Everyone loves a mystery. And for some, an anonymous blogger is a stone waiting to be turned. This recent post by London blogger Diamond Geezer got me thinking about the different degrees to which bloggers value their online privacy and how far they will go to keep their identity hidden.
DG’s post talks about his concern that despite his efforts to remain anonymous, a work colleague may have guessed that he’s behind the well-known blog and his hope that they will keep schtum about it. In fact, I was surprised at the measures he’s taken to protect his identity, although they don’t go quite as far as those of former sex worker and blogger extraordinaire Dr Brooke Magnanti (AKA Belle de Jour). Frankly, I’m in awe at her patience and dedication to retaining her privacy because I probably wouldn’t have the stamina for that kind of effort.
So why all the mystery?
Lots of reasons. Maybe you like being a faceless presence on the internet, just writing away quietly about things that interest you. Maybe your job is at risk if you’re identified blogging about your work. Maybe you just don’t want everyone to ask you about it all the damn time or pitch up on your doorstep.
Recently, the Times newspaper was forced to apologise and pay £42,500 in damages to Richard Horton, former author of the NightJack blog. Horton, at the time a serving police officer, was unmasked after a Times reporter, Patrick Foster, hacked his email account in an attempt to expose him. The reasons behind Horton’s desire to remain anonymous hardly need to be stated, they were so obvious, but a judge ruled that his identity was somehow in the interest of the public. You can read more about the NightJack debacle in this New Statesman article. And you should — it’s an eye-opener.
Tube driving blogger ASLEF Shrugged was also sussed by a colleague, although his identity appears to have stayed a secret. Dr Magnanti (who also wrote about the dangers of unmasking anonymous bloggers in the wake of NightJack) outed herself as Belle de Jour in 2009 ahead of an impending Daily Mail exposé kicked off by a gobby ex-boyfriend. Exposure by one’s enemies is also an occupational hazard — political blogger Tim Fenton, author of Zelo Street, found himself on the receiving end of a failed attempt to unmask him earlier this year in retaliation for a perceived slight.
Thankfully, I don’t need to keep my identity hidden. Some of my work colleagues know about my blogging — I don’t go around advertising it, but equally it’s not secret. I’m not sure if it would be a problem if my employers knew officially and I’m not in a rush to find out: an acquaintance who shall remain nameless was barred from blogging when he started a new job (no, he doesn’t work for MI5). I don’t mind people asking me about my blog though if I see from the stats that something I’ve written has somehow reached a wider audience than I thought it would, I do have a moment of terror. Although that’s mainly because I worry that people will think my writing is shit.
Until I started writing for Londonist in 2008, I was pretty protective of my online privacy. I didn’t even use my real name on Facebook. Googling me brought up nothing but an old page of some random website I worked on for a university project in 1996. I’m not nearly as anonymous now, but then I’m hardly a NightJack or a Belle de Jour who might be considered worthy of public attention. Even so, I don’t write much in the way of personal stuff, or about my family or private life. That’s just how I roll.
Diamond Geezer cites a fear of scrutiny on how he spends his free time — not that visiting places and complaining about TfL are particularly contentious but you know what some people can be like — and having to censor himself as reasons for wanting to stay anonymous. And I don’t blame him one little bit. Not everyone wants one’s colleagues picking apart everything you write and deciding that because you once posted that you don’t like football, they’re going to rib you relentlessly about it. It’s not that I mind people knowing who I am or reading my blog, on the contrary, I’d quite like them to read it. But if a blogger wants to retain some mystery around their real identity then it’s just good manners to let them do so.