ask a scatterbrain: anonymity at blog parties?!

Pitseleh asks:

How the heck does the blogger meeting at ASA work? If we are trying (probably in vain) to remain anonymous, how exactly do you meet face-to-face and talk about blogging?

I don’t know, but I am not the best keeper of my secret identity.  I am the worst-kept secret in the blogosphere. Just ask Jeremy or Kieran. I am going anonymously to a blawg (blog + law = blawg) meet up next week though, as my Real Life Identity and “avid reader.”  I am not identifying myself as a blogger, because associating “Belle Lettre” with my face seems too contrived–I may as well say who I am. So I am saying who I am, but not divulging the blogging thing.  If I want to keep something a secret, it’s one or the other. I occasionally email scholars in my real life capacity expressing interest in their work, and it’s a professional thing–so I don’t mention “oh and hey, you might have read my blog where I say all of the kooky personal things.”  Or I might email a prof as Belle and say “your post was really interesting, here is my follow up” and from there, it either stays as a communication between Belle and ___, or occasionally progresses to my exchanging my identity for a promise of secrecy.  

I’ve no regrets. I’ve made good contacts and really awesome friends, two I consider truly great friends I’ve now had for years. But this isn’t for everyone.  I suggest going as Pitseleh, although later when they see you at any panels with your “real” name tag, it ain’t hard to put two and two together, just as it wasn’t hard for people to figure out who I was (not that many Vietnamese American female aspiring law profs in my particular program (of which there are an armful of Americans across the US anyway) doing employment discrimination law).  But I think that going as Pitseleh is fine. It’ll signal to others that you are putting on your blog hat at the party, and your real professional hat at the rest of the conference.  Plus, Pitseleh is such a cute name.

See also my comments at Pitseleh’s post, and why I actually like giving out my name (and occasionally face) to others–I think of it as being a sharing act, an extended hand, an invitation to interpersonal intimacy. But she disagrees, and it’s really interesting the difference in how we approach social interaction in the blogosphere.


48 thoughts on “ask a scatterbrain: anonymity at blog parties?!”

  1. Well, if you really are determined to remain anonymous, presumably you’d have to make up a false identity for the party. Just claim you’ve got some blog none of us have heard of. We’ll play along. Among those who blog, there is a fairly strong norm about keeping mum about the identities of pseudonymous bloggers.


  2. Ahh, but there is the rub. To remain anonymous or not? Lots of interesting discussion, lots of personal phobias, and lots of reasons to stay anonymous and reasons not too. And, being on the job market, potential problems if I choose not to, and possibly potential benefits? Too much for my mind to wrap around. I’m curious as to what others out there think about staying anonymous. Why do you do so? Why choose not to? How much does status matter? I mean, we all know who Jeremy is, we know who Blue Monster is, etc. But, how much does being, as Belle would say, Jeremy “Fucking” Freese, make it okay for everyone to know who you are? Meanwhile, someone who will be begging for a job at ASA this year, how much do we need to worry about the potential problems? Even if bloggers will guard my identity when they see me as Pitseleh and then see me presenting, what if one of you is sitting across from me at the job session?


  3. Potential problems are overinflated by the likes of Ivan the Tribble (google). Other than occasional trollishness, I’ve got mostly positive results, some so positive that I would do it all over again. Seriously, two amazingly good friends. Career contacts galore. Even when I fly off the handle and “get all personal,” like in the posts on work/life balance and when I go “all emo and shit” and ruminate wistfully on the books I’ve given to past boyfriends and never saw again–I get good responses! Everyone likes my weird introspection, and those that don’t don’t read me anyway. So, net effect: positive career enhancing networks, friends, and appreciation for being weird.

    The only times I have regretted it were sharing my blog identity with people at my actual school, who then know that I’m blogging rather than working 24/7. But otherwise, for going on the market, awesome. And like Jeremy said, everyone is super protective of my identity, and once they get to know me, of me myself. Trolls get slammed down on my blog, and I have tons of people to turn to for advice, say about sexual harassment in the academy, what to ask for in a salary negotiation, etc.


  4. Oh, and in terms of your phobias about “social awkwardness,” let me tell you that off-blog, I am more than occasionally awkward. I started my blog during a year I lived at my parents and hardly interacted with anyone other than family, and mostly in Vietnamese. So I felt that I had lost my art of small talk and social skills. Blogging brought it back. Hell, being forced to meet strangers in blog meetups, trying to have that initial in-person meeting–it made it easier to go on dates! If you think you are socially awkward, so does the person you are meeting. No big deal.

    Also, re interviews: you’re evaluated on your work. Networking benefits are only a plus, even if they read a weird post by you. They’re judging your written work anyway. If they read you, they like you, and bloggers and readers of blogs tend to not be those old school dinosaurs that think anything extra-curricular is wrong.

    But if you are really worried, come as “Waiting for Goffman” or something.


  5. pitseleh, why don’t you come as drek? (i mean drek as in total drek, not the generic drek.) i think all the anonymous bloggers should just pretend to be each other and have fun with it…

    slightly off topic but not really: have we decided a date for the party yet? apparently it’s time to make travel plans and book hotel rooms already!


  6. Since I blog pseudonymously, I understand the dilemma. In fact, I’m sort of glad I can’t make it to ASAs this year so I don’t have to decide what to do.

    Last year, I remember being in the audience at a blogger panel (with Jeremy, Kieran, Eszter, Chris…) and feeling left out…then remembering that I 1) blog “anonymously” and 2) don’t write about sociology. Then I felt silly.

    I do attend blogger “meetups” in my town, where I introduce myself as Jamy. Yes, eventually, some people learn my real identity and it’s never been a problem–but I face no professional dilemma in that context.

    At my first meetup, I started to introduce myself by my real first name and stopped myself in midstream and managed to say “Jamy.” Apparently only I noticed, because my blogger friends are consistently surprised when they find out I have another name.


  7. Jessica’s #2 is the clear solution. The only way it wouldn’t work would be if you were the sort of person who wanted to have it both ways — who wanted to go along as the author of your anonymous blog, with whatever reputation came with that, but also wanted not to have anyone know who you were.


  8. As Jeremy says, we’ve been pretty good at this in the past. If you read someone long enough, you get a sense of whom you can trust to share your identity with at the blog party. Make sure to tell folks that you’d like them to keep it under wraps, though, to avoid confusion.

    Also, some bloggers are pretty good at figuring out the identity of pseudonymous bloggers, so it may not be worth the trouble of staying in the closet in the fairly safe context of the scatterplot party.

    @6: If you’re coming to the party as Drek, you’ll want to wear leather.


  9. Even though I blog anonymously, I think I will go to the blog party this year.

    My concern is more for the job market. It is less complicated and easier to already have a job, and be tenured and have a public non-anonymous blog identity. I imagine my identity is not hard to figure out, but as long as my name can’t be connected directly to my blog by googling me, that works. And I also don’t blog about sociology, and I try to remember not to blog about anything I wouldn’t say in public anyway.

    I don’t think that meeting people at the blogging party would hurt my google-anonymity, so if I can make it, I will! What’s the date/time? Or has that not been decided?


  10. I correct myself. I gave you totally bad advice. Kieran, Jeremy, and Jessica have it right, although if anyone knows who you are, tell them to keep mum and not let it slip at the drunken happy hour. Even if the cat does get out of the bag, there’s a strong norm, as Jeremy says, to protect it.

    I can’t wait to go anonymously as “John Q. Wilson, avid blog reader” next week and mess it up.


  11. While we were all gathering in the hotel lobby for last year’s party, I was standing in the group near Chris Uggen. My major prof, who knows us both (well, of course he knows me), came up and talked to me, saw Chris, started to talk to him, and then introduced us.

    Cover blown before party even started. It was kinda funny, though.

    I like the masquerade idea. It would at least make it easier for the n00bs to find the bloggers. Last year, Monsoon and I found the bloggers by wandering around the lobby where everyone was meeting, comparing the large gatherings of people and thinking “which group looks like a bunch of bloggers?”


  12. It is very much like having to explain an uncute story of how you met your boyfriend, except that nothing you make up would make sense. Sometimes I’ll be hanging out with “blog friends” in mixed company, and it’s clear that the blog friend and I really know each other well, and are hanging out outside of the conference, or I’m staying at their house and I’ve met their spouse. How on earth do I know this person, if they are 10 years older than I am, we obviously didn’t meet in school, and we’re from totally different parts of the country? I soon gave trying to stay secret up, especially since it was hard not to want to talk about blogging in semi-public settings, like “OMG I can’t wait to get home to blog about that” or “what was that big kerfuffle on your blog yesterday” and such and such.


  13. Oh yeah. The bloggers are the ones with laptops. Literally, you might see a bunch of people crowded around one laptop as someone is live-blogging. Their skin is even paler and more sallow than the rest of the shut in academics. They also seem to be from too many disparate schools. They are cliquey in that nerdy way and are such tools, they actually talk about blogging so you can just hear whomp whomp blog whomp whomp wordpress issues whomp whomp I get ___ hits a day whomp whomp.


  14. as another n00b blogger (n00blogger?), i can’t tell you how excited i am about the blogger party, and feeling good i have at least one thing to look forward to in boston besides committee meetings. and still thinking about these anonymity issues, and think i’ve decided that for me what matters is the googlability, not the anonymity per se, like watershed. so as long as no one puts up a new site linking my real name to my blog, everything’s good. sometimes i wish i were a bit more anonymous so i could write posts about ALL THE CRAZY SHIT going on in my department, but that feels too close to the bone.

    oh, and kieran – i’ve (unfortunately) long given up my sensitivity about that … it’s like electroshock therapy. your mom asks in high school, “do you TRY to dress ugly?” then your gf tells you you “look like a dyke in a skirt” and sure enough you start to actually agree with folks who say they can pick you out as a blogger from across the room. ack.


  15. also, totally off topic – how do you folks make your names link to your blogs? i feel like sometimes it posts me as (linked) and sometimes as auderey (unlinked). what am i doing wrong?


  16. I am only pseudo-anonymous, seeking to avoid google-ability, and rather like the idea of having this alternate face in sociology. I have a significant web presence IRL and do work with some political implications, so my concern is more with non-sociology connections to the blog, and my undergraduates. I am aware that anyone who reads this blog and cares enough to do a little work can figure out who I am, so I have to be careful anyway not to say anything that would be really problematic if it got associated with my real name. Anonymity is easy only if you are relatively junior in the profession. The more senior you are/become, the more careful you have to be if you want to avoid revealing your identity. Of course, once you have tenure, the potential risks of such revelations are lower, unless you have been really indiscreet or obnoxious in your blog.


  17. @22 olderwoman.

    It may be easier for junior members of the profession, but if it becomes problematic for those seeking tenure, then doesn’t it really matter quite a bit for those of us who hope to be seeking tenure someday? It doesn’t seem to be something you can undo, attaching your name to your blog.


  18. @24 pitse1eh, right. I meant that keeping anonymity gets harder the more you advance in the profession, but agree that it can be a reasonable thing to do while you are young and vulnerable.


  19. Well, Anomie just illustrated to me how easy it is to figure out who people are, if you have a want. So, I guess I’ll be at the blogger party as Pitseleh, in all my shinning glory.


  20. At my first Blogger shindig my anonymity was blown pretty quickly. As Jeremy indicated, however, there is a pretty strong norm about protecting the anonymity of other bloggers. I’ve never known another blogger to sell me out and have myself taken steps to warn other pseudonymous bloggers of possible slips in their own facade. I think the biggest risk isn’t that someone will knowingly out you, but that they will let slip some detail they learn which will end up outing you. All that said, Jessica’s solution is probably the best: go as a reader, not a writer. If you really want to, reveal your secret identity to a select few you trust.

    That said, if you’re really worried about it I think that we should adopt a modified version of yli’s solution: let’s just all go as Drek (i.e. me)! It’ll be a lot like that scene in the remake of the Thomas Crowne Affair. The only snag I foresee is that we’ll have a nearly impossible time finding that many pairs of buttless chaps.


  21. @28 drek… Or enough bowler hats.

    @All… Is there really an ask the scatterbrain thing on here? I have questions that it would be helpful to ask of the general sociological collective conscious. My blog is not so successful always at getting these answers. Thanks to Belle, I got a lot of answers to this one. Question like: When you go on the job market, should you apply for all jobs for which you are qualified? Or, at least in the beginning, should you be more selective?

    Anyway, I think Ask a Scatterbrain component, or even separate blog, would be very interesting and incredibly helpful. I would be willing to start it, but I don’t have the legitimacy to make it a successful run, I don’ think.


  22. i was going to comment as “therealdrek” and yell at tina (#10) for “blowing my leather cover” but this blog doesn’t let me.
    @28: buttless chaps in boston weather — we’ll see. it might be really easy to spot the real drek then!


  23. @29: I thought that this was Shamus’s thing, although he was iffy about continuing it? Wasn’t it a Wednesday feature?

    I just appear to abuse my posting privileges until Jeremy decides to kick me off and I have to shuffle back into the dark netherworlds of the legal blogosphere.

    I tend to email some profs and peeps (my own advisors or people I meet via blog) privately about career questions, which was useful when I was deciding whether or not to transfer to another program (answer: no) or what was the damage from withdrawing from LSA (none, esp. if I couldn’t afford to go to the conf.). Occasionally I ask in the form of a public question, like when I asked an orgtheorist what are good books on org culture on family responsibilities, that might be useful to others too.


  24. @31 Oh yeah, I ask my professors too, but for some things, I like to spread the wealth and get many many points of input to develop my own. I’m wishy washy like that :)


  25. There’s a lot of advice out there on the law professor blogs about getting into the legal academy. Sociology blogs don’t do that too? You actually study society instead of talking about yourselves? See, that’s the difference between us.

    The problem is that the info isn’t aggregated. I was thinking of starting a wiki, but that’d take too long. But some profs have collected links of advice to aspiring law professors, and that’s very helpful, particularly to minority law profs (there’s even a special guide for us). It’s all to make the path to becoming a law prof more transparent, less a stuffy closed social network for white dudes, and suggest that there’s several different paths you can take. I like this. This is why I write so much on pedagogy and access to privilege.

    I think that searching olderwoman site: is a good start for this blog. Also, Tina’s templates are way awesome.


  26. i’ve just read all this after a few days off blogging — and was a little horrified. it’s never occurred to me to worry about being outed by fellow bloggers. i’ve resolved to be less worried about being outed in any case but, like ow/ww, i’m still concerned about googleability so if someone wrote a blog post and used my real name, i’d be highly pissed.

    when people email me at my blog gmail account, i almost always use my real name in the reply. if i attend the blog party, i suspect i’d also wear my asa name tag. i didn’t realize the code of no-outing among bloggers was merely a norm, not a rule.


  27. i didn’t realize the code of no-outing among bloggers was merely a norm, not a rule.

    I don’t understand what you mean. How could “No outing” be anything other than a norm? I mean, what sort of formal enforcement agency of the sort associated with explicit rules could there possibly be in this case?

    Norms are pretty effective, btw. I wouldn’t worry about being outed.


  28. No one ever uses my real name, except by accident. My fault for having two online lives: one as Belle Lettre, hot-headed blogging weirdo, and the other as _______, aspiring law prof who comments on workplace law issues. Occasionally, one blog buddy who knows both identities will see a comment by my Real Life Alter Ego on Blog X and identify me as Belle Lettre on Blog Y in the form of a link to my comment. But then I’ll point that out and crisis averted. Even blog admins I don’t know personally will fix such snafus immediately. It’s a very strong norm about protecting identities and limiting googability, even if no one really cares who Belle Lettre is or where she goes to school.


  29. you’re always catching me on language, Kieran! apologies for the bad language (and bad sociology) — i didn’t use the word rule to denote formality…

    what i meant was that i was surprised by the original concern about a the blogger party because i thought the norm was so entrenched that it wasn’t something people even thought about it (and that there would be consequences to breaking it). to see it raised at all was surprising to me.


  30. This reminds me of when Brian Le/ter called a bounty for “Juan Non Vo/okh” ( ). Everyone in the blogging community thought that was declasse. The disagreement may have been substantive and intellectual and may have concerned legitimate issues of “owning your words” and not using a pseudonym as a veiled bully pulpit, but still, really, not cool by the Blogger’s Code of Honor and Conduct.


  31. what i meant was that i was surprised by the original concern about a the blogger party because i thought the norm was so entrenched that it wasn’t something people even thought about it (and that there would be consequences to breaking it). to see it raised at all was surprising to me.

    I wasn’t being picky, I just didn’t understand. I guess I’d be surprised if it was really so entrenched that it wouldn’t occur to people (hardly anything has that sort of quality). Rather, I think people are well aware that it would be the wrong thing to do, and that everyone else would think it the wrong thing to do as well, and that there would probably be a lot of negative reputational consequences for anyone who did it.


  32. Hmm… well, I don’t know if that was my original concern. Being new to blogging, my original concern was even having other bloggers know who I was. Regardless of “outing” me, if you met me and then saw me with my regular badge at ASA, you would know who I am. Even if you didn’t do anything with that knowledge, you would know.

    But, I’ve come to the decision that I no longer care about that. At all. 1. Because it’s foolish, you can’t stop people from figuring out who you are; and 2. It creates a false barrier between you and those whom read your blog.


  33. I am sure no one is still reading this at comment 41, but I gave up when I posted a comment here under a psuedonym and the author of the post emailed me to thank me for my comment. That was when I realized nothing is ananymous, started using my real name and resolved not to blog while drinking.


  34. That happened because your email address is visible to the blog owner. If you also create a pseudonymous email address to use when you write blog comments or posts, you can keep your true identity secret. Because I have not bothered to create a pseudonymous email address, whenever I comment, a person finds out who I am. If I want to take up snarking for a hobby, I’ll set up a gmail account named olderwomansnark (or maybe olderwomansnark1325 as I guess that is probably a popular name) and then I can say anything I want.


  35. As for being anonymous as a commenter, even if you leave a fake e-mail address, you still have to worry about your IP address if the blog proprietor cares enough to look it up.


  36. Electronic Frontier Foundation has suggestions for anonymizing software. Location is hard to figure out unless it’s a .edu domain; if you use a ISP that runs its servers in another city, it’s totally confusing by location. But ISP is usually about right, but anonymizing software helps.

    Of course, no one cares that much, unless you’re trollish, abusive, defaming, harassing, stalking. Be good, and others will be good to you. Google “Autoadmit WSJ law blog” for an example of NOT being good, and having “anonymity” not be enough to protect you. Also google “Trustafarian Hastings bomb threat” for another example.

    Yes, law students can be awfully stupid. I was about to say that lawyers also have a strong sense of norm, which is mostly true, even with these bad examples.


  37. so how are we supposed to know where/when the blogger party is going to be? Did I miss something? Is there going to be a post on scatterplot with the location? Is it in the ASA program?


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