The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Pseudononymity and Rulesets for the Blogosphere

June 7, 2009

I don’t know what you think, but in my mind, outing a psuedononymous blogger because you don’t like what he writes about you (or what someone else writes about you that he then agrees with) is pretty disturbing.

Ed Whelan of the National Review would argue that “anonymous blogging” (he doesn’t seem to grasp the difference between ‘anonymous’ and ‘psuedononymous’) is irresponsible because it enables the author to avoid any personal consequences of the arguments s/he makes (he ignores reputational effects accruing to the blogger’s online persona):

“One bane of the Internet is the anonymous blogger who abuses his anonymity to engage in irresponsible attacks.”

On the other side of the aisle seem to be everyone else whose reactions I’ve read on various posts regarding this matter, including most of the 264 commenters on publius’ post at Obsidian Wings, who see value in promoting free speech even by those whose jobs prevent blogging openly, who prefer to keep their politics out of their classrooms, or who choose psuedonyms for reasons as simple as being uncomfortable with their family attributing their political views to them.

That said, I don’t think Whelan’s behavior can be rightfully characterized as “libel,” as Mike Innes from the newly reconstituted Current Intelligence blog puts it. But it is certainly a violation of some kind of blogosphere etiquette. But what exactly? What is the off-line parallel for this behavior?

I must admit I’ve never seen a written copy of anything like a “Bloggers Code,” but certainly if there are not formal rules there are some norms and guidelines. If not, should there be? What form might they take? And if they’re nothing more than collectively held understandings about appropriate and inappropriate behavior, by what mechanism should bloggers who violate them be sanctioned?

UPDATE: Simon Owens at has an excellent piece up that includes an interview with both publius and Whelan.

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Charli Carpenter is a Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. She is the author of 'Innocent Women and Children': Gender, Norms and the Protection of Civilians (Ashgate, 2006), Forgetting Children Born of War: Setting the Human Rights
Agenda in Bosnia and Beyond (Columbia, 2010), and ‘Lost’ Causes: Agenda-Setting in Global Issue Networks and the Shaping of Human Security (Cornell, 2014). Her main research interests include national security ethics, the protection of civilians, the laws of war, global agenda-setting, gender and political violence, humanitarian affairs, the role of information technology in human security, and the gap between intentions and outcomes among advocates of human security.