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Anonymous blogging: a second view

For the record, let me say my views on the Ed Whelan/"Publius"/John Blevins affair differ widely from those of my valued co-blogger Michael Krauss. I understand why "hiding behind a pseudonym while sniping at a critic who is out in the open", in Michael's words, will often provoke wrath, as it provoked Whelan's. But I can't go along with the seeming implication that 1) only those of us willing to attach real names to our opinions should consider participating in online controversy; 2) publicly outing hitherto anonymous commentators is the deserved response to their hopes of anonymity; 3) tenure committees should intensify their scrutiny of candidates' unsigned postings, and perhaps attach negative weight to the fact of blogging anonymously.

* No more anonymous blogging? Well, there would go most of the good medical blogs, especially in the emergency room genre. There would go a great many blogs by practicing lawyers who don't feel like identifying themselves, including A Public Defender by Connecticut's "Gideon", not to mention Popehat. I've been in the writing business a long time, and I am aware of and mostly agree with the traditional reasons to deprecate anonymous content, which is one reason such contributors have been rare as guestbloggers (and entirely absent as permanent bloggers) both here and at Overlawyered. But I also acknowledge that the particular motives for anonymity in most of the instances I know about are more complicated and less illegitimate than one would imagine from the simple charge of cowardice.

* Outing as weapon. Wishing that certain personalities would publicly identify themselves, tweaking them publicly for not doing so, or vowing to ignore them until they do, are quite different from triumphantly announcing their secret in public, thus inflicting on them the train of personal consequences they had sought to avoid. I am reminded of the controversy four years ago over "Juan Non-Volokh", a then-untenured contributor to the Volokh Conspiracy (later acknowledged to be Jonathan Adler of Case Western, who now posts there under his own name). In that case, the ideological polarities were more or less the opposite of those in the latest episode (I'm regularly enthusiastic about Adler's work, as readers may suspect from my many links to it). At any rate, Brian Leiter, a big cheese in legal-academy blogging, was enraged at "Juan Non-Volokh" over a particular post and vowed to uncover his real identity, with less success than Whelan had. At the time, Eugene Volokh wrote:

I will let you folks be the judges of whether this is good behavior on Prof. Leiter's part. In my view, the nicer thing to do is to respect people's preference for anonymity, at least unless there are some unusual circumstances (more than just disagreement with their views) that are absent here.

See also his follow-up on tenure considerations.

* Cringing before tenure committees. Getting younger law professors into trouble for their unsigned blogging will not, of course, usher in some new generation of lawprofs who lack passionate views about politics or a zest for going after opponents; it will simply reward those who master the game of not publicly unleashing those proclivities until their tenure vote.

I'm sure I disagree with Blevins about a hundred other things, but I agree with him that if we're going to wade into nomination controversies and other touchy matters in the first place, it does not behoove us to act thin-skinned when others criticize us with similar vigor. More views: James Joyner, Anonymous Liberal, Dan Riehl, Just One Minute, Rick Moran, Kevin Jon Heller/Opinio Juris (via Memeorandum).

Further: Michael Krauss's response is here. And welcome readers from Instapundit, Feddie @ Southern Appeal, Joe Gandelman @ The Moderate Voice, "Deuce Geary" @ Skepticrats, Scott Greenfield, Patrick @ Popehat, and Jonathan Adler @ Volokh. I also added a link at Overlawyered, which unlike this site has comments.



Rafael Mangual
Project Manager,
Legal Policy

Manhattan Institute


Published by the Manhattan Institute

The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.