Can outing an anonymous blogger be justified?


Ok I’ll bet the first word that went through your mind was “Tasker” right?

Even though our own local and vocal anonymous blog commenter can sometimes raise some ire, this story is not about him. It is however about the blogs, journalism, and anonymity.

Network World did an op-ed piece on blogging and anonymity and how a newspaper in Florida reacted. At issue was a local blogger whom was ridiculing a local politician, even going so far to take out newspaper ads. But it begged the question “was this a political group”? When a political group spends money to influence voters, they are required by law to post the group name information in the ad, file with the Fair Political Practices Commission, and make regular reports on monetary donations and expenditures. Candidates for office are required to do the same.

Locally, we had a similar case in 2004, when two local school trustees, Rick Anderson and Steve O’Bryan were running for re-election. Of course there were the usual scores of letters to the editor, pro and con, but one local activist whom felt that O’Bryans and Andersons vote on the Sloan debacle was wrong, went even further. That activist then proceeded to take out a number of intensely critical ads in the ER. You may remember them, they were headed by a graphic with a clear blue eye being seen through a magnifying glass.

The ads were not attributed to a PAC or even an individual, which raised quite a few eyebrows and some inquiries with the FPPC. The purchaser of the ads, Dan Irving, finally admitted ownership in a letter to the editor.

There were also some bogus letters to the editor that got printed, praising Sloan and critical of the school board that made it past the usual checks. Actually there were quite a number of anonymous and/or falsely signed letters, emails, and phone messages that went on during that time. I often wondered how supporters think such things could possibly do any good, as they are inevitably found out. Sometimes its quite surprising, othertimes expected. Emails in particular are easy to track, since they show the originating IP address, which can be tracked all the way back to the DSL or cable modem used in the persons home, or business.

So just how far should anonymity be protected? Or should it be protected at all? We have our daily dose of anonymous worst case journalism called “Tell It to the ER” which does have a modicum of editing…but still there are times when groups or individuals are attacked, with no accountability to those that make the comments.

A recent letter to the editor by ER North State Voices columnist Ron Reed suggests that its time to get rid of “Tell it to the ER” after a recent Tell It comment in poor taste about the all volunteer Butte County Search and Rescue prompted some ire that a worthy organization would be attacked without knowing whom is doing it.

Personally, I give “Tell It” less creedence than gossip. Maybe its time to rethink it.

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March 12, 2007 12:02 am

I take an “all’s fair in love and war” approach to this issue. Here’s a few quotes from the article that illustrate my point:
Some in the blogosphere have reacted so vehemently in opposition to the newspaper’s attempted outing that you would think the Record had formed a posse and shot the lonely pamphleteer of yore.
…writes Rogers Cadenhead, who maintains a blog called Workbench… “I don’t know (the blogger), but he has the right to speak his mind on the Web without intimidation by politicians and the press, whether or not he’s writing under his real name. I’ve been reading the Record for a decade. I can’t recall a single time where it conducted an effort to catch a rapist, robber or murderer anywhere near the scope of this manhunt for a blogger.”
While there may be a long-held and cherished right to publish anonymously in this country, it isn’t any more absolute than other First Amendment rights and should never be confused with a right to remain anonymous.
There may be a whole plethora of reasons for wanting to remain anonymous but any blogger who doesn’t realize he may be exposed at some point has forgotten the #1 rule of secrets…don’t tell if you don’t want anyone to know. Likewise, if you absolutely do not want to risk exposure…don’t blog under an assumed name or better yet, don’t blog at all.

August 27, 2007 9:58 pm

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