Sunday, September 5, 2010

Anonymity Ethics

I would just like to start this post by stating that when I started this blog, I knew that at some point it was possible that someone would figure out who I am, so even though I chose to be anonymous, I write every post keeping in mind that it’s possible for someone to figure out that I wrote it. To my knowledge, no one knows who I am, except for the two people who I myself told about this blog. I chose to be anonymous so that I could express a certain side of myself that I don’t necessarily express outside the blogosphere. If you met me in person, you would probably be pretty surprised, since my personality on this blog is not necessarily the one that shows in person. Each time I sign in I feel almost like superman, assuming a different identity that no one knows about, and that feeling is thrilling and sort of liberating.

The question I’m posing today is directed at all you other anonymous bloggers out there, and that is: If someone figured out who you were, would you want them to tell you? The reason I’m asking these questions is that recently (I won’t say how recently) two interesting situations came up:

The first one is that I became aware that someone I know in real life is reading this blog, but does not know that I am the one writing it. I don’t know this person very well, so as far as I know of they have not made the connection between my real identity and my blog identity, but now I make an effort not to write posts containing topics from recent conversations that I’ve had with this person. Honestly, if they found out, it wouldn’t be the biggest deal, but I would prefer to remain anonymous so that I don’t feel constrained to write a certain way.

The second situation is that I discovered the real identity of a blogger (don’t get paranoid, it’s not you! And you’re not going to guess who it is, trust me). I debated whether to tell this person that I knew who they were in real life, but chose not to for two reasons. The main one is that they have absolutely no clue who I am, and I have never met them, I just know their name from mutual friends. The second is that ignorance is bliss, so why should I ruin their sense of anonymity, especially if we don’t really know each other anyway so it won’t really affect them at all?

Then I was thinking about my first situation, and what I would want that person to do if they did figure out who I was. Do I want to know that they know? Or is ignorance really bliss? My answer is: I don’t know. I’m going to leave it up to them, should they ever figure it out, and if they want to tell me because they feel bad or feel that they are lying to me, then I would understand. And if they choose to continue reading without letting me know, I respect that decision as well.

What do you think? If someone found out who you were, would you want to know? Does it matter if it’s a friend of yours vs. someone you never met, but might know their name? Do you have an obligation to tell someone if you discover their true identity?


  1. I would want to be told if someone figured out who I am, regardless of how well we know each other, if at all. If you figured out who I am, please tell me! :-)

  2. I would definitely prefer to be told if someone figured out who I was. If it was a friend who found out and they didn't tell me, I would be upset with them. If it was someone I didn't know, I would still like to know, but I don't think they have any obligation to tell me.

  3. Good to know. It's neither of you- I have no clue who either of you are! :)

  4. If a very close friend figured it out, I guess I'd want to know...

  5. Nothing is as scary as a guy who you sort of know (as an aquaintance - putting a name with the face and nothing further) walking up to you in the YU caf and whispering in your ear "nice post yesterday!" Yes, that happened to me, only about two weeks after I started blogging, no less.

    I intentionally told one person (a fellow blogger). One close friend figured it out almost right away because he knows me so well. Most embarrassing was when a sister figured it out after I quoted her, and her friend who reads the blog asked her about it (said sister had apparently mentioned the matter in conversation and it sounded familiar).

    I've had others who have suspected that it was me, but I deftly weaseled out of those confrontations (as Homer Simpson said, "weaseling out of things is important to learn."

    Another person I know figured it out after a particular post which failed to hide the identities of several parties quoted well enough including the person in question and called me up to point it out (d'oh).

    One person thought they might know who I was and asked me directly in an email after revealing their own identity, but I politely declined.

    Another time, I accidently signed my name on an email reply from my SoG gmail account. I immediately sent another emailing despairing of my blunder, and the reader shared their name as well, though neither of us had any clue who other was (they weren't in the YU/Stern circle).

    In a totally different vein, I have become decent pen pals with one particular blogger after they accidently uncovered who I was. They graciously felt it wasn't fair if I didn't know who they were, so they told me. I will say that this person has earned an invite to my upcoming wedding, though :)

    Anonymity is darn near impossible these days, it would seem. I'd rather have someone tell me they know it's me, so I can congratulate them on their discovery, then swear them to secrecy - or swiftly remove their head from their shoulders if they refuse to keep quiet.

    Just kidding on that last one.

    P.S. Everyone asking, so why not: is it me?

  6. First off, I assume I don’t know you and you don’t know me. ;-)

    Indeed, that is a very vexing question and very complex moral dilemma. I can’t shed light on a definitive answer because I myself have no idea! Either way, both solutions aren’t solutions really. The only idea I can propose, which I agree has its flaws, if possible, email someone who knows the blogger in question and asked them to determine how the person would feel about this little predicament.

    While some part of me is curious if there are people out there who really know my identity, there is another part of me that doesn’t really care at the moment. I imagine someone out there might know that I blog, but as long as I am not accosted on the street,(like SoG's story) does it really matter that much to me? Besides, given enough time, it seems that being a “truly” anonymous frum blogger is nearly impossible. Our “velt” is way too small for that. ;-) At least that’s the impression I got from the blogosphere at the moment…

    While I happen to follow the same logic as you do, mainly, I try to only post things that I wouldn’t be embarrassed if they were attributed to me in real life, I have to come to the realization that there is a more pressing need to follow that line of reasoning. The simple explanation being, that at some point any given blogger is going to have to tell someone very close to themselves about their blog, perhaps ones fiancé or fiancée… A little forethought can go a long way….

  7. Sorry about that SoG, I assume now would be a good time to ask for mechila?

  8. AS - mechilah for which story? I don't think any require mechilah, and I already asked mechilah from the not hidden enough reference story. If you're interested, my email is on my blog.

    And sorry Sterngrad for having this convo on your post...

  9. I have sorta lost my anonymity a while back. some friends and family figured it out. It keeps me honest, although I do have to censor myself sometimes and can't post everything I feel out there (which is also good, for that I keep a separate journal not online)

    I would like to be told, even if it is to stroke my ego that people read my posts :-)

  10. Wow, I didn't mean to make anyone paranoid that it is them! I see that the general consensus is that the ethical thing to do is to let someone know if you discover who they are. I have since been in contact with the blogger to let them know, so no need to worry that it is you.

  11. A few things are going on here. One, the frum world is actually quite small (even though we think otherwise). Two, remember to change identifying details if you want to remain anonymous! Don't use your siblings' and/or friends' actual initials - for example.


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