Out Of The Closet

A few things have happened in my real life over the past month or so that have led me to think about anonymity on the Internet and why it’s often little more than a comforting fallacy.

I’ve been blogging for ten years and using online forums for far far longer than that. In the early days, I used my real name. My offline identity was irrevocably tied to everything I wrote on the Internet – my sixteen-year-old blushes are appropriately grateful that at least some of it was on websites that have since become defunct.

At the same time as I was moving away from home and starting undergrad, Internet useage was becoming more widespread and there was a growing belief that using your real identity online was generally a not smart thing to do.

So, I adopted my pseudonym and stopped giving out my real name online unless it was to get cross with people on the BBC website.

And then we skip ahead to seven years later. Today. I am no longer convinced that being honest with the Internet about who you are is such a terrible thing. “It’s not worth it,” a friend said last week – a friend who is also a doctor and who writes both online and as a newspaper columnist. “You’re never really anonymous, someone always finds out, and you may as well just put your real name to everything and take the credit for it. Besides, the GMC are nicer about it if you do that,” she added sagely.

Is that true?

I don’t know. At the moment, there are no GMC guidelines for this beyond a vague agreement that any activities online should be in accordance with the professional standards set out in Good Medical Practice, but it isn’t difficult to see how they might be at least more patiently, if not more kindly, disposed to bloggers who blog as if they have nothing to hide.

I have an online blog and a personal journal. The blog was Defying Gravity, which remains online as an archive but has been superseded by this. The journal is still active and is different mostly in that I keep my geeking over Doctor Who and my sarcastic commentary on Silent Witness and my more incoherent rants on every topic under the sun off the blog.

This act of bursting forth from the Internet closet has been coming for a while. In retrospect, it’s been coming since as long ago as the first time I met my priest and he said, “Oh, you must be Sefkhet!” and then looked endlessly amused while I did my best impersonation of a shocked goldfish.

Because, someone always does find out. It started back then, and now, when I can add my flatmate and my choral director and several friends to the number of people who have all managed to find my blog and/or journal and work out that it’s me… perhaps it’s time to admit that I’m not as anonymous as I’ve thought and that that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

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8 comments

  1. Found your new blog this evening Beth, it led me (through a bit of detective work and invalid links) to your old blog which I had not realised existed. There is now another rich vein of information in blogsphere to read.

  2. Hi, I noticed you’d linked me so I stopped by to return the favor. Also just wanted to say this is an issue I’ve been thinking about too. I know of a few “real life” people who read my blog, and probably there are others, but I’m hesitant to out myself. Maybe in a few years I’ll have your courage.

    1. I’ve been reading you for a long time and was surprised when I transferred my old blogroll that I’d apparently never got round to linking you before now. It’s taken a good few years for me to pluck up the nerve to out myself. The incident that I refer to as having started this process occurred in October 2007.

  3. I finally began to blog under my real name when another David Macknet turned up in the world – he’s a relative of some sort, we’re pretty sure. He’s also a college football player (in the US) so his name turns up quite frequently. I got to thinking: if I don’t stake a claim to my own name online, anybody who searches for me is going to think this other guy is me … which isn’t a happy thought at all.

    The downside of all of this, though, is that I don’t feel that I can blog about certain topics, and I also tend to hold back quite a bit. Because my name is now associated with my opinions, I’m not as free to write about, say, a stupid coworker. How could I do so when that coworker might find my writing and be offended or hurt? And what would having that associated with my name do to my professional life?

    Anonymity is certainly beneficial in certain contexts.

  4. There are remarkably few Beth Routledges, and certainly not enough for anyone to get me mixed up with any of the others.

    Being anonymous does have its benefits, but I think that the point had come for me when they no longer outweighed the drawbacks, partly because enough people were working out who I was that there didn’t seem to be any point. You may be interested to know that the tipping point was when El Maestro found me and thought that I was a different second soprano, and I had to tell him that, er, no, that’s me. That was a faintly embarrassing Tuesday night. It’s easier for people to just know, and, more importantly, for me to know that they know.

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