Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Elected Official Outs Blogger

The Alaskan blog Mudflats played an invaluable role during the presidential election, especially for non-Alaskans trying to get a better perspective on the state and its governor, Sarah Palin. Now, Alaska state representative Mike Doogan has revealed the identity of Mudflats blogger AKMuckraker out of what seems to be little more than a personal vendetta. You can read AKMuckraker's account here.

Doogan is a democrat, and it's particularly troubling that he seems to have done this because AKMuckraker criticized his dismissive, mass e-mail response to citizens expressing concerns. The outing reeks of an intimidation move, and it's more disturbing given Doogan's position and the apparent chain of events – citizens express concern, Doogan is rude to them, he is criticized for this, he is rude yet again, AKMuckraker criticizes him for this, Doogan becomes "rabid" about discovering who AKMuckraker is, e-mails her to tell her he knows her identity, and then puts this information in his e-mail newsletter.

I first read about this at Balloon Juice, and commentator Library Grape provided a helpful list of people to write besides Doogan – Alaska's Minority Leader and Whip, and the four members of the Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics. That's the main point of this post.

As for pseudonyms – Doogan and other public figures have periodically railed against or derided their use. There are many reasons to blog pseudonymously, and AKMuckraker's post covers several of these. Blue Girl has two good posts on the subject from 2007. The convention can be abused, but that mostly amounts to trolling, sock puppetry, astroturfing and the like. The power dynamics at work are generally more important, and that's the most alarming part of Doogan's conduct. (It's also worth noting that female bloggers tend to receive far nastier personal attacks in e-mail and comments than male bloggers.)

As many bloggers and commentators have noted, there's a long tradition of anonymous and pseudonymous writing and commentary on politics, and it's central to the founding of the United States of America. Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay published The Federalist Papers under a pseudonym. Benjamin Franklin used several different pseudonyms. Thomas Paine initially published Common Sense anonymously. (None of that's to say that most bloggers have produced anything as weighty or influential, but we're talking about both tradition and safeguarding the conditions that make such work possible.)

The list grows to mammoth size when it comes to the arts. For starters, Charles Dickens and Anton Chekhov both used pseudonyms, and George Orwell, Lewis Carroll and George Eliot are all pen names. It was the style in Molière's day for actors to invent a name (his real name was Jean-Baptiste Poquelin), and many performers still use stage names (even if seeing someone's face makes the dynamic a bit different). For some writers, a pseudonym is in part about allowing the work to stand for itself. I know one pseudonymous blogger who felt keeping even details of gender and ethnicity out of posts forced a discipline on the arguments made.

Blogger skippy provides a great passage from McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Commission (1995):

Under our constitution, anonymous pamphleteering is not a pernicious, fraudulent practice, but an honorable tradition of advocacy and of dissent. anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority. It thus exemplifies the purpose behind the bill of rights, and of the first amendment in particular: to protect unpopular individuals from retaliation -- and their ideas from suppression -- at the hand of an intolerant society.

I hope Mike Doogan faces some sort of official reprimand and public outcry. I also hope AKMuckraker continues to blog, although she has to do whatever's right for herself and her family. Finally, I hope the more conscientious and civic-minded of bloggers continue to support one another and keep our public figures – and ourselves - honest. All that's just Common Sense.

- Just Another Pseudonymous Blogger

(Cross-posted at Blue Herald)


Comrade Kevin said...

It's totally bad form and very much unethical, but for those who say that it ought to be illegal to out someone....eh, that would be tricky.

Nicki said...

I think the fact that this was an elected official makes it a bit different than if I as a private person decided to snoop. I would like to know what his process was, did he misuse his position?

Fran said...

Anger, bitterness, vile and small behavior. And that is just the surface.

It really disgusts me - it truly does.