Thursday, August 6, 2009

The inevitability of "outing" in the Delaware blogosphere--and how it will change us all

The bloodbath was inevitable.

As long as the Delaware blogosphere's loudest and most persistent voices were divided between those who wrote under their own names and those who wrote anonymously (some more transparently than others), in such a small state it had to happen.

Somebody who conceals his/her identity would write something about somebody else that so pissed them (or their friends) off that a little digging would reveal the names and biographical information.

We've skirted around the issue before: donviti was oh-so-briefly outed at Delaware Politics a few months back before the post was taken down, and then--apparently [I missed this post before it also disappeared]--somebody provided enough information at Down With Absolutes for just about anybody to deduce the identity of El Somnambulo.

A couple weeks back, El Somnambulo offered to out himself/herself if Charlie Copeland would answer some direct questions about the Caesar Rodney Institute [Delaware's new rightwing think-tank]. Copeland actually answered all the questions, but the Boast Who Slumbers apparently did not like the answers, so there has been no autobiography. This is unfortunate, as ES is one of those bloggers who persists in doing so-called exposes based at least in part on insider information, yet will not stand up and reveal his/her own identity.

Then kavips dissected Garrett Wozniak of CRI, virtually down to posting and ridiculing his resume and job history, as well a publishing a satirical piece on Dave Burris that also ridiculed everything from his weight to his political views [one a legitimate target, in my opinion; one not; you make the call].

So Dave--who shoots from the hip on occasion and has to repent as the smoke trails waft out of the barrel of his gun [oops, did I use eliminationist language there? Sorry.]--responded with a post that not only purports to out kavips' secret identity, but in the comments section [at least to this moment of writing--this is the blogs and you never know what will disappear when] also reveals the identities of two other fairly prominent anonymous Delaware bloggers.

And lots of people are outraged.

Delawaredem:

So David Burris and everyone here has decided to out a fellow blogger over political and personal differences. That is a disgusting new low that not even Mike Matthews would tolerate.

David Burris, you are a fat disgusting lying human being who really should consider suicide as your next failed career move. Don’t worry, you won’t succeed at that either.

I will discuss this with my fellow bloggers at Delaware Liberal, but I dare say Burris will be banned from our pages for now one, and until such time as this filth is removed from Delaware Politics, David Anderson will no longer be welcome there either....

Conservative thuggery at its finest. Can’t win the debate on the substance, so they intimidate. Nothing separates Burris from the screaming teabaggers and LaRouchites now.


Now, I should be perfectly clear here: I have repeatedly defended my good friend Waldo's use of anonymous blogging to take on the reactionary blogging-powers-that-be in South Carolina.

On the other hand, I have gone on record as well about the manner in which anonymous and pseudonymous bloggers here in Delaware take advantage of their hidden identities to launch attacks on those of us who actually sign our names to our writing:

OK I will buy the anon posting to avoid employer problems. But then there are others who use the fact that some of us post under our real names to attack our businesses or our jobs. Jason’s inheriting a business (and I don’t even know if that’s true) has been attacked repeatedly; Dave Burris got lampooned for being an upper-end real estate agent; and even here Geezer has refused to deal with my arguments by instead criticizing me for working at a “fourth-rate university.”

So while you are all (legitimately) concerned about outing anon and pseudo-anon posters and judging them purely on the merits of their arguments, should there not be some consideration about how to treat the real, non-blogging lives of people who actually post under their own names? Because while you can say we invite that by using our own names, it really does strike me as a double standard.


Curiously enough, it was cassandra who responded:

People who need to invoke your employment or family as a stand-in for a real argument are always a problem — the lazy or cheap way out of an argument you can no longer articulate is just to attack your interlocutor.

Are you thinking, Steve, that people who are attacking your business need to be banned or somehow moderated? Or dealt with in some other way?

And as I look at these rules again it strikes me that we need something on Fair Use rules.


But it has long been acceptable at Delawareliberal to trash Dave Burris on his physical characteristics and even his employment, hasn't it, cassandra?

The other irony here is that it is all an open secret anyway. People who have attended Drinking Liberally or any other functions of Delawareliberal--or just people who pay attention to politics and social interaction in this State all know who these bloggers really are. I've been able to put real names to to all but one Delawareliberal bloggers--in part based on private emails in which they revealed their real names, and in part based on social events--for over a year. So what? Even when I called Delawaredem an asshole, I did not have the urge to out him. It wasn't material to the whole process, and--at least in my way of thinking--it violated the way I want to play the game.

But it does matter, and it does get into issues of credibility, such as taking on a pseudonymous blogger who is a candidate you have previously endorsed, who blogs regularly on insider information without signing his own name.

Sorry: but if you are enough of a public figure to have run for office, then you are legitimately a public figure, and people have the right to try to tie you to your words in any context. Ask Ron Paul.

The same is true whether you blog in New Castle or Sussex, and the office is only that of School Board member.

If it were suddenly discovered that Mike Castle had been secretly blogging at racist websites for years as "the Grand Knight," would Delawareliberal refuse to post the information, standing on the inviolable rule of not outing bloggers?

This is one of those developments, as--ironically--an anonymous poster at Delawareliberal points out, could not be avoided:

It is the natural evolution of the blogosphere for everyone to be outed. If you fear being outed, you shouldn’t be on the Internet.

If you want to keep your identity a secret, don’t tell anybody else – no exceptions. And don’t use email, or any services that require a login.


On the other hand, Anon (who may or may not be the same Anon just quoted above) gets it completely wrong when characterizing virtually all crusading anonymous bloggers as liberals and all of us who use our own names as trust-fund babies:

It is easy to be bold with your identity when you have “irrevocable income,” like Charlie Copeland, or family backing like Burris (implicit or explicit). Or several other GOP’ers.

But it is wrong to hide behind your money and fault others for not revealing their identity.


For the record, I don't think I, or Dana Garrett, or Mike Matthews, or Nancy Willing, or Liz Allen, or even David Anderson fall into that category.

We are normal folks with real day jobs who have decided that it is important to us not only to have a voice but to be personally accountable for what we say.

If you are in a position where revealing the true extent of your political activism could threaten your livelihood, then you consciously took that chance the moment you signed onto a computer to blog. Neither email nor blogging has any inherent presumption of a "right" to privacy. My friend Waldo understands that, and chooses to take the personal risk; the Boast Who Slumbers, on the other hand, uses his semi-anonymity to sling it out, take credit for it among the cognoscenti privileged to know his real identity, and then gets all pious along with his cohorts about the sanctity of blogging pen names.

If I were Delawaredem and regularly allowed my hyperbole to run away with my keyboard--such as the quotation above suggesting Dave Burris should commit suicide--then I probably would be pretty damn careful about keeping my employer from knowing what I was doing.

On the other hand, I don't really care who kavips is. I continue to read him/her because of the ideas expressed. A lot of them I vehemently disagree with, but 99% of the time there is no reason for a name to be attached to them. I will continue to read kavips....

This is going to change the Delaware blogosphere, because the nature of argument changes when you have to sign your name to it.

And within less than a year, anybody who is even trivially interested will know all the names of all the parties involved, and you can bet those names will get circulated.

So my suggestion for anonymous bloggers (commenters not so much) is to start to come to terms now with whether this is something you can live with. Because eventually you will get tied to everything you have ever written, and it will be re-evaluated on the basis of who you are and what your special interests have been.

Just a prediction: but I am sure it will get me accused of threatening to out other bloggers, which is, of course, not what I said.

22 comments:

Hube said...

My opinion all along has been that I don't think any blogger should be outed. The only reason that would overrule that is if a blogger makes a conscious decision to out someone else.

Brian Shields said...

Ok, now what?

So peeps were outed. Does this change anything? I mean El Somnambulo we all know to be some Dem operative at some level, maybe in some fantasy hoping it was someone high up, but knowing in the back of your head it was a lower level operative.

So kavips' employment was outed, working at a restaurant. Big Deal. I am an assistant manager for a Domino's Pizza and that doesn't change my opinions or level of respect for my blogging.

I commented anonymously during this election, and didn't mask my IP address. You can trace it back. I don't care if you do. I just didn't want my comments in the newspapers.

The long and the short of it is that anonymity can be traced back, unless you mask your IP address, use an email address specifically for that handle, never use it for Facebook or any other website, and many people just aren't going to put that much thought into some random name calling and spouting off random opinions to blow off your political frustrations.

Seriously, the best anon handle is a fake name. Simon Denero or something not so obvious. Then you are talking about creating a completely fake identity.

Overall, anon outing is an a-hole move, done out of spite and retaliation, because the ability is there. Remove the anon aspect and you remove this conversation.

All you have to do is watch what you say, and not let your emotions overtake your rationality. You know, be an adult about it, even though that never stopped Dave. He did, though pay the consequences of a ruined political career for it. So what does he have to lose?

Hube said...

The only reason that would overrule that is if a blogger makes a conscious decision to out someone else.

I should have added "for ridiculous reasons ..."

Anonymous said...

Don't include Liz Allen in the bunch these days. She sets her sometimes vile opinion bullets on anonymous anymore. On my blog and Dana Garrett's and DLib. she no longer attaches her name.

I am constantly maligned as a drunk etc. by just about everyone. Fat, sure, go for it. It is water off the duck feathers to me. But it is rather annoying to have these insults and lies thrown by anony especially when I know it is Liz' barely hidden hand at the keyboard.

I find it interesting to see Brian admit to an occasional anony comment. I also wish to suppress identity. DE Liberal Geek has several times took it upon himself (and not always correctly) to 'out' anony posts of mine on his blog and others (though evidently his selective memory

Delaware Watch said...

Blogging has made me wish that my name was quite ordinary like Jim Smith. That way I could write as Jim Smith but everyone would think that it has to be a pseudonym.

Anonymous said...

Blogging anonymously to attack an individual and attempt to discredit, humiliate, or try to make yourself sound better is cowardly. Those out there, either blogging or working, doing the best they can are actually DOING something. I have respect for Mike Matthews, Dana Garrett, Dave Burris, Brian Shields, etc. for putting their names and opinions out there and accepting any fall out that occurs. To do so anonymously is cowardly.

-arthur pendergast

Republican David said...

I agree Steve. Some of what has been said under cloak of anonymity is atrocious. I too will continue to read Kavips. I find him brilliant, overall.

I am with you Brian. Some years back I had a second job driving for Pizza Hut. I am not ashamed of work whether it is with a Tech firm, as an insurance agent, a vendor or a pizza joint. It all has the same dignity. I have done it all.

Nancy Willing said...

That was me by the way :-) .

Anonymous said...

Willing everyone knows who you are no matter what you write. anony? Not me.I really dont give a damn who is anonymous or otherwise. No one has been more vile in their comments and support of crooks than you.

tom said...

as someone who has complained about anonymous comments on multiple occasions, i'll explain my reasons:

mostly it's because i think anonymous comments come from a bunch of cowards.

i could care less who you are IRL, but if you are going to attack or ridicule someone's opinion at least tag your comment with a name or pseudonym so we can keep score (or better yet, just keep it to yourself).

if you are joining a conversation in which someone else has already posted an anonymous comment, please distinguish yourself in some way. it is easier to follow a conversation when the participants don't all have the same name.

if you are leaking information that the public ought to know, feel free to post anonymously if you must, just do it competently.

Delaware Watch said...

The real tragedy is that most anonymous bloggers are anonymous because they are afraid of retribution from their jobs. What a shame that we live in a nation that holds free speech as such as tenuous right that you can have your livelihood jeopardized if you exercise it.

Tyler Nixon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tyler Nixon said...

I outed myself in that last comment, so I deleted it.

Steve Newton said...

What a shame that we live in a nation that holds free speech as such as tenuous right that you can have your livelihood jeopardized if you exercise it.

Dana, with one caveat, that is the most profound lesson of this affair.

The caveat is this: while I believe 90% of the people who assert this as a reason for blogging anon, at least 10% of the folks who do are either using that anon title to allow them to spew poison without consequences, or are doing so for political advantage and political deniability rather than out of fear for their jobs.

Identityless RrandySmittymith said...

Well, I will never out the fine contributors to Delaware Libertarian, Steve Newton and Tyler Nixon!!!

Identityless RrandySmittymith said...

Crap. Sorry about that. My bad.

Identityless RrandySmittymith said...

Wow, the stuff that went down today and the days leading up to it.

Uncomfortable. Unfortunate. Unavoidable (not the outing, but the spirited HATE that surrounds it all).

Maybe, just maybe, if opposing opinions weren't constantly dismissed as wingnuttery, dangerous, whatever, and people actually freaking engaged in debate or civil discourse, this shit wouldn't happen. Unfortunately, most of this blogosphere has become more about who can out-expose an opponent first or out-degrade some quicker and dirtier. Crap, we even have actual ex-politicians (some actual current-serving legislators, too) and media participating and taking the same, shallow shots. The temperment is gone. Debate is gone. Civil discourse is gone. Any tiny shread of courtesy: dead...and we all killed it.

Nancy Willing said...

From her comment, perhaps Liz isn't aware that she is posting anonymously...WHEW, what a gal.

Waldo said...

I appreciate the defense of Waldo's anonymity. There will always be a tension between free speech (The Federalist Papers) and accountability for what one writes. In Waldo's case being gay in South Carolina and challenging the conservative power structure and its media and consulting hacks is not just an ideological exercise. In this state being gay can get you killed and the killer will,maybe get a laughably short term in stir.

South Carolina Republican politics is already well-known, from past campaigns, for being the place where slurs and hates sink Republicans not thought orthodox enough in the presidential primary. In the of-season the political consultant bloggers go at each other like piranhas for the sport of it and the amusement of their paymasters.

Anybody with a head could out Waldo in six or seven minutes.If it happens, he'll deal with it, but he will also demand a price. Which is what Mutually Assured Destruction was about in the bad old days of the Old War. I may die but so will you.

Identityless RrandySmittymith said...

I may die but so will you

I think that is what we saw today, or what was attempted today.

Hube said...

The temperment is gone. Debate is gone. Civil discourse is gone. Any tiny shread of courtesy: dead...and we all killed it.

I disagree. DE Libertarian is a rare oasis in the blogging miasma.

Tyler Nixon said...

Thanks for the props. Much appreciated.