I have a few posts (half-)written that will never see the light of day, because I don’t like being controversial, or open myself up too much on a site with my full name on it. I think that’s one of the reasons behind the famous niceness of Nature Network bloggers. We’re not being told what to write, but we’re being told to use our real name. We’re not allowed pseudonyms. With every post I have to consider: would I tell this to my parents, friends, colleagues, potential employers, crazy people, and the rest of the world? No? Then maybe I won’t put it on here, because my readers fall in all of these categories. (Hi mom! Hi crazy people!)
I can imagine it would be easier for people who blog under a pseudonym. I recently made a web trip through a bunch of pseudonymous blogs and found discussions of topics that were not even that controversial, but which I would not put on a blog-with-name. As Christina Pikas’ wonderful slide show about blog communities shows, there is a cluster of women science bloggers that all link to and talk with each other. Many of these are pseudonymous, and the authors talk about personal stuff as well as work stuff. Those are the kind of blogs where you can read honest complaints and criticism of the academic system. I’ve complained here but I was a grad student and could get away with all that. (Hey, I paid over $10,000 a year for the right to complain!) Someone on tenure track probably can’t be too critical without risking a lot, unless it’s pseudonymous, and the added stories about personal life do make you realize that there are actual people stuck in these situations (unlike anonymous reports and statistics telling the same story).
So after considering all this, I do see the merit of blogging under a pseudonym. But only a few months ago I was not so positive about it. That’s because there are other types of pseudonymous blogs, and those are the ones that more readily sprung to mind when I considered the issue before. They’re the blogs where the author seems to hide behind a fake name to behave like an inconsiderate maniac. Are they really like that? Probably. I tend to avoid those blogs.
The key thing about a pseudonymous online personality is consistency. If it is the “real you” behind merely a fake name, consistency is easy to achieve, and easy to pick up on. You can judge someone’s personality without knowing their name or without having met them.
My original opinion on pseudonymous blogs was something along the lines of “I don’t like pseudonymous blogs, except this one and this one and this one and this one.” But after thinking it over I changed this to: “I don’t care what name you use on your blog, as long as your blog is honest and you are honest about it. If I find your online persona horrible I probably just don’t like you anyway, and if I do like your online persona, I probably do like you. Just be consistent about it.”
Okay, but what about blogs written in character? Several TV characters have blogs, and the person behind the blog is not only not really that person, it’s probably not even the actor who portrays the fictional character on TV. And what about Charles Darwin and Jeremy Benthem? They have been dead for quite a while, and yet they have blogs on Nature Network, despite the rule that bloggers here should use their real name.
In all those cases, it obvious that it’s a character blog. This is not deceptive in any way. I know there are living people behind these blogs, but I read them as if the character wrote them because that’s more fun. It’s totally different from pseudonymous bloggers, where you can figure out their personality from what they say. By portraying existing characters, these bloggers have to be consistent. It’s not like making a fake personality online, which you can mold as you please, but the character is predefined and it must be very hard to play the role consistently. As long as everyone knows that character blogs are just that, then it doesn’t harm anyone.What people are afraid of when it comes to the internet is that someone might portray to be someone else and use that identity for evil. I guess you could be thinking about someone portraying a doctor online and giving out medical advice. But that can happen in the real world, too. Someone could move to another town and give out a new name and make up a whole new history for himself. People do that,
What people are afraid of when it comes to the internet is that someone might portray to be someone else and use that identity for evil. I guess you could be thinking about someone portraying a doctor online and giving out medical advice. But that can happen in the real world, too. Someone could move to another town and give out a new name and make up a whole new history for himself. People do that, internet or not. And people change their names all the time as well. I know at least three or four people who go by different names depending on the company they’re with. I even listen to different pronunciations of my own name. It’s a bit weird when you first find out someone goes by different names, but then it’s fine. And with pseudonymous bloggers, you know right off the bat that they actually go by a different name, and if they’re consistent about it, that’s fine too.