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Sunday, June 07, 2009

Exposing Identities- Watch The Ankle You Bite, It Might Bite Back

Blog wars or shall I say blogger wars can be entertaining, especially when the weekend news cycle doesn't bring a lot of news out, but this latest one seems to bring up the questions and a variety of answers from different people, on whether anonymous blog writers should be outed for their criticisms against other writers.

Obviously from what I have read this morning, this little battle of personalities has been going on for a while.

Ed Whalen, a former Deputy Assistant Attorney General and currently the President of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, researches and writes about Obama's nominees, looking through their record and offering his opinion on said record, comments and decisions.

Evidently someone who named themselves publius and writes for Obsidian Wings, called him a "hitman" and often criticized him.

Whalen took offense to being criticized by someone refusing to stand by their opinions and hiding, so to speak, behind an anonymous name to offer their opinions and critique.

Today, Whalen publicly outed publius, identifying him as well as responding to the more recent criticism, which in turn forced publius to out himself as well and admit his name is John F. Blevins who is a law professor of the South Texas College of Law.

Whalen's reasoning:

Exposing an Irresponsible Anonymous Blogger [Ed Whelan]

One bane of the Internet is the anonymous blogger who abuses his anonymity to engage in irresponsible attacks. One such blogger who has been biting at my ankles in recent months is the fellow who calls himself “publius” at the Obsidian Wings blog.

In the course of a typically confused post yesterday, publius embraces the idiotic charge (made by “Anonymous Liberal”) that I’m “essentially a legal hitman” who “pores over [a nominee’s] record, finds some trivial fact that, when distorted and taken totally out of context, makes that person look like some sort of extremist.” In other of his posts (including two which I discussed here and here), publius demonstrated such a dismal understanding of the legal matters he opined on—including, for example, not understanding what common law is—that it was apparent to me that he had never studied law.

Well, I’m amused to learn that I was wrong about publius’s lack of legal education. I’ve been reliably informed that publius is in fact the pseudonym of law professor John F. Blevins of the South Texas College of Law. I e-mailed Blevins to ask him to confirm or deny that he is publius, and I copied the e-mail to the separate e-mail address, under the pseudonym “Edward Winkleman,” that publius used to respond to my initial private complaints about his reckless blogging. In response, I received from “Edward Winkleman” an e-mail stating that he is “not commenting on [his] identity” and that he writes under a pseudonym “[f]or a variety of private, family, and professional reasons.” I’m guessing that those reasons include that friends, family members, and his professional colleagues would be surprised by the poor quality and substance of his blogging.

Publius/Blevins responds with his reasoning for writing anonymously:

But anyway, he’s right – my name is John Blevins. I recently joined the faculty at South Texas College of Law in Houston (both of which I love) after practicing for years in DC. I’m also now a recent convert to the Houston Rockets, and am enraged that Chuck Hayes doesn’t shoot more.

I thought about ignoring the whole thing – but some of you have been with me for 5 years now, so I thought you all deserved an explanation.

As I told Ed (to no avail), I have blogged under a pseudonym largely for private and professional reasons. Professionally, I’ve heard that pre-tenure blogging (particularly on politics) can cause problems. And before that, I was a lawyer with real clients. I also believe that the classroom should be as nonpolitical as possible – and I don’t want conservative students to feel uncomfortable before they take a single class based on my posts. So I don’t tell them about this blog. Also, I write and research on telecom policy – and I consider blogging and academic research separate endeavors. This, frankly, is a hobby.

Privately, I don’t write under my own name for family reasons. I’m from a conservative Southern family – and there are certain family members who I’d prefer not to know about this blog (thanks Ed). Also, I have family members who are well known in my home state who have had political jobs with Republicans, and I don’t want my posts to jeopardize anything for them (thanks again).

Now, reactions from the blogosphere are weighing in and while some are defending Whalen's outing Blevins, others, right and left, are criticizing him for doing so. Amusingly enough, one who is criticizing him posts under "Anonymous Liberal." (I found that chuckle worthy.)

Point of Law, linked above, is defending Whalen's actions:

Over on National Review Online, Ed Whelan of the Ethics and Public Policy Center has been quite appropriately attacking comments made by Judge Sotomayor, which seem to undermine the constitutional distinction between judging and legislating. He has been constantly attacked by an anonymous blogger on a website called Obsidinan Wings. Now, Ed has unmasked this blogger -- he is professor John Blevins of South Texas School of Law.

Incredibly, Blevins has defended his anonymous sniping as ethical: he didn't want to get in trouble with his law school, he didn't want to embarrass his family, he didn't want to offend his students. What Blevins didn't want to do, sez me, is take responsibility for his opinions. When you attack someone by name, you name yourself -- we are not in revolutionary times where the original Publius could go appropriately unnamed.

Just One Minute, right side of the blogosphere, (linked above also) thinks it isn't cool to out someone:

I Deplore This

Ed Whelan of the National Review outed the once pseudonymous "Publius" of Obsidian Wings due to what looks like nothing more than pique. Not cool at all.

Instapundit aka Glenn Reynolds, offers his thoughts, which mirror my own to a point:

IS IT WRONG TO “OUT” ANONYMOUS BLOGGERS? I think blogging anonymity is fine — though in the absence of a track record I tend to trust anonymous bloggers less — but is it a “despicable” act to identify an anonymous blogger? I’d say it depends. Certainly the political operative who leaked the Foleygate story via an anonymous blog had no right to anonymity. On the other hand, what about people who blog in a non-hitjob fashion but just want to avoid job repercussions? I’m more sympathetic there. But if you appoint yourself someone’s anonymous blogging nemesis, you can probably expect to be outed.

Here is the problem as I see it.

When one consistently attacks another, they should expect to be attacked back and when one hides behind an anonymous name to offer those attacks, I agree with Reynolds, right or wrong, they should expect to be outed and shouldn't feign surprise when it happens and claim to be some sort of victim.

I wrote under a pseudonym when I first started blogging because I had heard horror stories about conservative writers having their home addresses and phones numbers published and having had to move their whole families because of it (Malkin) or their children having been threatened to where the authorities had to step in (Protein Wisdom's Jeff Goldstein).

Right-wing blogger Jeff Goldstein maintains a well-respected site entitled Protein Wisdom. Left-wing Deborah Frisch maintains the south(west)paw blog. She prides herself on attacking 'right-wing nuts' -- or 'wingnuts' in blogspeak -- by posting insults on their websites. (Left-wingers are referred to as 'moonbats'.)

An exchange on Protein Wisdom between Goldstein and Frisch turned so nasty that it landed in the mainstream media. On July 12, Brit Hume of FOX News reported, "Deborah Frisch escalated a foreign policy argument with blogger Jeff Goldstein last week, writing that if 'someone shot you and your 'tyke' it wouldn't slow me down one iota.' She also wrote that she hopes 'no one Jon-Benets' the child -- a reference to the brutal murder of a young Colorado girl ten years ago -- and made disturbing sexual remarks about the boy."

I stopped writing under another name when I started finding critique with the way some things were misrepresented by certain bloggers and I felt I should stand up behind my critique.

To some, that was a personal choice that Blevin's was entitled to make and that Whalen had no right to make for him.

Here is the kicker for me though.

Blevin's wasn't worried about physical danger to his family or himself, he was worried about his own reputation with his "conservative" family and his job, because, in his words "pre-tenure blogging (particularly on politics) can cause problems," with his employment.

So, because his opinions, put down publicly on a blog, could cause him problems with his job, he hid behind an anonymous name.

Perhaps if his employment was his first priority, he shouldn't have been blogging if he knew it didn't mesh with his chosen profession.

To top off the entertainment, Le-gal In-sre-rec-tion points our the hypocrisy of critics of Whaeln's outing of Blevin's, being outers themselves.

So it is particularly ironic to see TBogg worrying about someone being subjected to ridicule because their real name was exposed:
Bitter out-of-power wingnut welfare recipient Ed Whelan fucks up explaining a joke, gets called out on it, and then goes Full Metal Asshole .... That is to say that publius was "irresponsible" in that he criticized Whelan and, for that crime, Whelan wants to fuck with publius' life. Why else out him?
Worse yet, TBogg has been a proponent of exposing the private lives of people, at least people who disagree with him politically. In 2004, TBogg urged people in New York City to take photos of delegates to the Republican National Convention in the hope of catching people in embarrassing positions [note, the "Ann Coulter" link was in original TBogg post, I encourage you to click on it to see the level of TBogg's blogging]:

They end with this:

TBogg's call for embarrassing photos of Republicans was picked up by AmericaBlog, which gained its claim to fame by outing gay Republicans.

There have been legitimate critics and supporters of Whelan. The criticisms ring less hollow coming from people who have not devoted their lives to cheapening online conduct and outing others.

So, while none of this answers the question of whether anonymous bloggers should be outed, it does all prove Instapundit's and my point.

Watch the ankle you bite, it might just bite back.