trends in anonymous blogging.

Somehow – and much to my dismay, now that most of the day is behind me – I ended up tumbling down an internet rabbit hole today and venturing through blogs (and blog entries on still flourishing existing blogs) from yesteryear.*

When I looked back at those blogs (and early entries here), there were so many more anonymous/pseudonymous posts and bloggers than today. Is it just my imagination, or maybe the circles that I read in? If not, what accounts for these differences?

Have those same bloggers become more comfortable with the venue, and so switched to their given names? Has that cadre of bloggers become tenured or more comfortable with their prospects of being so in the near future, and so less worried about being visible on blogs? Is it a shift in topics (perhaps less complaining about colleagues, more exchanges of lofty ideas)? Is it the legitimacy of blogging that came with increasing numbers of high-status academics engaging in it? Is it that bloggers who sign their names to their ideas are more likely to continue blogging, as there’s more of a reputation – even if just as someone who sticks with things – to uphold? Is it a Facebook foot-in-the-door effect, where  having our given names such a central part of so many people’s online lives makes us more comfortable using them elsewhere, including on blogs?  My own guess is that it’s some combination of the above (and likely factors I didn’t think to include), but I’d like to hear what others think. Do those same people roam these blogs, just less disguised, or are participants in the academic blogosphere significantly different in the age of declining anonymity? 

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*To provide some context, I started reading blogs in the summer of 2006.

24 thoughts on “trends in anonymous blogging.”

  1. My guess is that it is extremely hard to blog pseudonymously. It is easy to be discovered with a small detail, or especially with a set of small details that add up over time. Plus, if you leave out the details, the things that affect you, etc., in order to keep your identity from being revealed, much of the fun of blogging disappears. So, I would imagine that most pseudonymous is short-lived either due to exposure of lack of material. (Total Drek obviously notwithstanding).

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    1. Didn’t Jeremy admit on his older blog that he solved this problem by taking on multiple personalities? He would comment on his own blog as someone else anonymously, though I think in response to others’ comments only. I wonder if he still does it? (Apologies to Jeremy if I have this wrong.)

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      1. This doesn’t ring any bells re: my older blog, to be honest, but it could well be true. Back then I was not just writing a mostly non-academic and diaristic blog, but on Blogspot, which had no IP tracing and I had no way of stopping anonymous comments, so God knows what I did in some battles against trolls. I should post the e-mail that a blog troll once sent to my department chair here as a retrospective.

        That said, I am so glad when I started blogging that I didn’t use a pseudonym, as I was not prepared for how blogging was going to take off, and given how I can be temperamental at the keyboard even when working under my own name, I would have surely gotten myself into trouble.

        I’ve been tempted to post or comment pseudonymously in recent years, sometimes sorely, but I haven’t done so in a long time.

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      2. Jeremy: That is the context that I remember (dealing with trolls). Clearly, though, I’ve got this all confused in my mind, mixing you in with someone else (with perhaps the common link being your battle with trolls).

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    2. (Actually, though, as I think about it, the thing that I would most like a pseudonym for is to be able to blog about personal failings and misadventures. Candor about that kind of thing is what I miss most about blogging from the old days, but doing that under one’s name isn’t really compatible with other imperatives of academia, especially once exits junior faculty-dom into full fledged university adulthood.)

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      1. I think that this accounts for some of the difference, and goes beyond just you moving up the academic hierarchy. There seems to be a lot less of this kind of posting on academic blogs (or blogs by academics) and those posts – regardless of current position – were more likely to be anonymous.

        In thinking about it, I’ll bet both shifts have a lot more to do with how non-academics blog (and how that took off) than other, more internal, factors. Blogging took off and blog after blog after blog was populated with drivel (including many of my own posts, of course) and to distinguish themselves, academic blogs became more academic. In academia, we associate our names with our ideas. And, perhaps, many of us are more comfortable using our names when we’re talking about work rather than more personal issues. So maybe the decline in bitching, self-loathing, and anonymity stem more from changes in blogging more widely than something that started in our own particular niche.

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  2. I use a pseudonym to keep the blog from coming up in google and am not trying to be in deep cover. In fact, I’m proud of some of the stuff I’ve written and don’t like not having my name on it. I find that I don’t write academic posts as olderwoman because I’d want my name on them, and have thought about starting a “me” blog.

    I agree that it is ridiculous to think you can be anonymous if your blog is about you, and it is less easy the older you get. But I do find that I sort of feel like a different persona as “olderwoman” than as my public self. I think I would write some personal or opinion stuff quite differently under my own name, and there are definitely topics and opinions I’d feel I have to avoid entirely if my name were on it.

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  3. For the record, some of you are blurring the perhaps-important distinction between pseudonymous and anonymous. Even though I use a pseudonym, people who know me know who I am, and I offer to tell anyone who asks who I am. I have to be accountable for what I say. Anonymous bloggers are less accountable. It seems like more people are anonymous as commenters and may act in quite unaccountable ways, more than bloggers, who inevitably are at risk of becoming discovered if they write about their jobs or personal lives.

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    1. I would draw the lines as between (1) anonymous, (2) pseudonymous, (3) pseudopseudonymous. The distinction I would draw regarding (2) vs. (3) would be the distinction between a pseudonym who keeps a tight rein on who knows who they are, but does maintain a name/persona (e.g, Drek), and someone for whom their true identity it’s an open secret (e.g., OW).

      What I would call “anonymous” commenting, where you don’t even know if it’s the same person or not from comment to comment, used to be a feature of the wild west of blogging but seems blissfully to have mostly gone by the wayside. Also, I mentioned this, but will happily repeat: the dynamics of anonymity/pseudonymity in comments are a lot different when it’s known that your blog software tracks IPs.

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      1. Wow, are my ears burning! I appreciate the credit you’re giving me, Jeremy, but it’s pretty much an open secret at this point that I’m really Mathieu Deflem.*

        I honestly suspect that there are as many reasons for blogging pseudonymously as there are for blogging at all, which is to say there are as many reasons as there are bloggers. That said, I think the reason pseudonymous bloggers have such a high casualty rate derives from the very reason why someone would blog pseudonymously in the first place. Blogging under an assumed name often comes out of a desire to say the things that can’t normally be said, to break boundaries and expose hard truths and other such romantic notions. Unfortunately, the outcomes of pseudonymous blogging are likely either (a) one’s identity is discovered and the blog shuts down, because if the person had wanted to say those things publicly under their own name they wouldn’t have adopted the pseudonym to begin with or, almost worse, (b) the person isn’t discovered, but one’s hard truths don’t make much difference. It is profoundly disheartening to expose truths or break boundaries only to discover that they only bound you and that nobody else cares. And option b is a pretty common outcome because expecting a personal blog to change the world is a bit like arguing with the wind. As it becomes clear that one is not “making a difference” the motivation to continue wanes, especially when your very pseudonymity makes it harder to really enjoy the positives of blogging, and the pseudonymous blogger just stops.

        Speaking for myself, I honestly can’t say why I started blogging. Partly I was coerced, partly I was (and still am) arrogant enough to think people might care what I say, and partly I just like to write. Blogging is just a fun thing I do and Drek, for better or for worse, has become less a pseudonym and more an enjoyable character. Drek is not the same as the person who writes Drek and, as such, the character offers an enjoyable escape from real life. A chance to briefly assume another, somewhat more free, identity and have a little fun. If I had to blog under my own name, I do not think I would enjoy it as much because I would miss Drek and his crazy, stupid, immature antics. And frankly, with my seven year Blogiversary coming up later this month, I find it almost impossible to imagine stopping. I mean, I’ve invested as much time in my blog as some people do in Ph.D.s- you don’t let go of that easily.

        So, there you go, make of that what you will.

        * No, not really, but wouldn’t that be awesome?

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      2. Drek: As for your revealing your secret identity, I was skeptical at first, but then the Gaga references in your Overton Window posts kept piling up.

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    2. I think it’s important to acknowledge that less accountability can be a good thing. While it can ruffle feathers, it can also call blogs out on things they are doing wrong. In our case: our blog is not powerless. We represent a group of fairly powerful departments (though some of us are more powerful than others!). And so telling us we’re full of it is not a benign affair. I’m not saying we’re a malicious group. But worries about potential retribution are not trivial, nor are they completely foundless (though I’d like to think they are).

      Such worries are particularly not trivial for graduate students. If anything, the power asymmetry seems to be on our side (we can shut down comments — which I supported, just staying), we can frame what gets talked about, and there is a certain amount of solidarity among our group that we often protect each other. Thinking about these different power dynamics I think it’s important to preserve anonymous blogging/commenting and let the benefit of the doubt fall upon respecting the decision to blog/comment anonymously.

      I for one have never blogged anonymously. I blogged as a grad student, and no one knew who I was (most people probably still don’t!). So I wasn’t anonymous as much as unknown. I was told at the time it was a bad idea to blog, particularly using information that was so discoverable (and referring to myself with my real name). I still am. But I must say that more people know of me through scatterplot than just about anything else. Which is worrying at times. But I think the benefits of blogging to my overall recognition in sociology have been a huge net positive.

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      1. It’s people who are older who are both unable to be anonymous and more likely to have problems about blogging more personal stuff or cranky views with their names on them. Identifying yourself also identifies all the people you are talking about, even if you refer to them only by category. Honest reflections about the idiosyncrasies of the people around you or the interesting and relevant but potentially hurtful comments about people you know get complicated.

        I realize young people feel vulnerable and all that, and in some ways they are, but it is symptomatic that a lot of the youngish people who start blogging with names or not get less frequent about personal blogging as they age. There are lots of graduate students. There are not so many deans, chairs and such. Even if you have tenure, you have to worry about what you say about the people around you. Often precisely because they are vulnerable one way or another.

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      2. Sorry, I just thought of another example. All those people who blog about their babies and the cute things their children do (or the problems they have) realize that it pretty much has to stop when the child is literate, else you are invading the child’s privacy. Do you know anybody in a named blog who blogs regularly about their teens in any way except the most superficial good and relatively public things they’ve done?

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  4. I personally don’t understand the impulse to blog in the first place. But, given the prominence of blogging, and the shocking frequency that graduate students and others pay attention to blogs, it does compel a certain amount of attention on the part of non-bloggers who care about the direction of sociology.

    The result is that the non-bloggers amongst us are put in an awkward place … be drawn into blog discussions by name (when we would rather not be) or get involved anonymously (when we also would also rather not be) to make sure that other perspectives are heard. One is often writing, not to convince the bloggers themselves of anything in particular, but to make sure that other perspectives have some space for others who read the blog. If you honestly feel that you know more than others engaged in a thread, then I think you have an obligation to speak up, even if you know your perspective is unpopular.

    What is particularly irksome, in my view, is throwing out a controversial issue, letting others fight it out, and then reemerging to cry foul. That’s not consistent, in my view, of hosting an open discussion and doing the hard work of making sure that lots of views are heard. It’s recipe for a groupthink and stalking-horse style of blogging.

    (And, yes, I am quite certain that all anonymous commenters know that IP addresses are tracked, and that bloggers are curious. So, it is not as if anonymous commenting is really anonymous to bloggers. All the more reason, I would argue, to engage with commenters regardless of whether they are anonymous to the general reader. Department chairs don’t throw controversial issues before their faculties and say ‘fight it out’, and I think bloggers of initial posts should not do this either.)

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  5. What is particularly irksome, in my view, is throwing out a controversial issue, letting others fight it out, and then reemerging to cry foul… Department chairs don’t throw controversial issues before their faculties and say ‘fight it out’, and I think bloggers of initial posts should not do this either.

    1. I don’t know if my own comments above in this thread are being taken in any way as a commentary on the Wal-Mart thread, but they were not intended as such.

    2. Soc Shrine (remember them?) espouses the view that the reason I posted something on the Wal-Mart issue in the first place was part of a master plan to bait people I’m colleagues, friends, or co-conspirators with into a big argument on my blog. I will cop to a lack of foresight about the matter, but there was no intention to bait people–hand to God, if anything it was the opposite–and I hope no one I care about feels that way.

    3. I’ve already acknowledged, but happily will again, that the way the thread was handled once it was underway could have been different. I would like to think of it more in time-out/turning-the-page/going-forward terms than crying-foul terms. But, I can understand why some people might be irked, and, yes, I’m the one those people should be irked at. In case this needs to be explicit, I apologize if anybody feels wronged by the way the matter was handled.

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  6. Jeremy: I didn’t think that you started that thread to bait anyone, and I think that the discussion was quite productive. I certainly learned a lot about what was (and was not) underlying the various positions. I was indeed irked though. I just think– as I said– that the timing of the ‘turning of the page’ was problematic, and looked like an attempt to help out a co-blogger at the possible expense of other participants. The other issue is that you and Tina never actually said what was not civil about that discussion. That contributed to my sense that the plug-pulling was done more as a favor than for any reason that can be defended on the basis of a universal rule. Happy to accept your apology though. I know that you must have been in a difficult position.

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  7. This is an interesting discussion for me, since I just started blogging a few weeks ago and to do so pseudonymously. One of the complicating factors for me, that no one seems to have brought up yet, is that there is a very real risk of repression facing those who openly espouse an anarchist political viewpoint. This kept me away from blogging (as well as other legal political organizing) for years. I’ve finally decided to blog though, because it’s not only difficult for me to keep my political self under wraps, but because it’s important to speak out against this kind of fear. I am still on the fence, however, about safety concerns and using my name. I realize that I’ve taken the plunge and that the government (and probably others) could easily track my IP address to determine my identity. I’m not sure how easy I want to make it though.
    Just wanted to throw that out there because I think fear of retribution from the state and other powerful institutions is another reason many folks don’t blog, but not one often remembered because those who fear it aren’t involved in the online discussions.

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  8. And another, more prosaic point: perhaps the number of anonymous blogs has declined because it can be tough on the 2011 internet to get blog readers if you don’t want to start by telling everyone you know (on facebook, twitter, etc.) to read your blog…

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