Anonymity (Or Lack Thereof)

In my last blog post (about murderous minibus drivers trying to kill off the Wolf – here) I promised a post about an incident from the beginning of the week.  However, something has come up that’s made me rethink.

I have been recognised out in the real world.  Maybe the green hair wasn’t great for anonymity after all…
Though, my blog profile photo doesn’t include the long dark roots.
In all seriousness, I genuinely – and probably naively – didn’t see this coming.  I just don’t have that much contact with people in ‘the real world’ except the postman (maybe it was the postie!).  Whilst my blog is gradually getting more views and I had a ‘blog of the day’ on Mumsnet Bloggers Network recently, which got considerably more view than most of my other posts, we’re still very much talking hundreds and not thousands of views per post.

Really and truly, up until I was ‘outed’, I still felt a lot like I was shouting into the ether when I wrote a blog post and, actually, that was okay because it gave me a certain level of freedom.  I mean, I’ve always been a little cautious.  I’ve never mentioned my own name or the names of the kids or my husband or anyone I know (even the postie…come to think of it, I don’t know the postman’s name).  I’ve never mentioned place names.  I haven’t even included photos that show our faces.

But, our hair…now, that’s hard to disguise.  As I said, I currently have green hair.  It’s a little distinctive.  And Tyger has very long hair, which wouldn’t be particularly identifying if he were a girl but as a three year old boy it is unthinkable he should have such long hair.  In fact, an architect was here just the other day to talk to my parents and Tyger was – as usual – completely naked.  The architect talked about ‘she’ and ‘her’ and the ‘little girl’ with every reference to Tyger despite the very obvious clue he was not, in fact, a little girl.  This happens a lot.  Apparently, long hair trumps a penis (there’s a phrase I never thought I’d type).

The recognisable hair combined with the content of this blog means it was always possible someone I knew would identify me but I suppose I always assumed if it happened it would be at some vague future point and along the lines of, ‘Wait, did you write that thing about autism?  Huh, I read that!’  I certainly didn’t expect to be accused of libel (yup – there’s no threat of legal action or anything but the word was used).  I didn’t think I was interesting enough for such things.  I also wonder how much of the ‘someone told me someone told them you wrote X about…’ nonsense comes from a place of genuine concern and how much comes from a desire to create some drama and be involved in the resulting furor.

Personally, I hate ‘drama’.  The thought of a planned confrontation has me sleepless and feeling ill beforehand.  The possibility of people getting angry or – much, much worse – upset because of something I’ve done or said (or written) can leave me with a big ball of anxiety in my gut, numbness in my extremities and fuzziness in my vision.  I’ll obsess over it for hours or even days.

I try, very hard, to think of people as human beings with real lives and feelings when I write anything on the internet.  It’s common knowledge the anonymity of writing something online turns people into nasty, cruel parodies of themselves.  I imagine most people have experienced it, even if just from the sidelines.  I’ve certainly seen more than one instance of someone being unnecessarily nasty on a forum and it’s clear if the keyboard warrior was actually presented with the victim – with their distress written across their face and voice catching and all the actual queues we pick up on when we see people in the flesh – the attacker would feel terrible.

Actually, when someone’s right there in front of us, we’re a pretty empathetic bunch.

I try to bear the same things in mind when writing about people I’ve met but it’s all a little different.  Both the moral and legal implications of writing about someone you have actually spoken to face to face are hard to tease out.  There’s always a chance they will see what you’ve written.  Should you avoid ever referencing anything that might be problematic if read by certain people?  Is it different to talking to your friends and family about things that have happened to you?  There’s still a chance it will get back to someone in that case.  Should we all cease talking about other people completely, even if we need advice or need to vent?

We teach our kids about internet safety.  Okay, the only internet safety I’ve taught Tyger so far is not to put the laptop cable in his mouth but as he gets older I’ll need to talk to him about being careful about what he says and not giving away identifying information.  What about us adults?

Does this look tasty to you because apparently to toddlers and
preschoolers it’s indistinguishable from a lollipop.

This blog, certain forums, Facebook groups, Twitter: I have had some excellent support, advice, help and – not insignificantly – enjoyment from all of them.  Sharing personal details, experiences and problems has been an important part of that.  Sometimes it’s necessary in order to give a full picture when you need advice.  Sometimes you want to tell people about your own experiences so they can learn from them or just so they’re aware they’re not alone.

Should people in a position of authority and responsibility never be spoken about or mentioned in person or online?  Is that a realistic expectation?

What about when someone wants advice about a doctor’s appointment?  Or when a parent is trying to work through an incident their child had with a teacher?  In a world where we conduct a large number of our interactions online can doctors, nurses, social workers, teachers, nursery nurses, advisers, politicians etc. etc. really demand to never have them, their actions or their place of work discussed on the internet?

I don’t have the answer.  I don’t know when – or if – I will have the answer.  For the time being, at least, I need to have a serious think about how much I should censor my online content.

Linked with:
Mami 2 Five

my petit canard

Mummascribbles
If you liked this post feel free to share:

20 Comments


  1. Oh wow, a dramatic week. Sorry to read about this and the minibus accident – glad everyone is mostly okay.

    I think about anonymity and censorship online a lot mostly because I blog and tweet under my real (not very common) name and because I can't really talk about my career much in public due to a lot of it being under wraps with non-disclosure agreements.

    I struggle to see how you could libel someone if you haven't provided identifying info about them. Everyone has a right to express their opinion and if we can't tell stories from our own lives then I think it's a sad state of affairs.

    Reply

  2. I'm slightly puzzled about how you can libel someone when you haven't included any identifying information about them. But I'm not a lawyer! Hopefully next week will be a little less dramatic and you'll find a balance between blogging and privacy

    Reply

  3. This raises some really interesting questions. I go back and forth about how much to share online and every second day I consider taking everything down and going properly offline. I think there's probably still so much that hasn't been worked out in this area and people are feeling their way. I think there will be a completely different set of problems when are kids are adults, stuff that we can't even imagine now. I hope you find the balance… and maybe a large anonymity hat. #abitofeverything

    Reply

  4. Wow, this all sounds a bit dramatic. As for the anonymity thing, I used to be anonymous when I had a job, but now I'm a SAHM I let it all out. I'm never sure whether I did the right thing, but I guess we live and learn. I definitely don't put as much on here knowing that it's very clear that I am who I am. I also (strangely) get annoyed if anyone shares something about me or Oliver or photos without my permission despite sharing *a lot* very publicly. As Bookish Mummy says, our kids will have a whole host of different problems to face by the time they are our age, I suppose we just have to grow with the technology and understand it so that we can help protect them in that respect. #abitofeverything

    Reply

  5. Ooh girl you're famous! No, seriously don't underestimate the how much those not doing mch productive love a bit of dramaz! I'm making a shift in the New Year and will be writing about more personal stuff on my blog and my rule is that I won't expose anyone if what I'm saying isn't my story to tell. #MarvMondays

    Reply

  6. Sounds to me like someone has a guilty conscience to assume you were talking about them when you mentioned no names or otherwise identifying traits! It sounds like someone has been stirring the pot here! #abitofeverything
    Debbie

    Reply

  7. I am one of those that blog completely out in the open, I never even thought of writing anonymously but I can understand why you would and if I were you I'd be overly annoyed and having been found out. I hope it all works out and that the person that accused you of libel gets a reality check. #twinklytuesday

    Reply

  8. Yes, very dramatic week and I'm very much hoping this week is boring as a balance.

    Being a stay at home mum – so not having to worry about employers or work etc. – I'd be quite happy to blog under my real name. It is largely because of the boys I feel I should try to stay anonymous. They haven't agreed to having their lives discussed with strangers.

    I also don't think it can be said to libel but I don't think most people really understand what 'libel' is (I was also accused of 'slander', which is obviously not the case).

    Reply

  9. So far we're all full of the cold but nothing more dramatic than that. Fingers crossed it stays that way!

    Reply

  10. Thank you. I'm glad too, though the Wolf is still in quite a lot of pain so might need to actually go to the doctor (not something he normally ever does).

    Reply

  11. Ha, maybe I should ask for an anonymity hat for Christmas? Yes, I think you're right that we're groping our way through the dark with a lot of these issues right now and everything is changing so fast our kids will have yet more to consider.

    Reply

  12. It's a strange one, isn't it, in terms of what we'll gladly share about our kids vs what we're happy for others to share? I was probably naive for feeling 'safe' due to being anonymous but we do live and learn.

    Reply

  13. I think that's fair. The annoying thing is that this *was* my story to tell (or at least my child's). Ah well, we'll see how things go from here.

    Reply

  14. I'm not sure it's even that because it was a case of Chinese whispers, really. But I did consider brazening it out and just denying all knowledge.

    Reply

  15. It's sort of flattering, in a way, I guess. I am annoyed but I mostly just felt anxious (my default response to most things, really). Now I've calmed down and am trying to see the funny side.

    Reply

  16. Interesting post. I recently wrote some about troubles we are having with the teenager, but choose not to share it on the blog's FB page, where most of our friends and family are referred from. It can be a tricky balance

    Reply

  17. I think it's safest to assume that there is very little true anonymity online and none if you are actively blogging. I found it was impossible to really build my blog until I was open and transparent.

    Reply

  18. Yes, I've rethought how I go about sharing my blog posts on Facebook since all this. It's a tough one to get right (if there is even a 'right').

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *