Posted by Ashton Weis
Pen names or noms de plume have been a part of writing for decades. From Voltaire to Mark Twain, writers have written under fake names for some reason or another. When pen names are used in conjunction with a piece of fiction, the reader doesn’t expect the accounts represented by the writer to be true. When a reader reads a blog though, there are certain expectations that are usually also in place.
Blogging as a form of writing is pouring onto the internet and the idea of anonymity has exploded. Bloggers are even changing their identities to match their new names. One example of this that exploded over the internet in the last six months was the blog of: “A Gay Girl in Damascus.” This blog exploded over the internet last June. The blog was about an allegedly lesbian woman living in Syria. Both The Guardian and The Washington Post had stories about it.
When the blog “reported” her missing, there was an outcry from the LGBT community to find her. Little did they know, they were actually looking for a middle-aged white married man living in Scotland. Tom MacMaster was the author of the so-called truthful blog.
Although he acknowledges that what he did was wrong and has apologized, the whole situation reviles one of the internet’s many weaknesses.
Anyone anywhere can go online and create a fake identity. They can pretend to be whatever they want and while most people realize that this is a possibility, few realize the complications that accompany these fake identities. When these people start attracting attention and are found out to be false, groups become outraged. There are no gatekeepers of the internet, that is why it is important now more than ever for journalists to check their sources and interview people in person to prevent the public from being blindsided from people that only exist in cyberspace.
Do you think there is a way to police these bloggers? Is that journalists responsibility? Should there be any safeguards in place?