the crazy, mixed-up world of anonymous blogging

I was reading this post on GoogleBlogoscoped earlier today, and I’m all in a tizzy about it. I’ve been thinking a lot about online privacy and public life lately, and I feel uncomfortably conflicted about it all. I had a kind of funny experience on Sunday that sparked some of that thinking, but it’s also that I’ve started using several social networking sites using my real name, and it’s making me think about things that I don’t have to think about when I’m blogging anonymously here (or elsewhere).

When I first decided to launch my own mommyblog, it seemed logical to me that I would adopt pseudonyms for myself and my kids. Content lasts for a mighty long time on the internet—if I do a google search on my real name, I can find email postings to listservs that I did more than five years ago—and I didn’t want to write things about my kids, using their real names, that would affect them negatively later in life, either in personal or work-related settings. That meant I had to give myself a pseudonym, too.

In most of my web-based existence, I’m landismom, mother of two kids, who writes semi-regularly about the joys of working parenthood. In a small portion of my web-based life, I’m my real self, a person who has occasionally been quoted in the newspaper, or has been listed as an endorser of political events, or has given money to particular charities. In my book-trading universe (which has to be tied to my real name, for purposes of sending and receiving books), I have a different handle—but that’s just a screen name, not something I think of as a real identity.

In the past year, though, my ‘real self’ has started to do more social networking sites, like LinkedIn and Facebook. I’m much more conservative in my content production on those sites—mostly I just joined them because someone I know in real life invited me, and then I found them to be useful in some way. I’ve communicated with my youngest brother on Facebook more in the last six weeks than I did in the previous six months.

There’s a part of me that wants to have some cross-over between my two online selves. I’d like to be able to share my blog, occasionally, with family members, but I also like the absolute freedom that blogging pseudonymously allows. I don’t want to have to censor myself, the way that I censor myself in the online content that’s attached to my real name, and the more people who know who I really am, the more I’m going to feel as if I can’t.

Then I surfed over to SoloMom’s blog today, and read her story about having her online profile modified by ivillage (and her firing by ivillage for complaining about it), and the whole thing came back up again. I guess I can’t call her SoloMom anymore, but wtf? Who actually owns her identity, her or ivillage?

I realize that the questions of navigating online identity and privacy are only going to grow more complicated as teh internets get more and more intertwined into every aspect of our lives. Entire college courses will be taught (if they’re not already) about the implications of what we reveal, or hide, from the online world.

It’s enough to make me want to pull all my online content down, whether it’s attached to this identity or my real name, until some more cogent method of dealing with online identity is contrived.

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October 5, 2007. meta.

12 Comments

  1. Kimberly replied:

    I was going to say that I didn’t get fired for complaining, but I guess I pretty much did eh?

    Still, I don’t regret standing up for my online self.

    It’s funny, I used to blog anonymously, and I know exactly what you mean about the freedom. But there is a freedom too, in embracing the fact that this is me, take me or leave me. I mean, I’m careful about what I write about the Ladies. I want to be honest, but not cruel or embarrassing. But beyond that, I’m very comfortable knowing that family and friends and people I know and people I don’t read the blog, knowing it’s me. They can take me as I am, or not. It’s their choice, because I’ve made mine.

  2. chichimama replied:

    That friend thing is a bit scary. I try to keep each sphere of my online self separate, but some one really industrious could probably piece it all together if they really wanted. And I’ve debated pulling it all down as well.

  3. CamiKaos replied:

    I was really concerned for a while about family and friends reading my content, I use my real first name but not my real last name. I shortened my daughter’s name and my husband, though his name is so easy to figure out is simply Mr. Kaos most of the time… but I think now it is for continuity more than anything else, and because even though I am as honest as I can be in my writing, reading my words in there state unaltered by inflection or tone makes me a caricature of myself. I wanted to allow them to be caricatures as well.

    Now my mom, dad, brother, sister in law and a cousin read my blog and comment regularly, my other cousins, aunt and even my grandmother have popped in… who knows who else? I know some ex boyfriends read my blog and old high school friend’s. My husband’s family knows of the existence of my blog though I don’t think they would be inclined to read it, a few of his co-workers and many long time friends have read as well. The only untouched area for me are the friends of my daughter… well their parents that is, who I have become friendly with over the years. I don’t think many of them have any idea about my online life… though if they did I don’t think it would be the end of my world, or hers.

    People have enjoyed the anonymity of the internet for so long but those days are mostly gone. For everyone who wants to remain anonymous there seems to be at least one person who feels compelled to know where and who everyone is. I don’t know if that is ever going to present a possibility for change.

    Even now yahoo has taken over mybloglog and wants you to merge those accounts… that could out a lot of people. I am sure there are similar mergers and takeovers on sites all over.

    I am so sorry landismom, I think I’ve babbled. This was a thought provoking post. Thanks.

  4. Anjali replied:

    I think about these things almost weekly, but I can’t seem to write unless I know people know it’s me.

    What I’m leaning to is have my entire word password protected, so that only people I know can read it. It’s not a great solution, but it’s the only one I can come up with for the moment.

  5. Lapa replied:

    TOP PORTUGUESE UNIVERSAL WRITER : CRISTOVAO DE AGUIAR

    (PASSANGER IN TRANSIT)

    BOOKS:

    “PASAGEIRO EM TRÂNSITO” ; “RAIZ COMOVIDA”; “RELAÇÃO DE
    BORDO”; “MARILHA”; “A TABUADA DO TEMPO”; BRAÇO TATUADO”; “MIGUEL TORGA O LAVRADOR DAS LETRAS”

    He has, also, translated into Portuguese the Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith.

    He has been awarded several prizes.

    Don’t forget the name of this great author, you’ll be hearing of him soon.

    In the name of Universal Culture.

    Thanks for visiting.

  6. elise replied:

    Someone just told me that colleges are starting to check on perspective students online activities to see if they meet the college’s moral standards. She said it seems to be geared to myspace and places like that since what the kids are putting there is quite outrageous. Or so I’ve heard. I can’t say that this is true but its a good reason to be careful what you write about your kids.

    In regards to my blog, I use real first names but don’t use last names so am semi anonymous but I only write what I wouldn’t mind being public. I tend to be a bit more open in my comments on other people’s blog. For instance if I want to complain about a bad teacher or someone else. I’ve rarely complained about specific people on my blog (I can’t say I’ve never done it). Also, I don’t actively try to get traffic for my blog so don’t end up with many people reading it although its fun to know when people come by regularly.

  7. bitsy parker replied:

    Very provocative post. I’m still anonymous and live in moderate security that my family and friends (most of them) do not read my blog. If I were writing as myself, I would certainly monitor my words more carefully.

  8. MetroDad replied:

    I don’t know where I quite stand on all this. I wanted to retain my anonymity but you’re right when you say that, in this day and age, it’s difficult to do. Everyone’s kind of winging it on their own because we haven’t seen all the ramifications of what could become of it all. Despite all the wonderful and horrific stories we hear about “identity” on the internet, I don’t think we’ve seen nearly enough to understand all the permutations and combinations of our actions.

    All I know is that I’ll be greatly upset if you ever stop blogging!

  9. chip replied:

    you seen my blog lately? I know exactly what you mean. I’ve taken the easy way out…

  10. guerson replied:

    I considered blogging anonymously when I first started my blog but I’ve never been very good in picking good pseudonyms… Besides, the historian in me likes to leave clear connections behind. So my online life is pretty open. If you google my name, you’ll find every trace I’ve left on the Internet in these 11 years of continuous use. In my line of work – academia – some people get concerned with having their real self out there, attached to things that are not academic but I don’t think of that.

    But I’m with Kimberly on this one. There is something freeing about blogging with your real name. It’s almost like therapy… But I don’t have kids so it’s easier for me to make that decision…

  11. Jennifer replied:

    I think about taking my site down all the time. I am not a person who takes strong stands, generally, and so I keep thinking that I will want to retract everything I’ve said on the blog. Which is funny, because it’s probably the mildest blog you read!

    There was an article in the Harvard Business Review on this issue. Former law students being denied jobs for things they’d written in blogs when in school — or, more ominously, being denied jobs for things other students had written about them. I can’t find it online so I’ll have to get back to you on the details of the story.

  12. MommyWithAttitude replied:

    I originally blogged anonymously, but then my goal is to be published in other places, and the first time I did that (and linked to it from my blog) I realized it was sort of pointless to blog anonymously.

    I’m not so concerned with my privacy, but I’m deeply concerned about my children’s safety. So, since I know anyone could figure out who or where I am, I use pseudynoms for my kids and I don’t post pictures of them (except as babies or in Halloween costumes). The other thing that I do is only write about events after the fact, so that I’m not writing about where we’ll be and when.

    My kids are too young to be one day embarrassed about what I write about them now, I think, but as kids get older I know it’s really important to be mindful of that.

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