Back into the storm—the pseudonymity lab

When we get to ScienceOnline09 in January, Abel and I will be leading a session on blogging and anonymity. I agreed to get involved because it sounded interesting, but I had no idea it would become such a big deal. There have been active discussions at many of the Sb blogs on this issue, particularly here, at Abel’s TerraSig, and at DrugMonkey. As part of the discussion, I put out a piece on the ethics of blog anonymity. Now here’s a related question (which I would prefer to treat in a general sense, without referring to any ongoing RL disputes).

Let’s take a quote from an anonymous writer:

We shouldn’t have anonymity or pseudonyms in place to protect people from the consequences of expressing bigotry, we have it so they can tell the truth.

It is true that we can always be held responsible for what we write, and anonymity is not guaranteed. I’ve written earlier that I don’t think anonymity is a right, as such, but more of a clause in a contract. If I, as the writer, break the contract by launching nasty attacks on others, does that abrogate the responsibility of my readers to guard my identity?

Another anonymous writer brings up a glitch here:

What you are saying here is that if you, personally, think someone should be outed for whatever arbitrary personal reasons you would do so.

Since there is no agreed-upon set of rules in the blogosphere (remember, it’s dangerous—bring a helmet), there can be no single answer here.

If a blogger is spewing hate-filled white-supremecist rhetoric, I won’t feel so bad about outing him. But that’s just my (ultimately) arbitrary judgment. Is there a decision-making tool in our ethics kit that measures when an outing or threatened outing is fair? Part of the decision-making process has to involve the good or bad that accrues with either outing or not outing someone.

I’d like to see a real discussion of this, without over the top hostility, and without reference to any ongoing disputes. Thanks.