Blog behaviour and pseudonyms

Interest and participation here is surging, which is very pleasing to see. Thanks to everyone who contributes.

Discussion and debate is increasing and getting more diverse, which has been one of the aims here. In the main people are conducting themselves well, usually addressing the issues and only sometimes straying into personal attack.

A bit of personal bickering will happen in the heat of debate and if it remains as occasional and not too bad I’ll accept it as part of an open and robust environment.

But one thing that’s creeping in a bit is trying to identify people using pseudonyms either as known people or as different pseudonyms here or elsewhere.

One of the strengths of moderation here is community assistance, which is appreciated. Pointing out to someone that they are clashing with our culture a bit is fine. Advising me of something potentially serious is very helpful.

We’ve had some problems with multiple use of pseudonyms. That’s in the main sorted. I can usually quite easily see when that’s happening. By all means if you see something suspicious let me know so I can check it out.

Usually there’s a reasonable explanation and nothing untoward has been going on.

But please don’t confront and accuse people here. I want new visitors to feel welcome and not intimidated. Sometimes they take a while to get the feel of the place and work out how things work here. Give them a chance.

Remember that new people bring new ideas and new approaches to issues and sometimes new approaches to commenting. I’d like this encouraged, that’s the niche that I (and we) have been developing here, generally successfully.

Multiple pseudonyms

As already indicated there has been some problems with a very small number of people using multiple pseudonyms here that break all the rules of blog etiquette. That’s pretty much sorted.

One or two people have been using multiple pseudonyms in a way that has been non-threatening in itself and has added to the flavour of the place. But it also causes problems.

It makes other people suspicious about whether someone new has joined us or someone old has changed their name again. It can create confusion. It risks being seen as impersonation.

And when done in debates it is unfair to others who don’t know who they are addressing.

The use of pseudonyms is an important part of online forums, it allows people the freedom to take part that they wouldn’t have if under there own name. So pseudonyms are fine.

But pseudonyms should not be used as a ‘subject line’ – unless you clearly identify your usual identity in comments.

A pseudonym is something that identifies yourself that is not your real name, not a moving target.

Ideally a pseudonym would follow someone wherever they are online but that’s not always practical or possible. It’s not uncommon to start in a forum with a pseudonym, then go somewhere else and find that pseudonym is already being used or can be confused.

But in one blog, in here at least, one pseudonym per person please.If you feel a need to change your pseudonym then do this openly if possible.

That mightn’t be as much fun for some but it’s more fair for many.

This will help make Your NZ a forum for discussion that can be robust but also where people feel safe to contribute.

A pseudonym protection fallacy

There’s various reasons for maintaining a degree of anonymity online by using a pseudonym but there’s also some far fetched claims about the protection it provides.

One Anonymous Bloke at The Standard claims:

Once authors identities were known, they would be attacked physically and by other means. Abusive mail, phone calls, intimidation, and assault. Attacks on their employers and places of business.

Pseudonymity provides a measure of protection against centre-right thugs.

Lanthanide points out:

Given that a good number of the authors are already publicly known, surely if your claim here is correct, they will already have been suffering physical attacks, abusive mail, phone calls, intimidation and assault?

So, r0b, Lynn, Micky, ever had any of the above happen to you, or is OAB just takings things too far, as usual?

I’ve had more personal abuse and attempts at character assassination from OAB and others hiding behind pseudonyms than from people who openly identify themselves.

I think there’s far more of a problem online from anonymous and pseudonymous abuse than there is of people who’s identities are known.

It’s ironic considering OAB’s record of extensive harassment, lying and attempts to discredit people who comment openly under their identity while they hide behind their pseudonym.

A suggestion to OAB or anyone using a pseudonym – respect the privilege of reasonably free speech and conduct yourself as  you would if writing under your own name.

Be aware that at some stage your identity may become known and that your history could be linked to you.

And don’t be a hypocrite claiming you deserve protection while blatantly attacking others.

‘Notices and features’ not only notices nor features

The Standard staunchly defends the use of pseudonyms. Stated in site Policy:

This site doesn’t allow anonymous comments or posts. Everyone must have a pseudonym and we don’t allow people to change them whenever they feel like it.

The authors write for themselves with the following exceptions.

  1. If we are putting up material from a guest poster, then it will go up under “Guest Post” and may or may not have a name or pseudonym attached.
  2. If the site is reposting material from another site with no opinion or minimal opinion from an author, then it will go up under the name of “The Standard” (aka notices and features).
  3. There are some routine posts like the daily OpenMike that will also go up under the name of “The Standard” (aka notices and features) because they also offer no opinion.

But ‘Notices and Features’ seems to be being used (misused) as a cover for someone posting obviously politically motivated attacks.

The last two posts today are both under this ‘pseudonym:

The cost of terrorist rhetoric

When John Key takes to the media to over-hype the risks of ISIS terrorism to NZ, there is a cost

And: Not a great headline for Key

Yesterday: Vance on terrorism scare tactics

An excellent piece by Andrea Vance in the weekend, on Key’s terrorism dog and pony show.

None of these sound like notices or features.Some re-posts, their daily ‘Open Mike’ and some general features and notices are posted under this author ID but it has also been used for some time for what appear to be personal opinions and politically motivated posts.

This has been happening for some time (months). It could be that someone is lax in switching their author login. Otherwise it looks like misuse of what presumably is supposed to be a generic ‘author’ name.

Site sysop ‘lprent’ claims to be a long time online forum expert. The Standard can do what it likes but this doesn’t look like responsible use of author identities.

Curious pseudonym mix-up at The Standard

The Standard vigourously defends the use and privacy of pseudonyms, but questions arise over how they are used there from time to time.

There has just been another curious mix-up, starting here:

Standard Daveo

Colonial Viper quickly spotted and pointed out Daveo replying to himself.

Standard Daveo2

So which Daveo was Te Reo Putake? That’s quite an odd explanation.

Also curious – I wonder how Te Reo Putake knows what Daveo’s email address is? I’ve never seen him named as a Standard moderator or administrator, although it’s been apparent he has been commenting on behalf of Labour leadership.

As explained, Te Reo Putake used to comment under the pseudonym ‘The Voice of Reason’ until a year ago. And occasionally since, these computers and IP addresses can get confused sometimes.  Especially so when recently the same person was also commenting under ‘Anon’. See for example:

Anon: Comment:Open mike 24/01/2013

Date published: 1:59 pm, January 24th, 2013

Very confusing, this Voice of Reason/Te Reo Putake/Anon/Daveo character.

I happen to have seen evidence of another Standard regular accidentally posting under an alternate pseudonym due to sharing a computer or IP with someone else, or something.

The Standard has a privacy policy that includes:

Privacy

We do not disclose any information to third parties. This includes what you add to your profile that is not public on the blog. In particular your real name and e-mail. Similarly if you are not logged in and enter a comment, we do not disclose the e-mail you enter on your message.

E-mail addresses are only used by the sysop or moderators if they need to contact you. This will usually be because of your behavior or other peoples behavior to you on the blog. Sometimes it will be used if we’re really interested in something you wrote.

IP’s are only used when looking at moderation and banning. We will often look to see other pseudonyms have been used by the same person on this site. Very useful when dealing with repeat offenders.

Only some repeat offenders.

Some time last year a Standard moderator appeared to ban Te Reo Putake. That may not seem surprising because Te Reo Putaki frequently breaks the rules at The Standard. What was surprising was the flurry of confusion that followed, then it was said that the ban was a mistake. Someone even said that Te Reo Putake could never be banned.

Of course the pseudonym mix-ups may just be computer errors. As lprent keeps saying, The Standard is just a computer.

But some people make mistakes. It could be a mistake to always trust the use of pseudonyms at The Standard.

Labour Party members pissed on again

‘Eddie’ has posted an attempt at secretive leadership manipulation at The Standard – Shearer to put it to the vote

This post by ‘Eddie’ should be viewed with a lot of skepticism. It was ‘Eddie’ who kicked off the anti-Shearer furore on The Standard in the week leading up to the conference. Of course he/she said they was simply innocently expressing their opinion about Shearer’s leadership and it had no connection with Cunliffe – who got dumped not long after.

If this is approved Labour communications it is bizarre, if it is anti-Shearer it is brazen. In either case it is farcical abuse of the wishes of party membership for more openness and better democracy.

Someone or some faction within Labour is obviously trying to play power games using the ‘Eddie’ pseudonym. Is it pro-Cunliffe? Pro-Shearer? Roberston manouvering? Mallard fumbling again?

It doesn’t really matter whoever/whatever is behind ‘Eddie’, it is some sort of attempt to use The Standard to wrangle some sort of support and momentum, be it positive or negative, in relation to Shearer’s leadership.

It would be surprising if ‘Eddie’ is an official Labour leadership tool, it’s a bizarre and very risky way to try and jack up a political outcome.

Whatever, this makes a mockery of the legitimate use of pseudonyms online. Because the identity and connections within Labour of ‘Eddie’ are unknown by most people it is effectively an anonymous attempt to manipulate Labour opinion and support.

Openness and honesty are essentials in good politics. Labour membership voted for greater openness and better democratic processes at their conference.

Use of ‘Eddie’ is as dishonest as the Exclusive Brethren attempt to influence an election.

‘Eddie’ could be a front the Exclusive Comrades for all most people know – and speculation will be rife and fully justified on the identities and motives that ‘Eddie’ are trying to mask.

Those who are still allowed to participate at The Standard should be raising their eyebrows at how they are being used, but they will probably lower their eyes and get sucked into the playground.

Everyone should be very skeptical of a brazen move by an anonymous blogger.

And Labour Party members should be considering if this is how they want leadership power plays to be done in their party.

Chris Trotter shocker

Chris Trotter has responded to Brian Edwards (The Anonymity Pandemic) and the debate on pseudonyms and MSM versus blogger. He makes some  quite remarkable claims in Islands In The Mainstream.

The big problems will only arise when the stories people read on the blogs begin to sharply contradict stories being printed in the newspapers and broadcast over radio and television. That’s when the MSM should really begin to worry.
But if the note of alarm that has crept into the MSM’s coverage of blogs – especially political blogs – over the past few weeks is anything to go by, some of that worrying has already begun.

The tone of these attacks leaves little doubt that not only do these political journalists consider bloggers to be unwelcome and illegitimate contributors to the nation’s political discourse, but that nothing would make them happier than to see them tightly regulated and controlled. It’s an attitude that should send a shiver down every New Zealander’s spine.

A genuine “Fourth Estate” would welcome the democratisation of the gathering and distributing of news which the Internet has made possible. That so many MSM journalists have greeted the competitive spur of the blogosphere with a mixture of self-serving patch-protection and outright authoritarianism is cause for considerable concern.

Ah, where’s the authoritarianism? All I’ve seen is some journalists expressing their opinions. Seems like an attack of victimisation.

The recent Labour Party conference demonstrated in the most dramatic fashion the MSM’s capacity to misrepresent and mislead the NZ public.

Yeah, and all the bloggers did was report the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

How many bloggers were there? How many journalists? Drastically outnumbered and still managed to fight the good fight.

Mr Gower’s conspiracy theory…

The one he started via his agents Guyon Espiner, Vernon Small and ‘Eddie’?

Once it becomes clear that those principals have agreed upon an interpretation of events it is extremely hazardous for any political journalist to offer an alternative view

The integrity of how many are being questioned? Can you name names  Chris? Unlike bloggers, they aren’t anonymous.

Is this the real explanation for the sudden spate of attacks on the anonymity of these citizen-journalists?

Ah, bloggers are citizen-journos now. I guess those of us writing under our own names aren’t included amongst the comrades.

Has a focus group warned the MSM that the stories it declines to tell – and which are now turning up in blogs – are being believed?

The great focus group conspiracy.

Are more and more of the MSM’s readers, listeners and viewers coming to the conclusion that the Fourth Estate, far from speaking truth to power, has become its willing stenographer?

Are they? Has Chris been checking some focus groups of his own?

If this is true, then the decision by so many active participants in the blogosphere to remain anonymous or write under a pseudonym becomes entirely reasonable. Any system powerful and mendacious enough to suborn the one institution specifically charged with exposing its malfeasance is probably not the sort of system to be openly challenged or taunted by vulnerable individuals using their real names.

No, can’t have any old school journos holding anyone to account, can we.

The day focus groups and their deliberations cease to be confidential is the day bloggers will gladly abandon their pseudonyms and the “pandemic of anonymity” will be over.

And Chris is speaking for all the anonymous bloggers? As soon as the revolution has been won they will reveal themselves in their glory?

And the AB’s at The Standard have picked up on Trotter’s column and are praising it in “Name” journalism & voter dis-engagement:

just saying
29 November 2012 at 5:52 pm

A lot of great minds thinking alike. A very relevant and eloquent column form Chris Trotter today:

And…

karol
29 November 2012 at 7:18 pm

I’m so glad the Internet still provides a diversity of voices to hold the MSM to account, and hope that it won’t be regulated down to an exceptional minority by banishing the use of pseudonyms…. if it was even possible?

But no one should hold anonymous bloggers to account?

And I’m not aware of any proposals or suggestions to banish the use of pseudonyms. Paranoia piled on the conspiracies now.

And it’s worth noting that The Standard is billing that as the main post of the day.

The Cunliffe camp lost the leadership battle so they switch to the great media war.

Redlogix – not

Another post on anonymity and media (by Redlogix) at The Standard that seems somewhat illogical – Media Medicine.

One stark contradiction is that while journalists and media pundits love hurling the ‘cowardly anonymous blogger’ line at us; while they themselves zealously guard the anonymity of their own sources whenever it suits them.

And their papers routinely publish thundering right-wing editorial pieces without names attached. They cannot have it both ways; they cannot belittle and discredit bloggers for not using ‘real names’, while they themselves uncritically resort to the same. It’s a remarkable blind-spot.

This is a common defence of online anonymity – “if they do it we should be able to too”. But Redlogix ignores majors differences.

Newspapers are businesses that have to stay financially viable, which means maintaining readership and income. To do this they have to maintain a reputation.

Journalists are employees, and have to maintain standards to keep their careers.

Newspapers are heavily edited. They don’t realtime abusive rants and attacks, even in their online comments.

In contrast blogs are usually part time hobbies. Blog authors and commenters can come and go as they please using as many blogs and identities as they wish. They can hit and run. They can assassinate a character and disappear unnoticed into their day to day lives.

It’s a remarkable blind-spot

Redlogix has one of those him (or her) self.

They go on to suggest…

There is no reason why political journalists should not be required to reveal and name ALL of their sources. If you want to quote a politician, someone elected to Parliament to serve New Zealand, then you have to name them. No more ‘off-the-record’ or nameless ‘senior sources’.

…and more. Good grief, bloggers don’t reveal their own identities, many don’t even reveal what relevant groups, parties or organisations they associate with yet, journalists should reveal absolutely everything?

That’s a huge double standard.

The Press Gallery are accorded by convention special privileges, protections and access us ordinary bloggers don’t have, yet increasingly it’s obvious that as a whole we’re doing the better job.

Wow, really? I have far more respect for information and opinion delivered by Colin James, Fran O’Sullivan, Vernon Small  or Felix Marwick than I do of Redlogix, Eddie or Zetetic (they can be interesting and informative but…). Apart from anonymity it’s impossible to be sure what you are dealing with – my guess is that Redlogix is a one person pseudonym but the last two are highly debatable. Actually more than that, multiple people, one slush pseudonym is not only allowed at The Standard, it is a core part of it’s operation.

Authors and commenters have been rightly been far more noticed lately, but especially with the attitude and practices comonat The Standard it is a long way from competing for credibility with the traditional media and journalists.

Related posts:

Blog pseudonyms and anonymity

Brian Edwards has raised the issue of online anonymity again in The Anonymity Pandemic.

This has prompted much discussion, including a parallel thread at The Standard: The privilege of real-name blogging.

All the usual arguments for and against anonymity come up.

A key part of this debate came late at The Standard in a comment from ‘Jenny’:

Edwards and others are upset by what people are saying on the blogs. not by who they are.

I can’t speak for Brian but I get the impression that most complaints are not about what is said, but rather  how things are said. There’s a valid question about people (usually hiding behind pseudonyms) who abuse and attack and harrass on blogs. As I’ve said before – I think it’s the misuse of pseudonyms that’s the real issue, not the use of them.

Jenny goes on:

That is his right. The real message behind his plaint; Due to the democratising power of the internet, too many people are now having a say. The previous gatekeepers of political debate like himself can feel their power to shape public perceptions slipping away from them.

As uncomfortable as it may be for media ‘personalities’ like Edwards, having to address the ideas raised in blogs like this one has become inescapable. If those ideas are being freely, democratically and intelligently raised and held by large amounts of people. They can no longer be ignored.

I don’t think the issue is about “those ideas are being freely, democratically and intelligently raised”.

In fact Brian addressed this in his post.

On the contrary, the writers of these blogs appear to regard the unrestricted freedom of their anonymous correspondents to say what they want, in whatever way they want, as a healthy expression of democracy.

I think it is a healthy expression of democracy – blogs provide a valuable freedom of expression (some more free than others).

But…

… it is, in my submission, a democracy of the gutless whose commonest weapon is abuse hurled from behind the ramparts of their anonymity.

All freedoms involve responsibilities. It’s lack of the responsibility and lack of respect for the rights of others that causes most concern.

The minority who use anonymity as a gutless weapon can be used as a weapon to attack all those who choose to post under a pseudonym. That’s unfair on the many who exeercise their anonymity responsibly, but it’s what typically happens.

Bad behaviour is the main problem

If none of those using pseudonyms abused then anonymity wouldn’t be an issue. But it’s not a perfect world.

The best way to reduce criticisms of the use of pseudonyms is to reduce the misuse and abuse of them, by speaking up and confronting bad behaviour. This is partly up to blog managers and moderators, but best results come from exercising community responsibilities.

I see a lot of tacit support for abuse on blogs (as in wider society) it’s common for people to avoid getting involved in attacks on others to avoid becoming a target and a victim themselves. That’s understandable.

But if people using pseudonyms did more to confront those misusing them (forcefully but reasonably) then anonymity would become less of an issue.