In relation to the recent topic of conversation on the Twit-o-sphere, Facebook and blogs, I thought I’d take a minute to explain my philosophy on “outing,” or rather, revealing personal information about people that they did not purposely reveal. There are instances where I think this passes the fairly low Internet ethics test:
- The anonymity in question is used for the purposes of sock puppetry. Sock puppetry is distinct from operating under a pseudonym. I don’t make any pretenses that Sebastian is a separate and real person from myself. It is merely a pen name. If I was indeed creating a separate identity, that would be sock puppetry. There have been examples of sock puppets having their true identity outed on both sides, and I think it’s acceptable.
- If the person seeking anonymity is well known in the community under which they are seeking the anonymity of a pseudonym, and are using that anonymity to gain some sort of personal advantage. Most of the time this would be sock puppetry, but there are some cases where it isn’t, but unmasking would still be ethical. For instance if someone well known in the community were using a pseudonym to release damaging information about other people within that community, that would be an example of non-sock-puppetry which would still allow the individual to be ethically unmasked.
- The person being unmasked is hiding behind anonymity to make viscous, personal attacks, or to engage in real harassment. I’ve seen some of the Anonymous comments Joan Peterson has approved on her site, and they are vile. I think if she discovered the identity of these commenters and unmasked them, that would be completely ethical.
But I don’t think most blogging under a pseudonym is problematic. Publius, from the Federalist Papers, is a famous example of this. I generally don’t ever consider it acceptable to out personal information in a public forum, when the person has chosen to use a pseudonym. Umasking, i.e. revealing the person’s true identity, is about as far as it should go unless there’s real harassment or something exceptionally vile.
Most of us are blogging under pseudonym’s for professional reasons, and unlike what CSGV may think, not because I work for NRA. They suggest “we now know he works directly with the NRA-ILA,” well duh, I’m a volunteer. I would hope their volunteers work directly with them rather than aimlessly doing their own thing. But, to disappoint CSGV, all my contacts with NRA have been developed through blogging and volunteering. Before that, I was just a number in their database, and someone who kicked in a few extra bucks here and there above membership dues.
Perhaps if CSGV engaged with their active members, and tried to actually organize them for action, rather than just get them frothing at the mouth, they’d actually get somewhere.