea to keep the whackdom at arm’s length”, and since I started blogging the main reason for the anonymity is so that the dotter won’t find her name spread far and wide on the ‘net when she starts googling it. (Also so her friends and enemies in high school won’t find same and start the taunting circuitry a-jangling.)

….On the whole, my approach when reading a blog is to first check the quality of writing, then to check the quality of the thinking behind the writing, and then to see how well that first impression is maintained as time goes on. In other words, I judge a blogger by his or her output, not by whether the blogger posts using a pseudonym or a “real” name.

In The More Child, SwitchedonMom was also attracted to AKMuckraker because of the interest in Sara Palin, and soon became a fan. Now, she’s as concerned as the others are about this issue of anonymity because it is happening to her.

…one of the places I landed was a blog called Mudflats written under the pseudonym AKMudflats. I liked it. The writer was based in Alaska, and like me, was just a person, offering a perspective on things from where he/she sat (for quite awhile I had no idea of the writer’s gender), offering his/her reality. Speaking her (because it turns out it is a “her”) truth. (God, I know that sounds pretentious.)

The reason I am sharing this is because this morning I and other Mudflats readers received an e-mail from AKMuckraker with the subject line “AKMuckraker ‘outed’ by Alaskan Politician.” …the timing and the subject are a little uncanny. Because it seems I may have my own miniature AKMuckraker situation going on, although not with a government official, but “officials” nonetheless. In late February I received an e-mail to my personal IRL e-mail address, addressing me by my real name, warning me off for the content of one of my posts. The person clearly went through some effort to ascertain my identity…

In an newsletter written by members of The Mudflats Forum Moderator/Administrator staff published on W. Va. Fur and Root they claim this is the first known case of an anonymous blogger being cyber-stalked by a politician, though not substantiated.

Whether or not people support AKMuckrakers opinions, it seems most people support her right to remain anonymous. We feel it is a right that everyone on the internet is entitled to – people make the decision for their own reasons, some because they have been cyber stalked in the past, some to prevent being cyber-stalked in the future.

This may be the first known case of an anonymous blogger being cyber-stalked by a politician determined to find out their real identity and out them, though!

Their post goes on to list the many blog posts writing on the subject, as do many of the other concerned and supportive bloggers.

There is a lot of anxiety behind making the decision to blog anonymously, especially if you don’t want to be found out. It takes a lot of energy, too. Constantly taking care not to blog something too revealing while being revealing and open with your words. To not name names or respond in a way that might exposure who you are. Many think blogging anonymously is easy, but it’s not. It’s hard work.

In the next in this series on “The Outing of a Blogger,” I’ll highlight some of the backlash and support and reactions by many to the outing of the Mudflats blogger. Whether or not you believe bloggers should blog with total transparency or not, this hopefully will give you a new perspective on how bloggers stand up against such attacks, and what bloggers think about those who attack bloggers, and how they respond to those who out.

Article Series: The Outing of a Blogger

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  1. By WV Fur and Root posted on March 30, 2009 at 10:38 am
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    Hello — thanks for the link, but a wee nitpick: The post that you are quoting was the text of the newsletter written by members of The Mudflats Forum Moderator/Administrator staff. I didn’t write it, but I did have permission to repost it. Also, the writer thinks that it may be the first case, but without a whole lot of research there isn’t enough surety to decidedly state it as such which is why I titled the post to end with a question mark and the author used “may” within it.

    The Mudflats Forum is updating and posting links, action alerts, etc. For those of you inclined to help protest Doogan’s actions, please join us at http://www.themudflats.net/forum

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  2. By Chris posted on March 30, 2009 at 1:24 pm
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    Interesting read. Just as a sidenote. In Germany Bloggers are required by law to publish their (real) contact deals. So there is no anonymity in the first place. While I’m not to keen on publishing my adress details on my (non-personal) blog, mainly to protect the privacy of my family, at least I don’t have to worry about keeping up my anonymity, simply because there is none. Think about it and enjoy the true freedom of having a choice.

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  3. By Kathy posted on March 30, 2009 at 1:49 pm
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    This just illustrates how truly “transparent” the new web is – and that blogging “anonymously” is probably merely a cozy blanket of denial.

    I’ve recently been considering blogging about a situation – one which could get really, really ugly since the other party has been careful to conduct all of the communication “offline” and as such “off the record”. If I blog about it, it could easily become a “he said/she said” ordeal and the “lack of physical evidence” is DEFINITELY coloring the way I will blog about it – IF I CHOSE TO TO SO!

    I know this flies in the face of the original “purpose” of blogging- the free and uninhibited expression via the web – but freedom is a funny thing. It’s hard to define where my freedom ends and others freedom begins.

    In my case – I know that if I chose to blog about my situation that it will HURT a small business owner in my community. Does he deserve to be thrashed online? Probably so. Do I owe others a “warning” ? Definitely. Could he sue me? I’d need to consult an attorney to make certain what my rights would be in this case.

    Yes – we’ve arrived. Blogging – facebook and twitter can all get you fired – so make sure that what you write can’t get you sued as well. SIGH!

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  4. By Lorelle VanFossen posted on March 30, 2009 at 9:55 pm
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    @WV Fur and Root: Thanks for the correction.

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