The Bizzle

"Saving your ass since 1999"

The man who wasn’t there

“Don’t you know who I am?”

I always wanted to be able to say that, in my most pompous tone, to functionaries who fail to appreciate my general awesomeness. Thing is, I’m not at all sure how anonymous blogging is going to help me realise that ambition…

I was going to write this post a few weeks ago, after the inaugural Law Blogs event, but I was worried that it might be a level of navel-gazing too far even for this blog. Last week’s Lex 2011 tweetup and a couple of excellent posts by Ashley Connick and Miss TS have brought me back to it.

Ashley and Miss TS have made different choices about anonymity (I think you can work out for yourselves which is which). I won’t summarise here, but both articulate their reasons well and Ashley’s piece in particular has attracted a lot of interesting comments.

Reading these posts lead me to reflect on my own choice, when I started this blog, to write anonymously. It seemed appropriate at the time, and it still does, but why?

The classic reasons for choosing to be anonymous are because the writer wants to expose ‘the reality’ of their subject, or because they want to write in a gossipy way without naming names. But these are not exactly my own reasons.

For a start, I’m oddly self-conscious about my writing. I have no problem with strangers reading my blog, but I’d be mortified if I knew that real life colleagues and friends saw it – to the extent that I’d probably stop altogether if anyone said anything, out of sheer embarrassment.

I’m not interested in building a personal or professional brand (some would say luckily, given the, um, talent on display here). If I had one, I wouldn’t know what to do with it.

So why write at all? Well, because I enjoy it, I suppose, and because I want to challenge myself. And, fairly obviously to regular readers, because I want to get things off my chest.

Which brings me to the second consideration: do I need to be anonymous because my employer would be unhappy about the things that I write?

As it happens, I don’t think that anyone that I work with would be particularly surprised by the things I write here. For better or worse, I’m as free with my opinions in real life as I am in this blog – if anything I offer a more considered view here, because I know that my audience (if that doesn’t sound too grandiose) is trained to read critically.

So I’m not writing anything that I wouldn’t be prepared to put my own name to, all other things being equal. But ceteris is not parabus, for two reasons.

First, I work in a slightly unusual field. There is very little public perception of my employer, so there’s no brand issues here – except that that’s kind of the point. Even though I’m disclosing no secrets, I don’t want to connect my blog to our name, or to our clients.

Second, never underestimate the ability of people to read themselves into a story that has nothing to do with them. However careful I am to obscure identifying details (and I am), my choice of subject matter means that somebody is always going to claim that I’m really writing about them. Once in a hundred times, I probably am.

So it seems to me that it would be deliberately provocative to write under my real name. I don’t think that what I write is especially controversial, but if other people would be troubled (whether rightly or wrongly) then it seems sensible not to make the connection. But there are limits to what’s possible here.

Benjamin Gray makes a good point in his comment on Ashley’s blog:

“It is actually quite difficult to make your blog truly anonymous, and the belief that you are so can lull you into a false sense of security.”

I’m very aware of this, and I write with the prospect of discovery in mind. I don’t disclose secrets, and I don’t express views that I wouldn’t be prepared to stand behind if I was writing openly.

And I actually don’t mind that much if individual readers and Twitter followers know who I am. The ones who do (there are 20-30) have so far been very discreet, and I’m grateful to them for that. But as long as there’s no public (by which I mean visible to search engines, or otherwise generally known) link between this blog and my employer, I’m reasonably comfortable.

So would I attend an event like Law Blogs, or the Lex 2011 tweetup? Well, if I didn’t attend those events, it had more to do with shyness (see above) or lack of cash than it did a reluctance to come out of the blogging closet.

Or maybe I was there all along? I guess you’ll never know…

4 responses to “The man who wasn’t there

  1. Alistair Sloan March 20, 2011 at 4:48 pm

    I began writing anonymously on the internet and that was down to the fact I intended on writing about some very personal things that I hadn’t told anyone about (and certainly didn’t want anyone to find them by accident during a Google search). However, circumstances changed and I broke cover about a year ago now and began tweeting and blogging under my own name. I wouldn’t say that one is more right than the other. In my circumstances both were correct at their respective times. My decision to break cover was partly down to the fact it was becoming ever more difficult to keep the pseudonym going, but had I wanted to I am sure I would have found a way.

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