Blogging and Identities

(Via the FreeAmina Facebook group)

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?


8 responses to “Blogging and Identities

  1. I honestly do not believe that we can police bloggers. Unless there was some sort of crazy camera on everyone’s computer that would hack the blogger so you could see the person’s true identity, it won’t happen. Sometimes you’ll never really know whether or not a blog is legitimate, unless it is linked with a company or a paid sponsor of some sort. Journalists just have to do what they can to report truthfully and credibly, and to let the public know who they really are.

  2. I agree that we cannot police blogs, and I don’t think we should ever try to. I think one of the consequences that comes with the right to freedom of speech is that we have to think critically about what we hear, because anyone can make up whatever they want. On a lighter note, I think that example of the middle aged “lesbian” man is hysterical. I mean, why on Earth would he ever think to write about that!?

    • I think that that’s a good point to make about the freedom of speech. And I agree, it’s pretty funny! I guess (according to his quotes) that he thought he would be more believable commenting on these issues as a lesbian Syrian woman.

  3. The internet is capable of providing anyone complete anonymity, which undoubtedly has it’s benefits. It is under the cover of anonymity that those with quiet voices often speak loudest. It allows fresh ideas and perspectives to be brought to the light without fear of rejection. But it is alarming what people will say when they cannot be held accountable for their words. (Enter the troll.) But I suppose sometimes even the worst troll’s babbling can be seen as fresh.
    Even so, everything that is posted on the internet should be thoroughly evaluated before being declared as fact.

  4. Well honestly, I think that because this is such a common issue, people should just be more aware of whether or not their sources are reliable and real. Anonymous blogging has become apart of the internet now, and there is no changing that. I do believe that this should make it more of an expectation for journalists to actually meet their sources in order to give the public correct information. With that said, I also think that if something is found to be false, it is the journalists’ responsibility, because they should be making sure their sources are accurate.

    I do appreciate the anonymity of the internet, because I think when used for the right purposes, it really does give some people the opportunity to speak their mind without feeling personally persecuted. I just wish people would do right on the internet, because that would make our future jobs a lot easier.

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