Blogging Pseudonymity – Part II

Just to take apart a few more of the viewpoints which were annoying me amongst the comments on this Guardian article:

The word ‘pseudonym’, or its various derivatives, was used 8 times in the discussions following this article, by a grand total of 3 posters; whereas the word ‘anonym’, or its various derivatives, was used 56 times by many different commenters – sometimes, it has to be said, correctly. Now, I don’t wish to get too pedantically semantic about stuff, but the difference between the two does seem to me to be pretty significant in this particular discussion: namely, that with pseudonymity more than one post can be attributed to the same person; whereas real anonymity would require that no one post could ever be understood to be from the same source as another.

I acknowledge that the opportunities provided with pseudonymity can allow the possibility of anonymity: one can after all merely make one comment per pseudonym, if one should wish; and I guess pseudonymity can easily be abused: one can rant and rave under a certain name and then, once that has created too much trouble, one can kill off that personality and start again. But I feel these are the rare exceptions on internet-based fora, where it is more people’s wish to cultivate one distinct personality, if only for a natural human need for a sense of belonging and a sense of self. As soon as one becomes part of a community under an individual pseudonym, it is very difficult to cast aside that identity and the relationship-building which has gone with it and start again (if a new pseudonym is necessary – perchance it might even be one’s real name – users tend to signify the relation between old and new, so that the cache of their old identity can thereafter continued to be attributed to them) .

Little communities, then, develop, which, looked at by outsiders, may seem like a collection of anonymous entities. One could perhaps compare this to the anonymity of a group of people sitting at a table next to you in a restaurant: you do not know these people’s names, but it is clear that they have them and that they know each other and are probably aware of each other’s names and the identities that go with them (but we find the loud boisterous noise they are making all the more annoying because we don’t know them, and perhaps we are sitting on our own trying to have a quiet meal). The difference, however, with an online community is that it’s not at all obvious at first that there are these connexions between the various pseudonyms: one has to wait a long time, like with some noctural mammal perhaps, for their social behaviour to become apparent (and, to consider the Guardian booksblog in particular, these individuals tend to speak to other only obliquely in any case, which makes the connexions  harder to perceive).

As I said, I don’t think the distinction I’m making is idle, since it invalidates all of the following arguments (I’ve tried to weed out ones where the word “anonymous” is simply being misused in place of “pseudonymous”):

  • That authorship in blogs is not attributable to any individual; that one cannot go back through that individual’s previous work to compare earlier statements he may have made, as one can in printed media. [Indeed, one’s inclined to suggest this is a whole lot easier on the internet, and happens all too regularly].
  • That named and known individuals lack the opportunity for a right of reply against commenters who are anonymous, since their anonymity does not allow their lack of consistency to be highlighted.
  • That the situation with blog commenters is comparable to a governmental white paper where the authors are nowhere named [no, not even with pseudonyms]
  • That “some anonymous blogs” – but this is not the case for simple commenters on blogs – develop an authorship through continual postings [though this is getting towards the idea]
  • That anonymity can lead to “bullying without boundary ownership” [indeed, to bully someone, you’d have thought it’d be useful to maintain a specific pseudonym – it would be hard to do it anonymously; – the point being that, bullying pseudonymously still has a certain about of “boundary ownership” – the person is attributing the role of bully to his name; – besides, someone who bullies on the internet, how unlikely is it that they are bullying out of character.]
  • The last argument with the corollary that “it’s all about egos” [anonymity is all about egos?!]
  • That the anonymity of commenters allows people to take up “positions that aren’t genuine and can’t be tested in the way that we do either in our face-to-face relationships or with the referencing systems in academia”
  • That the anonymous commenter cannot be put under the same scrutiny as the original *named* poster, in relation to questioning an invididual “right” [presumably, “authority”] “to say this or that”.
  • That anonymity implies unquestionability – that it is a diktat from on high [again, from the government white paper analogy – but the analogy is false and so – quite clearly – the conclusion: how could the comments of anonymous people on a blog be considered unquestionable or diktats from on high; – indeed, in the analogy it is clear that they become unquestionable and diktats *because of their combination of authority and anonymity*].
  • That anonymous comments “lack something vital that authored comments will always possess” [commenter here goes on to say “they need to come to us from an identifiable person, not via some shadowy pseudonym” – it is a human need perhaps – as much as speaking to people face-to-face is preferable to using the telephone – but I find the humanity or otherwise of, say, a work of literature doesn’t require acquaintance with the individual who wrote it, nor with the particulars of their life, nor even in the case of a few pseudonymous works (e.g. A E Ellis’ The Rack), with the writer’s actual name

I suppose my point being, in essence, that blogs and the pseudonymous comments that go with them aren’t all that far from how we interact in the real world – with its latent suspicions, its incipient friendships etc. – Is it also possible that the problems *celebrities* find when they enter blogs aren’t all that far away from the problems *celebrities* find when they are recognised going about their daily lives?

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