July 06, 2007

anonymity and blogging

Today at work, people were discussing anonymity and blogging. Who blogs anonymously and why?

There was a lot of conversation about gender, race, sexuality, and blogger anonymity (or pseudoanonymity.)

I don't know a lot about the topic and haven't thought a lot about it beyond the obvious issues of outness that come from the politics of LGBT issues.

I did a little googling about it but I am mostly wondering what people think about the topic.

How does anonymity and pseudoanonymity affect political blogging and who makes up and is trusted in the bloggosphere? How does it change content? How does it affect who blogs or whose blogs are "most read"? How do you choose what blogs to read and how do these issues relate?

Just to throw out some local examples of blogs that use real full names, our friends at Cambridge Common blog under their real names (with one exception a long time ago perhaps? also, I do not think CC is white majority but it is male majority, right?), as do other white heterosexual male majority blogs I can think of like DemApples, and Immigration Orange. One of the most consistent local radical queer community blogs, QueerToday has mostly white gay male writers and uses real names.

Here are some local blogs that don't use real full names. Afropologe uses real names, but only first names (I think they posted about this once but I couldn't find it). LiveJournal users mostly use handles not related to their real names but they friend their real friends so it's also a sort of in between. It seems like LJ is the hub of queer blogging stuff (or is that just because I only watch queer bloggers and communities there?). Quench doesn't use real names - just handles.

I was trying to think of blogs that I read regularly that are written by women who use their real full names. Two came to mind - I read both every day, but neither of them is local. Pam from Pam's House Blend, a blog I read every day that is not local, is written by a trans woman of color using her real name. Racialicious's bloggers use their real full names and are mostly if not entirely written by women of color. But otherwise, I can think of few blogs written by women that use real names. What are the political and cultural forces behind these trends?

Similarly, other than CC and Afropologe, I don't read a lot of work by local people of color using real full names. Why is it that white men (particularly non-trans white men, particularly straight non-trans white men) are trompsing around the internet using their real names while everyone else is... not?

And why do the bloggers who I read who use real names and are not white men all write about personal, rather than political issues. Is it a problem with what is traditionally defined as "political," am I reading a crappy list of blogs, is something else going on, or what's the deal? And does anonymity even matter?

Another question that arose for me when I was describing some of these blogs to use as examples was that I went to actually look at their blog to see who was listed as a writer and who was actually writing. Many blogs, including all of the local ones I mentioned except Afropologe have along list of writers but a smaller number of people who generate most of the actual posts. How do these lists of writers come to be and what is the politics of listing writers vs. people writing. (For example, I know that Quench has many people who contribute to the zine and maybe comment on the blog but aren't active bloggers; I think it's cool that people participate in different ways. I have no idea how other blogs are structured or how they find writers or decide who counts as a regular contributer since Quench is the only blog I've ever written for.)

All questions and no answers,


Sam Jack said...

This is interesting. I'd like to note that Digby, one of the most prominent pseudonymous bloggers, kept her gender secret until she recently gave a speech at a convention. It was interesting how many people commented that they had assumed she was a man.

kyledeb said...

This is a great discussion that brings up all sort of interesting questions.

One thing I did want to point out, though, is that the writers on Cambridge Common didn't always use their real names. I remember Chip, who identifies as a black male, confused a lot of people with his pseudonym, Jersey Slugger.

It was when CC moved to campustap that real names were used, so campustap is a major part of this discussion, and I don't know if you remember how big of an uproar there was for the need to allow people to post anonymously on campustap.

There's no doubt in my mind that it is easier to identify yourself by your real name if your a white male and speaking about something like politics, where your very much in an accepted role. As soon as I start writing about more personal subjects I hesitate to write my real name (kyledeb is my google alias -- didn't choose here either). I personally just like flooding google with my name so not just one or two random things show up, lol.

wannatakethisoutside said...

sam jack - good point about Digby. I forgot about that and that is a very interesting example of pseudoanonymity. Do you read her blog? Do you think her blogging has changed since she "came out?" Do you think people read it differently?

kyledeb - I read this sentence in your comment:
"There's no doubt in my mind that it is easier to identify yourself by your real name if your a white male and speaking about something like politics, where your very much in an accepted role."
I was wondering if you could elaborate a little. Do you have any idea why it might be easier or what makes it that way?
I am also wondering if you think that has any effect on the content.

I'm just asking you because you seem to have a strong sense of a trend. (ie. "no doubt") and I'm wondering if you could help me to think through what you are seeing.

Sam Jack said...

Yeah, I read Digby pretty regularly, and I haven't noticed any change in her writing since she "came out." Digby never, or hardly ever, writes anything about her personal life. She still keeps her name secret, and no one is revealing it.

It's all politics on her blog. A lot of other prominent bloggers will slip in details of their personal lives. Kevin Drum (formerly Calpundit) writes about his cats, and Glenn Reynolds likes to write about his toys.

I would say that most of the influential political bloggers go by their real names, but many of them used to be anonymous. After they reached a certain level of notoriety, anonymity became a hardship because it meant turning down television appearances and whatnot.

Digby is certainly prominent enough that those sorts of concerns would apply (her "coming out" was on the occasion of a keynote speech at Take Back America), but she remained totally anonymous much longer than her peers. Is that because her peers are almost entirely male? I don't know what she was thinking, of course. Maybe she just didn't want people knocking on her door.

emily2 said...

pam spaulding is a trans woman?

emily2 said...

anyway, i used to run a relatively well-known blog back in 2001-2002 (anywhere from 2,500 to 5,000 visitors a day). i also had a personal blog. i used my real name.

the only reason why i blog anonymously now is because of professional reasons. i tend to use crass language, and rather than toning it down, i chose to be anonymous. anonymity gives me the freedom to be myself.

also, i used to have a group blog in law school where we anonymously made fun of everyone at school, and some co-bloggers would post about er... how do i put this... salacious and decadent activities. when some classmates found out about it, that was the end of the blog.

anyway, i don't know how much a blogger's race, gender or sexual orientation figures into a blogger's choice to be anonymous. it really has to do with a blogger's personal taste for dealing with criticism.

wannatakethisoutside said...

I read this related post http://blogher.org/node/19821

Also, am I wrong about Pam? Perhaps I have overactive trans-dar. And by trans-dar I mean that I thought she blogged in the past about being trans.

Perhaps using a feed reader contributes to my confusion between blogs?

emily1 said...

pam spaulding sin't trans as far as i know. dedicated google searching turned up nothing indicating that she is. plus she posted what i think are childhood photos of herself recently and she was wearing a girl's clothing in them.