Friday, 10 August 2007

Out of the Shadows: Blogging in the Open or Anonymously?

On the heels of the Eklund article I posted a few days ago, I have given a lot of thought to the pros and cons of blogging anonymously versus being open about exactly who you are. I feel that if he had known what he knows now, Dwayne Klessel would not have chosen to use a pseudonym when writing his blog. It has caused him untold hassle and forced him into some serious backpedaling and equivocation.

I feel it is a wise move to use your real name when creating a website, maintaining a sports blog and most other things that involve writing for the internet.

I have created a list with what I feel are the top reasons for choosing to identify yourself and attach a byline to your writing online.

1. If you are not accountable to others, you will not even be accountable to yourself.

Unburdened by any concern for what you say, you may start posting some of the worst notions lurking in the nether regions of your mind. The danger exists for writing gratuitous insults, libelous statements and other nastiness that you wouldn’t otherwise post if your name were known. Something considered a truism by many, is that people in general will push the limits and do exactly as much as they can get away with.

With the sense (ultimately false) that you are free from the social and internal regulating factors that help maintain order, you can stray into dangerous territory. If you can write fairly well, this may be validated by a small core of fans who are thrilled that someone else is giving voice to their own thoughts and beliefs. If they are vocal and goad you on, you might get a false sense of your own popularity.

But in the end, you will turn off more people than you appeal to.

For many, their self control and lack of desire to engage in this kind of writing makes this a moot point. In which case, why remain anonymous?

2. If you become popular enough, you will be outed anyway.

There are numerous examples of this, including Eklund. There are simply too many ways for people to attach your writing to your real identity. Unless you are scrupulous in hiding every aspect of your personal life and keep your work from everyone in your personal orbit, someone who is diligent enough will eventually attach your name to your writing. This is dependent on whether you reach a level of popularity that causes anyone to care who you really are.

Even if you have nothing to hide, it will become a tedious chore to answer continual questions about why you chose anonymity in the first place and you will have to engage in a period of letting people know who you are. Ironically, more will probably become known about you than if you had attached your name to your writing in the first place.

3. You are limited in what you can do with your writing.

This is especially true for sports bloggers. Interviews with athletes and being credentialed by pro sports teams are usually out of the question unless you are up front about your real identity.

4. Unanticipated success that may come from your blog.

This is strongly related to point number 3. There are numerous cases of bloggers being given book deals and being offered jobs with mainstream media outlets. All of these are highly unlikely if you are anonymous. At the very least you will have to become known to those in a position to give you such opportunities. The likelihood that such people would consider you seriously are very low if you wish to stay behind the internet shroud.

Even in situations where such a rare talent exists that people in the publishing or media industries are willing to accommodate such requests to remain anonymous, the chance that this could then be maintained within the general public is very low.

5. Building confidence and overcoming fear.

It’s been cited by writers so many times over the years that it has become a cliché. Inherent in writing for an audience is overcoming the fear associated with criticism, rejection and having a part of your thoughts put on display for all to judge. The tangible effects on your self-esteem and ability to face down challenges can only be improved by identifying yourself when writing on the internet.

6. Interacting with fans.

One of the most satisfying aspects of writing, especially on the web, is the immediacy of it. Seeing how many people are looking at your work with hit counters is one thing. Getting comments and e-mails from those who have truly enjoyed your work is an added inspiration and more likely when people really know who you are.

7. No ticking time bomb.

The lack of self-regulation (or at least less of it) is more likely to lead you to make libelous statements or other comments that could come back to damage you. There are probably more instances of this happening to people who from the get-go did attach their real names to comments on websites or blogs that then came back to haunt them. I attribute this more to naivety and the rapid increase in the popularity of the internet. Many of these people were operating under the assumption that their comments essentially were anonymous when they made them. In other words, they never considered that anyone beyond a small circle of friends would ever see their online remarks.

8. Your legacy.

The longer you write anonymously, the harder it will be to eventually reveal yourself to your audience. Again, this presupposes that your effort is not insignificant and you have reached a stage where you can produce entertaining, cliche-free prose that resonates with people.

If you leave it too long, you may never get a chance lay claim to your anonymous writing.


It’s possible to look at all these points and simply offer up the mirror opposite as reasons to choose anonymity instead. Many people would find it impossible to write or say certain things that remaining invisible allows. Many of these ideas are worthy of putting out in the public domain. But consider that, in fact, you are capable of offering up anything that can be articulated in a convincing and passionate way and you can attach your name to all those notions.

What you will probably find is that it will force you to be more thorough in your analysis. In the process you may well stick with your initial thesis but it will be strengthened because of the fact that you have reflected on it from different angles. This is what personal accountability is all about. More importantly, you will be stronger for being able to face down any controversy your ideas create.

Eklund now finds himself in a bit of a conundrum. Pressure is an interesting thing. Deny its existence as it’s ramping up, but there is almost no way to avoid its effect or influence on your actions. Many people may similarly see anonymity as the only way to enter the online world of blogging. Without the camouflage of the internet they may have never ventured into the world of writing for an audience, never discovered the motivating force of recognition, the realization that writing begets writing and hence never learned that they are as capable as others. For those people, it may be worth the risk but they should be aware of the obstacles that could lie ahead.

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