Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Blogging 16: Anonymity

Atrios, one of the most famous pseudonymous bloggers, who "came out" to a certain degree under the threat of unveiling, also has some advice for new bloggers:
I think that until you blog for awhile it's hard to quite get a handle on how much you want to be public versus being private, and how easily blogging and the internet and the media can tear down that wall in a way you never expected.

I'm not saying that everyone should blog anonymously forever, but until you get a better idea of how it fits into your life, I really suggest starting out that way.
This makes complete sense to me. Someone who read this site could figure out pretty easily who I am, but a google search on my real name wouldn't yield the many somewhat stupid statements I've made here or at other people's blogs.

More recently, Kevin Drum has linked to this article in the Chronicle of Higher Education about what happens to blogging academics during job searches. The author, one pseudonymous Ivan Tribble, suggests that blogs can reveal far too much information about a candidate's obsessions, character, or real research interests:
We all have quirks. In a traditional interview process, we try our best to stifle them, or keep them below the threshold of annoyance and distraction. The search committee is composed of humans, who know that the applicants are humans, too, who have those things to hide. It's in your interest, as an applicant, for them to stay hidden, not laid out in exquisite detail for all the world to read. If you stick your foot in your mouth during an interview, no one will interrupt to prevent you from doing further damage. So why risk doing it many times over by blabbing away in a blog?
Kevin seems a little nonplussed by the personalness of the academic hiring process. From what I have seen of academic hires, the committee doing the hiring has a huge pool of extraordinarily smart (and polished) candidates, the department has one chance to make a substantial investment in a long-term colleague, and they are going to be damned careful to find the person who has the best chance of making tenure and being a person whom others can work with. I don't entirely agree with Tribble's advice that the candidates make themselves into cyphers, but his general caution is certainly valuable.

[UPDATE: Tom at Corrente tells his story of getting into trouble with his department for his blogging at History News Network, eventually getting tenure anyway--but no more callbacks for jobs he's applied for. His story seems to suggest that an institution that has a history with an individual might stand up for a blogger but that an institution or a company might be leery of taking on a new employee known to blog. Sobering.]

While many of the pseudonymous bloggers were thrust into named bloggerdom by threats (Atrios's coming out falls under this model to a degree), Wretchard of the Belmont Club decided to come out because he began to have a broader media presence:
Anonymous blogging has proved a good buffer against the petty vanities of authorship. The deal is you don't do radio interviews, signed articles etc. The upside is that you have no ego to protect. The ideas you articulate are separated from your own personality.
I'm not sure I buy the analysis that anonymity protects one from vanity, or what that implies about Wretchard's decision to claim his recent celebrity under his real name, but I am interested in this idea that anonymous authors are somehow contained as well as protected by their namelessness. The very fact that Wretchard was cited in a Times of London article suggests that anonymity is not such a constraint on influence. (Although it might help one's reach to have a snappy name like "Atrios" rather than, say, "tehskillz1078".)


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