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When Is a Topic “Big” Enough to Warrant a Book?

“Safe Blogging”

What exactly does “safe blogging” mean? An interesting article on InternetNews.com (with quotes from Wiley author Shel Israel) talks about the EFF’s advice that “safe blogging is anonymous blogging.”

I hope I’m not the only one who thinks that’s lame advice. Why would you feel compelled to blog anonymously? Is it because you’re providing confidential information about your company? If so, you should be fired, regardless of whether disclosure happens on a blog, in an e-mail or anywhere else. Are you blogging anonymously because you want to complain about a co-worker, boss or your company? If so, are there better ways to address the problem? How about talking to that co-worker, boss or someone else in the company? If you’ve already tried all those options, maybe it’s time to change companies/jobs.

I realize there are some situations where, on the surface, anonymous blogging seems like a great solution. Every time I come up with another scenarios I wind up picturing a coward with an ax to grind…someone who really needs to just open the lines of communication and work to fix the problem rather than simply complaining anonymously.

I guess this is just a further extension of one of the nasty problems you often see with e-mail: People sometimes say things in e-mail that they’d never say face-to-face. I’ve been guilty of it too. Perhaps that same person is more likely to think they can hide behind a blog and say whatever they want. If I feel strongly enough about something to state my case publicly, I’d like to think I’m willing to put my name behind that statement.

Even if you disagree with me, do you really feel there’s a 100% foolproof way to blog without a trace? If someone really wants to hunt you down they’ll probably find a way.  It’s the same hubris that results in the occasional “anonymous” virus writer getting caught and prosecuted.

Comments

Brad Hill

I was also quite surprise to see the EFF jump into the fired-bloggers fray. I think this is just a light snack for the EFF; after all, they are all about free expression online. But breaking one's non-disclosure terms of employment doesn't exactly fit with the EFF's mission to establish online civil rights.

Jim Minatel

There any many scenarios where anonymity is necessary in business - legit whistle-blowers comes to mind as one. But it seems to me that the nature of blogging doesn't lend itself well to proper "whistle-blowing." Too many people would jump-on the band wagon in comments and it would be hard to separate legit issues from ax-grinding. On the other hand, using a blog for whistle-blowing might bring more attention to the wrong-doers and provide more disincentive for whatever illegal activity is being brought to light.
Joe's right that true anonymity is scarce these days. I think even some of the old anonymous remailer services outside the U.S. have been subject to the equivalent of subpoena's in their countries. I'd be hard pressed to believe that any "anonymous" service operating on U.S. soil could ever really be anonymous and outside the reach of having records sought and seized by law enforcement/court order.

Naba Barkakati

Joe, I think the restraints of blogging under your name are worthwhile. If you blog under your name, you can still express your opinion honestly, but you probably won’t say anything about someone that you can’t bring yourself to say face-to-face. And that’s good, in my opinion. Looks like EFF’s safe blogging guide is more for blogging about office and workplace. I don’t know if EFF’s suggested anonymizing technologies really work, but I have a feeling that—yes, someone who really wants to would probably find a way to unearth the anonymous blogger

David Yack

My 2 cents...

http://blog.davidyack.com/archive/2005/04/14/313.aspx

How Anonymous someone can be is a two sided issue, you can hide as well as you want to put in the effort to cover your tracks, the converse is someone can find you based on the effort they put in to track you down and the resources they have available to them.

shel

Thanks for the mention of me as a "Wiley author." It's the first time I actually read those words and they have a very nice sound to them.

orcmid

I spent Friday, April 15, at the final day of the CFP2005 conference on Computers, Freedom, and Privacy.  One of the most interesting sessions was with a panel of teen-agers moderated by Danah Boyd.  I am still gathering my thoughts about it, but I was struck by one thing.  These bright teens are in the maelstrom of teen-age socialization with all of the group-association and identification dynamics that seems to entail.  It was too long ago for my own teen-age experience to give me any insight, and based on these kids I must have been in study hall while the real socialization was happening elsewhere.

The kids had some interesting things to say about anonymity and also about the social dynamics of ranting on someone in a blog, censorship in schools (lame and it fails badly), and so on.  What I notice is that we are never very far away from being teen-agers (or younger), given the appropriate emotional button-pressing.

Concerning anonymity, it is interesting to notice how much kids feel they are under surveillance and resist technology uses that tend to increase that for them. Keeping the cell-phone off except to make calls, IM-ing rather than e-mail, and other devices smack of ways to avoid intrusive surveillance by adults. (They offered up several ways to game RFID ID-tags in schools without a second's thought.)

The panel's kids are learning to ignore incivility and also be tolerant, something we could use more of. At the same time, I think the sense of surveillance in school and at home carries into our adult lives and infects our approach to civil participation as well as relationships with perceived power structures, especially in the workplace.

Sitting in a weird session on how to blog anonymously, it struck me that there are people who feel stifled in their authority to speak absent the perception of anonymity. I am also reminded of John Hancock's signing of the Declaration of Independence. We should not forget that was a courageous act and many people have some fears to step through in finding their own voice.

So, to wrap up this curious wandering, I find it startling on placing my first comment here that the site had already remembered me. Even though I realize that the "Remember perosnal info?" on typepad is a typepad-wide remembrance, I am always thrown by my information showing up in the comment form when I go to a different typepad-hosted blog. It's convenient and also leaves me with this uneasy experience.

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