Who gets to be anonymous?

Consider this part two of Don’t we have more important things to do? – an earlier post about privacy, opinions and the internet.

I’m a fan of Grog’s Gamut. I’m not a fan of his outing today in The Australian. There was already plenty of discussion in the public sphere about the mainstream media coverage of the federal election campaign, so why go to the trouble of outing one blogger? It seems rather petty. And counter-productive because they’ve just ensured he has a bigger audience.

I am not an anonymous blogger. My name is on my About page, where it also states that this is my personal blog and is in no way connected to my employer. (Many of the people I follow on twitter have a similar line in their bios. Although, I suspect that this kind of line only works for the big guys, not the little guys.)

But my blog does have a cost. My criticism of Fairfax has ensured I’ll never work there, which is a shame because I am one of the few people who still reads the Sydney Morning Herald every day. I don’t read News Ltd newspapers, so I don’t blog about them.

Anyway, back to Grog. Several journos today said anonymity was there to protect sources and whistleblowers (and, therefore, shouldn’t be extended to political bloggers). Except that it’s not entirely true. If a whistleblower/source wants to be anonymous, we’re supposed to do everything we can to change their mind. Yet anonymity is freely given to members of political parties who want to use the media to undermine a colleague. Almost all political stories these days feature “an unnamed source within the party”. And then, of course, the politician is expected to respond to these anonymous claims that have only been made public because someone is cosying up to a journo and letting them believe they’re getting a scoop. It’s not a scoop – we’re being used and we’re too caught up in thinking we’re part of the game to realise that we’re being played.

Update 1: A shiny new coin has another wonderfully insightful post:

The problem is that, though Grog may keep his grogblog, he’ll be muzzled. All of us will be. If we didn’t already know, our contribution, in light of our education, in light of our particular circumstance, in the likelihood of us losing our job, at the pure chance of having to report back to our partner that some silly comments we made online mean we can’t keep the house. The reason why we blog anonymously is because it’s fucking personal.

This is supposed to be a free society?

Update 2: The comments here are awesome: Why I unmasked blogger Grog

21 responses to “Who gets to be anonymous?

  1. NWN .
    To-days outing of Grog was punishment for his showing up the trivial reporting over the last few months ,something you too have mentioned . Just the big boys keeping everyone in their place.
    What are the chances of the same treatment for M. Duffy? Media Watch rules. Chuckle.

  2. The internet has changed everything when it comes to ordinary people being able to put their views out there and wit that has come a a sort of easy anonymity that is very often abused and used as a licence to act like a scum bag . While it would appear that in this case Greg Jericho has not been doing this at all so there is no real reason to ” Out” him no one who posts anonymously should be under any illusion that they have a right to remain so or that it is in any sense wrong that they can be named and that they will have to own the words that they have published.
    Now I had never noticed that you name yourself in your about page (and I say good on you for doing so ) But I don’t think that anything that you post here will do you any harm and you never know you might just get that job at the SMH that you clearly fancy despite your criticism of them, because if this blog were to be entirely anonymous would you really want to get the job under false pretences ?

  3. Not really NWN no one likes to be criticised especially by people who are anonymous.

    • Of course no one likes to be criticised, but the mainstream media occupies a very privileged position in our society, as the ones who tell the rest of the country what is happening and what is important, and part of that privileged position means you have to be able to accept criticism. We expect that of our political leaders, so why not the media?

  4. Its appalling.

    I know some very opinionated public servants (thank God!). They work in a political/policy sphere cos they are interested in politics. They need to be interested and aware of the political field left and right to do their job properly. Public servants are allowed in an opinion so long as they are not spilling confidential, privileged information that they have gained through their job. Why shouldn’t he get to blog and why is he not allowed a writers pseudonym if he chooses to have one!

    I agree with all the comments on his site and I hope he gets more traffic as a result. News Ltd have been out performed by him and cant control him and that worries them – this is an attempt to do control him through discrediting him but I think it wont work. Having said that I rarely take anything serious written in the Oz.

    So I guess this is who Joe Hockey was having a good ole whinge about a few days ago with his ‘anonymous bloggers and tweeters’ cry baby moment. Joe Hockey and the Oz are often in the same breath and I am sure these events are connected. They both disgust me.

    On the subject of your own anonymity – I have often thought it brave (almost dangerous) to have your own name on your blog – not because of career reprisals but because there are a lot of trolls and nutters out there who could physically track you down if they wished to. The same argument applied to Grog and anyone else who chooses to remain anonymous. I know if I had a blog I would be anonymous too and a lot less brave then you are.

    Ps Lexy……not my real name!

    • I want my public servants to be involved in the public discourse because they’re the ones who have the knowledge (shit, I used the word discourse. I am becoming a uni nerd).

      As for having my name on my blog, it was a decision I made so I could build my personal brand. Besides, if I said anything controversial that got picked up by the MSM, they’d find out who I was and take great delight in outing me. The MSM hates anonymity unless they’re the ones to “grant” it. Which is very arrogant.

  5. The MSM are hypocrites, plain and simple.

    The concept of a free press is inextricably linked to free speech, which – where it is actually an explicit right – has consistently been held to include anonymity of speech. Yet we have people all over the place bleating about how bloggers “don’t have the right” to be anonymous. Why the hell not? Since when did News Ltd become the arbiter of Australians’ (implied) right to free speech?

    On the topic of media not taking criticism very well, The Australian is becoming increasingly absurd. The level of defensiveness over getting criticised for publicly declaring war on the Greens is hilarious, and embarrassing: ‘If you think we’re wrong to be biased, then you must be stupid. Oh, and have a bunch of unnecessary verbosity that will hopefully distract you and make it harder for people to pin down anything concrete we say’

    • ugh. that Oz article is a big load of WANK. I thought about using a more erudite critique but decided he’s used up all the big words for one day and still managed to say nothing of value.

    • It’s worth pointing out that we don’t have any free speech protection in Australia.

      As for anonymity, newspapers usually don’t say who writes their editorials, and some have several bylines that are pseudonyms.

      • I’m aware of the lack of explicit free speech, thus my inclusion of implied.

        There are a few cases where the High Court has found there to be a guaranteed right to certain forms free political communication, but mostly we’re forced to rely on convention =(

  6. You know, I have a really hard time with this one. I just don’t get why it matters who Grog really is. He hasn’t written anything of a libellous nature, so outing him is purely done so in the manner of a tantrum. Obviously, his blog is well written enough to attract the attention of professional writers and the politicians he blogs about. So unless he has made a slanderous comment that one could sue for, then outing him is both a petulant and petty thing to do.

    Many professional writers have used a pseudonym. It is not a deceptive agent. Grog has a fully realised online persona. I have no problem with him protecting his offline one by choosing not to state for the record what that was. Do we not teach our children basic net safety 101, “Do not give out your name”?

    I don’t always agree with Grog. (Sorry, Greg, now that he’s out an all, and as an aside the man has a cool real name. Greg Jericho. )
    But that doesn’t give me a reason to have a tanty and sniff out who he really is in public interest. I call BULLSHIT on that. The MSM are just pissed that a non-professional is getting all their online traffic.

    And yes, I agree with NWN, the arrogance of the MSM to be allowed its anonymous sources but to decide that someone else has no right to it is not only arrogant but rather hypocritical.

    PS> Pirra is not my real name. I hate my real name. I hate it so much even my husband doesn’t call me by it. I have used the name Pirra ever since I first hopped online way back in 2000. I am strongly attached to my pseudonym. EVen so far as wanting to change my name legally to my pseudonym. To me, Pirra IS my name. So much more than the one my mother gave me. And using it doesn’t change the words I use online. (Sorry to word vomit on your blog)

    • You’re right – it doesn’t matter who Grog is. I forget that some older journos still think there’s some “us vs them” battle going on between journos and bloggers. It’s pretty out-dated. Plus, blogging is just an online discussion about the information that journalists decide is news. Until bloggers start breaking news (which would make them unpaid journos, and why would you do something for free if you can get paid for it?), I don’t see what the problem is. In fact, journos should be pleased that people are taking an interest in their work.

      • I think the real problem is that a lot of these unpaid, nonprofessional, hobby-est bloggers are outshining much of the MSM in articulation, insight and proficiency. And rather than raise their own personal bar, some of the MSM would rather try to undermine and destroy pseudonymous bloggers. It beats chasing a real story and perhaps takes the heat off some of the more ridiculous and inflammatory crap some of the MSM has been putting out lately. The old- smoke and mirrors to deflect from their own failings- trick.

        Or I could just be an overly cynical bitch.

        • True (to the first bit, not the bitch bit), but in fairness, journos don’t have the time to thoughtfully analyse anything. The news cycle demands to be fed now!now!now! and print journos have to file immediately for online, so there isn’t time to even reflect on what the story means in context, let alone writing a measured, thoughtful analysis of it that probably won’t get a run in the paper anyway.

          Plus,journos are supposed to be presenting the “view from nowhere” (which is a little bit bullshit because your own biases appear in who you interview and what quotes you use and how you frame your story and who you give the last word to). Bloggers don’t represent a threat to journalists – they’re a threat to the tired old opinion writers who appear in the newspapers and on websites week in, week out.

          • Agreed. (That was kind of what I was trying to imply. Just not doing a very good job of it)

            As a kid there were 3 things I wanted to be. An actress, a journalist and a lawyer. At 16 I realised I was just never going to be pretty enough to be an actress. I tried Law School, it didn’t work out (shamefaced to admit that if this party girl had bothered to show up to her tutes and lectures instead of drinking with the engineers and playing beer bingo quite successfully, she may have been a little more interested and done a little better.) I told my husband several years ago how much I wanted to be a journalist…he laughed his ass off at me because I am “Far too passionate to write subjectively, and if a story couldn’t sway my passions one way or another then I wouldn’t even bother pursuing it.” (Plus, my writing ability is somewhat lacking in the ability department!)

            I’d give my left nut to be a tired old opinion writer…(if I had a nut left or right to give, I mean really, getting paid to be a pompous wind bag…orsm!) and maybe if the opinion writers looked to bloggers for inspiration instead of envy….well…yeah, and as my Dad says, if cows shit butter we wouldn’t have to churn.

            • Pirra, your dad has all the best sayings.

              I get why your husband was laughing – the two reasons why I wanted to be a journalist (to change the world and because I love writing) are the two exact reasons they give as to why you shouldn’t be a journalist. No wonder I’m finding it a superficial career.

              • I know, I should have created “Shit my Dad says”.

                Although when it comes to my Dad, the content would often need an R rating or higher. Some of the stuff that comes out of that mans mouth is truly disgusting. (In a smutty sense and often flies in the face of PC) My mother isn’t much better. I had no hope of ever being a lady.

      • except that places like wikileaks break stories and don’t get paid for it (that I know of or understand anyway). Love em or hate em they get some serious discussion going on.

        I also think the ‘us and them’ is not necessarily just about blogging. I think this is the Oz doing what it has done a lot of lately which is spruik a Liberal party agenda of trying to discredit he federal public service as a way of undermining ALP or discrediting any policy implementation…just look at what they have done and said with regards to Treasury and ken Henry. On many cases the same people that they cheered on during the Howard years. Libs didn’t mind the public service leaking when it was Goblin Greetch did they! Public servant bashing is an easy target and they are tryign to discredit Grog by ‘exposing’ his public service role.

  7. so is News with Nipples not your real name then – I thought it must be hard to fit on Centrelink forms.

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