When John McCain nominated Sarah Palin for Vice President, I (along with a whole lot of other non-Alaskans) suddenly developed an interest in Alaskan politics, and one of the best political blogs I found was Mudflats, written by a blogger who went by the name of AKMuckraker. It didn’t occur to me to wonder who AKMuckraker was, or why she was anonymous: she didn’t purport to have any sort of inside knowledge about the things she wrote about, or claim any special authority; she was just an informed observer. As far as I was concerned, her identity was her business, as were her reasons for keeping it private.
Mike Doogan, a Representative in the Alaska State Legislature, apparently disagrees. He just outed her. AKMuckraker:
“After the initial surprise wore off, it really hit me. This is an elected State Representative, of my own political party, who has decided that it’s not OK for me to control the information about my identity; that it’s not OK to express my opinion on my own blog without shouting from the rooftops who I am.
If I were to appear, as many of you have, at a political rally and I were to hold up a sign that expressed my opinion, I don’t have to sign my name on the bottom. And if someone wants to come online and read my diary, they are free to do so. And if they want to disagree, that’s OK too.
It said in my “About” page that I choose to remain anonymous. I didn’t tell anyone why. I might be a state employee. I might not want my children to get grief at school. I might be fleeing from an ex-partner who was abusive and would rather he not know where I am. My family might not want to talk to me anymore. I might alienate my best friend. Maybe I don’t feel like having a brick thrown through my window. My spouse might work for the Palin administration. Maybe I’d just rather people not know where I live or where I work. Or none of those things may be true. None of my readers, nor Mike Doogan had any idea what my personal circumstances might be. But that didn’t seem to matter. (…)
I don’t need to remind Mudflats readers that Alaska is in a time of turmoil. We are facing unknown consequences with an erupting volcano that threatens to wipe out a tank farm on Cook Inlet holding 6 million gallons of oil. We have critical issues in the legislature, including Alaska’s acceptance or rejection of hundreds of millions of dollars in federal stimulus money for education and other critical purposes. We have a governor who has just chosen an incredibly divisive and extreme right wing idealogue as our new Attorney General. And there are only three weeks left in the legislative session. It bothers me quite a bit that instead of focusing all his energy on doing his job, one of our elected representatives would rather spend his time stalking and harrassing a political blogger.”
It would bother me too, but not as much as the idea that someone who allegedly represents citizens feels that he has the right to disregard their views about whether or not to share their identities. Whether or not AKMuckraker reveals her name ought to be her decision. No one else has the right to make it for her, any more than they would have the right to publish her medical records or her credit history.
It might be different had AKMuckraker made some claim to special inside knowledge. I have not read her entire blog, but as far as I can tell, that’s not what she does. She follows Alaskan politics the way anyone might, and comments on what she sees. Her identity is irrelevant to her arguments, and anyone who disagrees with her can challenge them on their own terms, without having to discuss who she is.
I speak from experience here. My reasons for blogging under a pseudonym are pretty trivial: while I have never minded the idea that someone reading my posts could figure out who wrote them, I would rather that people, and in particular my students, not be able to google my name and find my collected political opinions. (I learned, to my surprise, that some students do google their professors around the time I started writing for Obsidian Wings.) I have been outed by several people, generally inadvertently; and while I have never minded all that much, I would rather have been able to make that choice for myself.
But it is a luxury to be able not to mind. I do not work in state government. I do not have an abusive ex-husband from whom I am hiding. My reasons for remaining anonymous are, as I said, pretty trivial. I have no idea whether the same can be said for AKMuckraker’s. Nor, more importantly, does Mike Doogan. Did he stop to wonder whether she might have an abusive ex-husband, or a stalker? Or whether she has gotten threats because of her blog? (I have, and I’m Little Miss Reasonable.)
Somehow, I doubt it. If he had stopped to wonder, it might have occurred to him that some people might have very serious reasons for wanting to remain anonymous. But even if AKMuckraker’s reasons are as slight as mine — and if I were Mike Doogan, I’d be hoping that they are — the fact that he thinks that bloggers should not be anonymous does not mean that he gets to make that choice for others.