Sunday, June 21, 2009

On blogging under a pseudonym

Every now and then I see a conversation on whether it is ethical or acceptable for bloggers to publish anonymously or pseudonymously. Since it seems to bother some people, I thought I would mention my thoughts on the subject.

First, if I had an academic reputation to uphold -- if my name or professional credentials were relevant to the discussions at hand -- I would feel obliged to mention that in the interest of full disclosure. However, I work in the computer sciences and blog about the things of God. My identity or professional reputation isn't really relevant. Then my company also has a policy that controversial things shouldn't be tied back to the company or its employees. While I'm not a controversy-hound by any means, I'm sure someone could manage to take offense at various subjects I discuss. The last thing I would want is a "cease and desist" order from my employer on my after-hours activities, since it involves thoughts that could conceivably offend people.

But to me these are the smaller reasons; the larger concern is that one of my interests is plumbing the depths of sin and healing in an honest and personal way. I believe that taking a detached, academic approach to personal things is a fundamental distortion of the subject. I have already posted some material on my blog that mentions family members not by name but by relationship -- material which means that it would not be ethical of me to disclose my identity, since it would also disclose theirs. If I ever "go public", it would be after my mother has gone to her reward and is beyond the reach of controversy.

I should mention that the mere thought of ever going public (or being outed) has put a damper on what I post here. Several times this last year I have skipped on posting things that I believe could have helped other people, because of the harm that might be done to someone else if my comments ever became traceable. There are even a few things I have skipped saying about myself which would not bother me so much being public, but could possibly embarrass my children, as easily-embarrassed as children can be about parents. So if a post could be helpful to other people, but it might ever reflect badly on another person if my own identity were outed, that has made me reconsider posting even things that might help other people. If helping some people comes at the cost of harming others, it's suddenly no longer worth it. As my thoughts on this have developed, I have posted less material here of a personal nature; I still am hunting for a good way to approach this material, as I believe it could be useful. All this has had the net effect of my only mentioning things about my parents' generation and further back. In that way, twenty years from now it should theoretically be safe to reveal my name and no one living could be harmed by it. It's not so much that I regret writing under a pseudonym as that I regret that it is not quite strong enough protection, that someday the pseudonym may not be able to protect everyone it is intended to protect.

On a humorous note, people who know me on-line, but do know my legal name -- these people tend to have more misconceptions about who I really am than those people who know only my pen name. See, my legal last name is "ethnic" -- but it was my married name, not my birth name. I've had some people very kindly and solicitously ask after my supposed home country -- all with the best intentions, no doubt -- who had no idea that my legal name had misrepresented my identity more than my pen name, at least in that way. So for those who know my legal name but had thought I was East Asian of some sort -- I have to come clean that my legal name has misled you. I'm actually Scotch-Irish! With some Welsh thrown in for good measure. :)


PS (PSanafter-thought) said...

I think it might be hard to be truly unknown. I thought I was being deliberately vague when I started, then up popped a comment from a VERY close relative. It was obvious she knew who was writing. Oh well. And I was reading another blog that I had found through clicking on links, and I thought, hmmmm, this sounds familiar. It was. She is a person I meet with every week for lunch. She had wanted to be anonymous, so I haven't told her that I've found her blog, but recently she revealed that she has seen my blog. And then there is a person who lives at least 40 miles away who has figured out who I am in an on-line group where I never use my last name or city. She never comments on line, but always mentions that she reads my comments when she sees me, like once/year. I've been able to figure out who some people are and where they live whom I've "met" on-line.

Funky Grampa said...

Very thoughtful, fair and in our current world sensible.