Online Anonymity – your 10 minutes of flame


One of the downsides in dealing with blogs is that sometimes people like to take potshots but won’t give their name, or they use a “handle” like NorcalBlogs infamous “Tasker”.

Sometimes even the ER print edition gets nailed by it. For example, during the Jeff Sloan affair, editor David Little accidentally published a couple of letters to the editor critical of the CUSD Board of Trustees that were emailed in that appeared valid, but were actually sent by a bogus author. Of course I can’t work up a whole lot of sympathy for that problem since the ER encourages a daily excercise in opinion without responsibility known as “Tell it to the ER”. What most people don’t realize is that email is traceable, leaving IP signatures that can even be traced down to the exact DSL or cable modem used to send the email, the type of PC or Mac computer used, and the email program used to author and send it.

Thats about to change.

So, its with some trepidation that I announce a new “10 minute email” service for all those anonymous cowards out there who like to fling opinion without having any responsibility for it. But I figure you’ll find out soon enough anyway, so I may as well make others aware of it so they can learn to deal with it.

It is called 10MinuteMail and you can see it at

It gives you a temporary e-mail address, and lets you receive and reply to e-mail sent to that address. The e-mail address expires in 10 minutes (or more, you can extend it as you need more time). Basically it provides an easy way to avoid giving your real e-mail address to Web sites which require an e-mail from you to sign up. You could think of it as spam avoidance or “drive by email”.

I’m sure the cloak-and-dagger crowd will have fun conjuring up all manner of nefarious uses for such a transient communications tool. Drive by opinion just got easier I guess, but I suppose its up to editors and bloggers to ensure that posters have valid email addresses before they publish controversial work.

Now if we can just make SPAM expire in 10 minutes, we’ll really have something.

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December 7, 2006 10:44 am

This is a time when I wholeheartedly agree with you, Anthony. In the past, I have found myself to be completely opposed to your position. Having said that, when I have written with an opposing viewpoint, I always use my name. Like you, I have no tolerance or respect for those who do otherwise.
***** Moderators response:
Thanks for writing Bill. It goes to show that even diametrically opposed positions can usually find a common gound with something.

tj glenn
December 7, 2006 1:54 pm

Alan Chamberlain on his blog takes issue with pseudonyms also. I don’t see them as cowards and I think you do a disservice to yourself by calling them that. Aren’t “potshots” part of the price you pay for the private 15 minutes of fame you are claiming? Would you rather that they remained silent? If your original statement is valid, honest and well-conceived, shouldn’t it be able to withstand potshots? I mean if there is really merit to your opinion, wouldn’t potshots just reinforce your point? And, the fact that they are anonymous and derisive in nature, certainly handicaps their validity. In my opinion, potshots that intentionally spread misinformation is criminal treason and should be dealt with before a firing squad. Sadly, I agree there are not enough firing squads in this country.
Maybe I don’t fully understand what a potshot is. Is anonymous “whistle-blowing” a potshot? Does it depend on who is in power at the time? Maybe Saddam can “potshot us” on that one. I am sure he has an opinion about the firing squads comment too. The question is, would we read his opinion honestly if he signed his real name to the post?
One of the things I like about the blogosphere, is the equality that it generates. By that I mean the lack of ownership. The fact that once your original thought is informally typed into the internet it belongs to anyone, everyone and no one. Sure they can trace it if they have to, like for pornography, but for the most part, it is less about the individual author than it is about what they are saying. Anybody can be anyone and everyone knows that so no one cares much about who whomever is. It is more about the individual words and information than it is about the personality, the voice inflection, or the sexy newscaster that is communicating it to me in a pseudo-personal and seemingly confidential way. It’s like all the other non-essentials are filtered out and the concentration is more genuine. It is unfortunate that spell-checking becomes the new criteria now for validity. But it is probably human nature to subconciously search for evidence to make early judgements and bad spelling is pretty hard to ignore.
How do you know the name that you want them to use is real anyway? A name by any other rose is still just a name, or vice versa. It almost feels like you and Alan want to move the public opinion forum up to the next level and turn it into personality warfare. Eventually won’t the pseudonym potshotters become so well known that they have to have pseudonyms for their pseudonyms? At that point, who really cares anymore about who is who? or more accurately, what is who.
I hate the fact that I do it, but I tend to look at the author before i read something. Like when I see Tom Gascoyne’s name on an article I am pretty sure that it is going to be Hunter Thompson-esque gonzo, smash-mouth, shock-jock journalism that is truthy, but twisted to fit his own personal agenda. Even with that bias and even though I know he is likely to piss me off, I still read his articles. Sometimes several times even.
Did I just potshat on that last paragraph? Probably so, but I may be redeemed because it is against someone who makes a living as a potshooter. Darn, there I went and did it again. This blog ettiquette thing is too much work. It sure would be a lot easier if I could speak my mind and not worry about Tom getting the last word on me because he can now draw a target on my name.
Would you still eat sausage if you read the ingredients first?
What if it was the only sausage in town that actually prints investigative news?
What if they misspelled the ingredients?
Lose your trepidation and learn to swallow the pseudonym sausages. Its for the good of the country.

Anthony Watts
December 7, 2006 7:39 pm

Hi TJ,
Thanks for the comments. My take on all this has to do mostly with personal responsibility. There seems to be less these days because its easier to blame or sue somebody else for your own mistakes.
With freedom of speech, there is no automatic freedom from responsibility that goes with it. For example the yelling “fire” in a crowded theatre argument.
In the case of Tell it to the ER, people are allowed to make comments that denigrate groups or individuals, but can do so with no expectation of personal retort from those denigrated. At least the ER requires callers to leave a name and phone number in case there is an issue. I hear they do at least make sure the phone number is valid. But if somebody feels slighted in the Tell it to the ER, they cannot personally respond to the individual making the comment because the ER will not give out that information.
Our own criminal justice system allows those accused to at least face their accuser.
In the case of blogs, the situation can often be worse. People can create bogus emails and bogus personas, and can post all sorts of things. Some unmoderated blogs, like “digg” are virtual cesspools of opinion. As such they are worthless in my view.
While its up to the moderator (me) to allow posts or not, it helps to know whom the person is, because if that person is making a claim that may or may not be true, there’s a certain level of credibility added when the person chooses to stand behind their words or opinion. Just like you have low credibility issues with Tom Gascoyne, I’ll bet you’d have even less if he ghostwrote everything.
I just feel that if your opinion is good enough to voice or write down, a person should stand behind it. Some feel otherwise, and while thats their right to remain anonymous, it doesn’t add credibility nor guarantee publication.
So far NorCal Blogs has been pretty well moderated, and I haven’t seen any serious issues.
People like Bill Sheridan, whom disagreed with some of my actions on the school board, and even wrote a letter to the ER suggesting I should not be re-elected will always have my respect because he chose to stand by his opinion with his name.
The folks whom send phantom emails to blogs, or bogus letters to the ER (and you know who you are) get no respect, because respect cannot be bestowed on a phantom persona, only an individual.
So when somebody creates an email service like the topic of this post that makes irresponsible anonymity easier, I’m not at all for it.

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