Escape your life for a little while — come play in mine.

Nom de blog etiquette

Posted by Lissa on June 9, 2009

A few days ago, Ed Whelan (who does Bench Memos at The Corner) exposed the true identity of one his loudest critics (pseudonym “publius”).  The linked post has links in turn to other posts, some in favor of his decision, some opposed.  His justification is that his critic was a law professor who was not upholding his professional duty by mischaracterizing and inaccurately representing Whelan’s arguments in order to score points.

I disagree.

Obviously, I’ve got a dog in this fight – Lissa is a nickname and I’ve tried to be careful about not posting my town, place of residence or surname.  I give my siblings and friends false names when I’m telling stories, or hold myself to the use of initials.  After some initial mistakes, I’ve tried diligently not to over-share if it involves family or friends.

I have a number of reasons for this.  First, there are a bunch of crazy people roaming about the Intrawebz.  It seems like a commonsense safety precaution to use a pseudonym, comparable to shredding my credit card statements before I toss them out.  Second, while I’ve chosen to blog, it’s a one-person blog; my family and friends didn’t sign up for this.  Protecting my name is a way to protect theirs.  Third, it’s on the same level as restricting your Facebook page to people who know you.  I don’t want my boss to read how mortified I was that my dress shrank and I didn’t realize it.  I don’t want potential employers to Google me and know that I hold seriously anti-statist views; I live in a very blue town outside of a very blue city in a very blue state.  Why would I open myself up to that kind of liability?

That being said, I *do* admire those who are unafraid to blog under their own names.  I accord them an extra measure of respect and courage.  But I think the decision to blog under one’s real name or under a pseudonym should be entirely up to the blogger.

There are exceptions to the rule, of course.  If Blogger Doe posted threats, seriously creepy entries, or made his career on “outing” other bloggers, he has forfeited the right to anonymity.  (IMHO.)

However, Whelan’s critic doesn’t fall into that category (that I can see).  I’ve read Whelan for a while, since I stop by The Corner whenever I can, and I’d never even HEARD of this guy.  He may have been “biting at [Whelan’s] ankles” but we all run into that from time to time.  (See SLOS’ feud, for example.)

If publius was indeed engaging in “smears and misrepresentations,” then he’s a Bad Blogger.  I would not read his work.  If I were Whelan, I would ignore publius or treat him with as much contempt as can be mustered over the Intrawebz.  But to expose his identity as a direct response to an ankle-biting post seems like responding on a different, unfair level.  It’s like responding to a slap with a grenade-launder – which might be good tactics on a battlefield, but out of place at The Corner.  I would have hoped better of him.

(In the spirit of full disclosure – I would hope that anyone who dislikes what I write would roll his/her eyes, click on a different link, and never come back.  I write for my enjoyment and yours.  There are a zillion different posters to read out there – “ankle-biters” should go find something more to their taste.  I would hope that they would ignore me rather than trying to “out” me.  It’s a luxury that we of the small-circulation blogs enjoy, usually denied to those who achieve real fame – I’m just not that important.)

UPDATE: BorePatch agrees, though he’s not such a fan of The Corner.  Bookworm too.

UPDATE UPDATE: Whelan agrees now, too.  I second him that “Publius may understandably regard my apology as inadequate.”  Kudos to Whelan for his dignified apology, but once the damage is done it can’t be un-done.


One Response to “Nom de blog etiquette”

  1. Borepatch said

    Whelan seems like he’s in the wrong line of business, if he feels the need to (a) pay much attention to someone he characterizes as an “anklebiter”, (b) use his soapbox to try to make the guy uncomfortable, and (c) slander a whole slew of bloggers like you and me who have quite good reasons for not using our real names – not having a paid-for soapbox like Whelan being the least of it.

    I see all three issues as being related, and coming from an excess of self-regard. Whelan needed to be seen to be “bigger” than Publius, and us.

    He’s apologized to Publius, but not to us.

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