12 January 2014

Should a blogger be anonymous?

Last November a well-known journalist and commentator, after writing about the occurrence of racism on Twitter and elsewhere, concluded by calling for “the end of anonymity on social networks". This made me ask myself why I have chosen to appear here as Western Independent and not by the name on my birth certificate. I'm assuming that I haven't revealed so much about myself up to now as to be easily identifiable among male adults in my (apparent) age group living in (presumably) SW England - several hundred thousand of us.

I certainly agree that there is no justification for using anonymity on the internet or anywhere else to conceal an identity with intent to abuse or harass for racialist or other deviant purposes. However, in reality for most paid journalists (admittedly not those at The Economist) their non-anonymity, that is to say their byline, is a key part of their being able to make a living. Many have embraced social networks like Twitter with enthusiasm, and seem pleased to have as many followers as possible who will dutifully click on the links they provide to their latest pieces. Of course, the more hits the better for both William Boot and BeastOnline.co.uk, and today’s Lord Coppers will probably be taking an interest in the amount of traffic generated.

For even a moderately successful professional journalist, the existence of an established byline will affect their self-presentation in everyday life. Family, friends and the people they encounter from their GP to the technician who comes to mend the central heating, depending on their place in the market know what they do and why, and may even choose to engage them about it. This might be a little tedious at times, but is surely an acceptable price to pay for even a small degree of public recognition and being one of the relatively few who are famous for more than fifteen minutes.

For an ordinary Joe Blogger like me life is different. For a start, should I tell people about this blog? Almost certainly this would risk my being regarded as a bore or eccentric, and immodest to boot. On the other hand, what if my blogging existence is uncovered indirectly in the course of a search by someone I know? What benefit would come from being known to offer the world gratuitous opinions about "Art, politics, cinema, France and other things" (my pretentious Twitter self-description)? At best I might be regarded as a clever dick with a high opinion of himself, at worst more than a bit odd. After all, most people choose to confine expression of opinions to the weather or the English cricket team's deplorable performance, and don't offer inexpert views on the balance of power in the Western Pacific or the works of Paul Klee.

I do what I do here to amuse myself while avoiding disruption of normal relationships with people who know me. If a few of these posts are of interest to anyone out there, so much the better. A cynic might say that a blogger is someone who is indulging in vanity publishing but is too mean to pay for it. On the other hand, I earn nothing from writing this blog and I don’t think it unreasonable to want to retain some of the privacy which a paid journalist inevitably foregoes.

(Above: Man Writing by Jacobus Josefus Eeckhout undated, Southampton City Art Gallery)

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