Wednesday 24 June 2009

War of Words – between the old and the new

What’s the matter Rupert, is your business feeling threatened by anonymous bloggers?
It seems the rise in popularity of the humble blog is causing some issues for the print media.

This month a UK High Court Judge refused to preserve the identity of an anonymous blogger, maintaining it was in the public interest for The London Times newspaper to reveal his identity. Mr Justice Eady said blogging was a “public rather than a private activity” and bloggers would not automatically be guaranteed anonymity just for writing under a pseudonym.

Richard Horton, a Detective in the Lancashire Constabulary, started his anonymous blog, NightJack, in February 2008. He discussed head-on accounts of investigating serious crime and how he believed policing should work within society. His readership grew to 1500 a day and he was offered a book deal which he declined. He ceased posting in January 2009 but his blog remained on the internet.

Then, unexpectedly, in February 2009, his blog was long listed for the presitigious Orwell Prize for political writing. In March 2009, NightJack made it on to the shortlist. To his shock, he ended up winning. The morning after his win (he didn’t turn up to accept the award), his blog was mentioned in The Guardian and in The Sun newspapers. As a result, his blog readership went up to 60,000 a day. He donated his award prize winnings to a police charity. His e-mail inbox had offers from newspapers, literary agents, publishers and people who wanted to discuss film rights and TV adaptations. He declined.

A short time later, he and his employer got phone calls from a Times reporter asking if he was the author of NightJack. He went to court to stop the newspaper from publishing his name and personal details about his home and family. He lost. His details were published.

Not surprisingly, there has been an angry backlash from the blogosphere about this case. Seven other anonymous police blogs have already been deleted because they fear being 'outed' as well.

The Times also 'outed' another blogger and revealed her true identity. In the public interest, of course. Zoe had just turned her personal blog into a book called Girl with a One Track Mind. As a result, she lost her job and suffered a great deal.

And yet, if you read a recent article written by the journalist, Anna Mikhailova, who outed Zoe, you would imagine that bloggers were the ones causing print journalists serious mischief. "Unmasking an anonymous blogger can ruin your reputation and threaten your career", she says in this recent article.

The traditional media operates through fear and sensationalism and has the backing of a large legal team. As Anna says in her article, “every national newspaper has a legal team to check stories for defamatory content and to see if they serve the public interest. Few blogs can say the same. If bloggers were made aware that their anonymity was not always absolutely guaranteed, then arguably they would be just a tiny bit more careful. So perhaps the occasional outing is just the level of control that the blogging community needs. “

Right, so we bloggers need to be kept in line do we?

As an individual who once had the misfortune of being contacted by a reporter and appearing in a British newspaper article myself (one which was short on facts and big on sensationalism), Anna Mikhailova is talking out of her a**. Unlike the mighty media corporations, the average person does not have the backing of large legal team to encourage Fleet Street to be a great deal more careful with the facts. If we had the same muscle, Rupert and his peers wouldn't be billionaires.

I love that millions of individuals from all walks of life are sitting at their keyboards expressing their opinions and flying beneath the traditional media radar. On Blogger alone, 270,000 words are written every minute of every day. And information can be spread faster than any media outlet ever could. Take, for example, those brave souls twittering and blogging in Iran.

However, anonymous bloggers who have something interesting to say and whose blogs generate a large readership, should be aware. Big Brother might eventually want its piece of you and you may find yourself punching above your weight. Unless you have a large legal team behind you. And a few passports in strange names.

Do you think the print media has any right to ‘out’ anonymous bloggers? What obligations do we (as bloggers) have when we choose to publish our views in the public domain?

Given I bet he does Google searches on himself, the views expressed in this post are those of an anonymous blogger with only a few readers, one lawyer in the family and only one passport, dammit!! Rupert , I love your mother does that count? I know you are scared of her. She told that to one of your reporters, so it must be right.


  1. What me first?
    I think it´s too bad that this guy got "outed", but it´s something I would have expected. I think newspaper reporters can smell it, when there is something to sensationalize. Not that I agree with them! I think it´s aweful, but I think we all have to keep this in mind, when we put ourselves "out there".
    That´s also partly why I have stopped blogging for a while. My husband just couldn´t support me in my blogging and always thought the info I revealed would come back to "haunt us"....

  2. I had never considered that what I was writing might become the subject of an "outing". I mean, what's it to 'em, you know what I mean?

    I suspect it will take quite a while for the law to catch up with technology.

    It's an interesting time to be alive, is it not?!


  3. I think if someone wants to be anonymous on a blog, then they should be allowed to remain anonymous.

  4. It's an individual thing, depending on what's at stake, surely? This guy should have definitely been left alone; his choice, harming no one, and no one at risk...

  5. The print media needs to adapt instead of react. I watch little broadcast news and am particular in what news I read because of the fear-based sensationalism the "news" has become.

    Outing this bloggger who chose not to accept any prizes or publishing offers was unacceptable.

  6. I cannot listen to The Load Out/Stay without crying .... just wanted you to know that little tidbit about me.

    Anonymous should remain just that!

    Have a great day, Ms. Lilly!

  7. This is tricky. I understand whty bloggers emain anonymous, and there is free speech, but at the same time, it IS in a public forum. I don't know what the answer is.

  8. that's outrageous, specially when he was dealing with an explosive topic! Why is it a big deal to know his name? Isn't what he's writing about good enough?
    I would have thought that if you are to be nominated for something, the least the nominator should do is to ask for your permission first!

  9. I think the established media are very much threatened by citizen journalism and this is the backlash... It is, however, the throes of a dying breed not willing to accept the way of the future.

  10. The reason newspapers have legal teams is so they can ask the question, "Can we be sued, or censured?" If the answer is, "No," then that's all they want to hear - truth, accuracy, decency, etc., are not in my opinion an issue.

    Equally, I'm delighted that the "establishment" is apparently feeling cold the wind of change blowing in all sorts of uncomfortable places. Serves them right for not really engaging with and embracing the public a long time ago.

    Err ... allegedly!

  11. I truly prefer the anonymity of a blog although my son says I'm still revealing too much. That said, I think we all need to be responsible and work hard to post accurate facts.

  12. It is too bad about what happened with this gentleman. Whether we agree with what someone writes or not, it is still their right to voice their thoughts, feelings, and/or opinions. I find it funny that too often the government gets to chose whether we have the right anymore or not.

    Wake up world! Look what things are coming to.

    With that said, I will still write what I think and feel. I will never stop standing up for what I believe in...ever.


  13. I think that it cuts both ways. An anonymous and vindictive blogger can cause a lot of damage with inaccurate statements or unfounded claims. A reporter and their newspaper can and do get into legal trouble upon occasion - and although Rupert and co can afford legal representation at a high level, the fact that many bloggers are quite poor (and even if they're not, millionaire bloggers are in the minority)does not automatically allow them to make anonymous and innacurate statements.

    Life is not 'fair' and if we wish to swim out of our depths, we must accept the consequences...also we don't usually have an editor and any deadline, other than self-imposed.

    Also we write about what we want, when we want. A newspaper reporter is assigned to a story and usually writes in accordane with the newspaper or magazines policy, political or otherwise.

    I think we should all look at the good side, in that we now can voice our opinions to the world (even if only a handful of 'the world' read our blogs (I'm talking about my own small readership)

    Personally I never say anything about anyone I wouldn't say to their faces and I would think most carefully before writing anything that would cause unhappness or grief, loss of job, break-up of relationship or whatever.

    Then again, it's easy for me as a 'Spiritual' blogger.

    You dearest Lilly would be (and are) a witty intelligent and most interesting columnist.

    Even the press have taken their hats off to the bloggers of Iran - deservedly so.


  14. Terrific post, Lilly! I'm not surprised, but am disgusted with the media -- as usual. I don't rant as much as I did for a while, but I will write about whatever is important to me and the media be damned. And, yes, I surely do take my hat off to bloggers and twitters in Iran!

    Love all my lovely gifts! Thanks again!

  15. I think LadyFi has hit the nail on the head. The old style 'hacks' feel threatened because many bloggers write infintely more interesting prose than they do.

    I no longer buy a newspaper - but I do read Lilly's Life and other wonderful blogs almost on a daily basis.

  16. Yes this hit the big time over here. It didnt mean much to those who know nothing about blogging though. This guy was expressing an opinionk a very well informed opinion at that about policing and politics in the UK. His blog was fascinating and he should be a journalist himself. He loves being a detective though. Its a case of starting something and it running away with you. People loved what he did. The paper had no right revealing who he was. He has loads of criminals out there he has put away over the years and now they know where he lives. It was wrong of them.

    It is though a warning for anyone who has an anonymous blog. You could be outed and the law will not protect you as you are publishing for the public at large to read.

    As for Rupert, you Aussies have a lot to answer for.

  17. It strikes me as odd that someone would want to out a blogger. What is to be gained? Had the writer want his/her identity known they would have written under their given name. Book authors do it all the time and they are not outted for it, why pick on bloggers? It makes me shake my head that someone would take the time and energy to do this to another.

  18. I think that bloggers and journalists should be mindful of the facts. The reality is the press hold themselves out to be professional and to have integrity when the British press are the worst in the world. The ONLY reason they get away with what they do is that it would cost a fortune to drag them through the legal system. The New York Post is no better and surprise surprise guess who owns that one too?

    They are a law unto themselves. The world is owned by a few media families and a few banking families. It is about time the public at large said more than it did. And the great thing is that they cannot control the numbers of bloggers out there. Bloggers are powerful but they should use the power for good. It is not in the public interest to out a blogger unless they are doing something illegal. Either of these bloggers were not. I feel very sorry for them but I hope good comes out of it somehow.

  19. Nobody surely can think that anything they do on the net can ever be anonymous forever.It's all traceable so beware when you blog,tweet or give any details of your life.
    These things are a wonderful and useful way for information to be passed around the world, witness Iran.Will it affect the outcome? Doubtful but it will raise awareness.

  20. That's a tough one, Lilly. I do believe we should be able to be anonymous if we chose to. Perhaps laws need to be put into place to protect the meantime, we must remember that what we say is public and dare I say it, censor ourselves accordingly. Sad but true.

    Thank you for another very thought provoking post, Lilly! You're the Best!

  21. I have very definite ideas on this one.

    Blogging is a part-time activity with a median income generated of zero. Blogs play an important role as a form of public debate and as a way of sharing lives and views between communities across the world. They are raw and real time.

    Their reach is nowhere near what the popular press achieve. Given the disparity in resources and organisation, how and when can a collection of decentralised and non profit websites exercise influence on political and policy outputs that Rupert and his media empire can? They can't. They do influence the media though. Hence the interest.

    To me, these are just examples of the old media bullying anyone they think can steal a few sales from them. I believe it also upsets journalists that suddenly some unknown housewife or policeman can suddenly start writing blogs that lots of people want to read and get awarded for. Its got to be a kicker for some poor hacks who think that you have to do it the right way to get the credentials.

    These two bloggers will continue on, probably better than ever and so the world turns. If the media magnates had any sense they should employ a few of these bloggers they would prefer to stomp all over.

  22. makes you think...the guy should've been able to keep his anonymity. Blogging is a relatively new phenomena and no doubt these issues will have to be ironed out. Meanwhile, we have to be aware of what can happen.

  23. The mainstream media consciously can socially construct focal points which can heavily influnce the way the broader community looks at things. Dare I mention some examples, like the Iraq War.

    Blogs on the other hand have first move advantages in formulating opinions. Their influence presents the traditional media with a puzzle. Particularly when they have no way of controlling the message it delivers.

    I just read about a 2003 survey of blogs which states " Blogging is many things, yet the typical blog is written by a teenage girl who uses it twice a month to update her freinds and classmates in her life. It will be written in unicase more than likely with long stretches of lowercase and ALL CAPS." Seems blogging has come a long way in six years.

  24. Lilly, what a well-considered piece. I thoroughly enjoyed it and the thoughts it engendered. In the end I came to an unfortunately cynical conclusion. Although I want anonymous bloggers to be able to remain anonymous - hell, sometimes I wish I'd stayed anonymous - when we shot our rockets out into the blogosphere, we knew that it was a wild untamed land and that there were so few rules that we were placing ourselves at the mercy of strangers. An anonymous writer of books, articles, or blogs who does a superior job draws attention partly because of the mystery. Who is this writer and by what authority does he/she write? Anyway, I think if a blogger does it well enough to garner attention, that blogger will eventually be outed, whether to break a scoop, or because of some prejudice or for just plain meanness.

    Again, I enjoyed this and several other of your recent posts very much.

  25. Oy Vey! Something else to be worried and upset and P*SSED about! Wonderful! Is nothing sacred??? Deliver us from The Sphincter Police, Please.....! (lol)

  26. If I had to blog under my own name, my blog would never exist. For me, its not about anything other than my own sanity.

    And, given I work in the digital media industry, it also protects my professional reputation. The last thing I want my employers reading is my blog, which is about healing from trauma.

    Anyway, this whole topic of outing bloggers makes me very angry.

    Like SoulMerlin said, I understand why you'd want to stop someone who was blogging on malicious topics.

    But to out someone for the sake of a headline or entertainment value is unacceptable. But then, that's what those weekly women's rags and less reputable newspapers thrive on, isn't it?

  27. Lilly, No simple answer for this one. Thanks for pointing it out, I had not heard of it.

    From what you wrote it seems a mistake but how do I know you report the story fairly? I'm not really asking that, I'm just making a point.

    The internet offers this cover that gets misused. Most of the time, most of the people are honest but those few bad apples - well you know.

    Over here we just had a case of a blogger (near Chicago) that deceived her readers into thinking she was having a problem pregnancy. She hit the abortion issue and had a larger following. It was a big fake. I'm glad she was "outed'.

    Can't we just play nice and get along? - unfortunately probably not.

  28. The print and conventional media will out anything they can see a news selling story in and therefore make a buck out of. I am with you, Lilly, the blogosphere is far more interesting than traditional media, and they are very worried indeed. I don't think they should have any rights to 'out' anyone who does not want to be outed, unless of course they are a public nuisance and not supportive of the good of society in general. If you get my drift on this last bit, or is that just a load of hogs wallop?

  29. Forgot to mention, great post, Lilly. Thank you.

  30. Please excuse again, not meaning to be a comment hog, ... this post has got my brain ticking away, ... I was on another blog recently, forget where ?!?!, but story about a lady who was charged for saying misleading things about Anna Nicole Smith on a blog. So, for peeps who have mentioned the censorship of what we say, then this is worth being mindful about. Hope I don't get in trouble for my last post, Lilly, and I'm hoping to get a killer comment from you on it. Luv Rowe.

  31. ARGH! Airport this morning (so was thinking of you) - and at the set down spot, as I set down Alessandro to go to England to represent Australia again in pool.

    So, I'm 30 seconds right? I get back in, put on my seatbelt, then pick up my ipod to turn it on to hear my book on the way to school and the biggest security guy/cop glares at me horridly and crosses the road to come and tell me off!

    I've been there 40 seconds for Pete's sake!

    So I moved the car up and parked further up behind his cop car, and took my time.

  32. @soulMerlin: You make a very good point, but the traditional media have HUGE power damage people cynically and irreparably - all in the name of "the public interest" but usually actually in the name of profit.

    What drives me nuts is the hypocrisy. To me it's one rule for them and another for everyone else. Now where have I come across that before? Oh, yes - politicians!

  33. I was fascinated by this. I had never even considered any of this as an issue. Never heard of it before. How funny.

    I think people should be able to blog anonymously if they want to. Blogging is a personal thing and others can decide to read it or not.

    To me it seems like a non-issue.

  34. I think the newspapers are just jealous - they're the losers with the increase in the blogging and the online world and they're playing nasty!

  35. I don't go on a political rants, so I seriously doubt my blog would ever develop into needing any attention from Big Brother and I have a small group of commenters that is very comfortable.

    That said ~ I think it's wrong for the bloggers to be outed. As you said, it's all about creating fear so we "stay in line." I love to read blogs that voice out against the typical, mainstream media, because I personal think the media sucks and is so one-sided it's disgusting and more soap opera-ish than "real news." I'd rather read a every day person's rant on a blog than listen to the news for too long. The media wants to keep a cap on what is said... freely. I figure the media is in the same limelight as the politicians - and it isn't a pretty shade of lime.

    Thanks for sharing this post. I hope the bloggers keep on blogging.

  36. I guess it comes down to responsibility. Blogs that advocates something illegal or give instructions to something illegal, and gets nutters committing crimes, I think the writer needs to be held accountable.

    On the other hand there have been many a Mills and Boone romance book writer for instance, using a pseudonym, and so bloggers should be allowed that choice.

    The bloggers you pointed out...Good God, leave them to their anonymity. But I think there is a large grey area here.

  37. This is scary, makes you not to answer some bloggers questions on different views. At least it makes you leary of what to post. Very well written and very informative. Have a great week.

  38. Public forum in that the public can READ it. Blogging is about personal expression and the freedom to share our ideas, talents and parts of our lives that *we choose* to.

    My personal view is that we should be able to protect our personal lives and well-being through blogging anonymously, if desired. If, on the other hand, national or international laws are actually being broken, then the line should be drawn there. I realize that freedom of speech is taken for granted in many countries. And, yes Lils, look at poor Iran. However, what I see is communication that either threatens personal, national or international safety, is slanderous (again, falling under civil laws) to be a direct violation of law.

    There is also the Right to Privacy - which most likely needs to be reviewed with the ever growing internet. Shouldn't this be of equal value?

    We are so far behind the times, aren't we?

    I don't have a need to know who the person is, as much as to learn something from what they are sharing. If they don't wish to share their personal lives, so be it. Such a gray area between fiction and non-fiction on blogs - perhaps a bit of both. But many bloggers do use it as a journaling of themselves and a way to freely express themselves, typically, without being judged and certainly, you would hope, without fear of Nightline contacting them!

    These policing blogs you refer to, I haven't read. However, a pen pal of mine from the UK says that young people are being stabbed to death in the streets of London often! Crime is at a dismal high. Look at what the ultimate benefit/impact this individual could have on the system, without fear of being ostericized for revealing the weaknesses of his coworkers and related organizations policies. As long as he isn't being slanderous, who cares? As long as his intent isn't to hurt, who cares?

    I say PROTECT his PERSONAL RIGHT TO PRIVACY! The information is public! Not the person!

    {okay, glad I got that off my chest}



  39. Lilly, interesting post as usual.

    My take:
    Any right comes with responsibilities. Period. I am of the opinion that much as we as bloggers claim that we have the right to freedom of expression, we have the responsibility to ‘report’ in a responsible manner.

    There are bloggers who are vicious and vile but are happily to do so just because they are enjoying anonymity. The mere fact that we can be ‘out’ may just force those of us who think that we can say whatever without consequences, to think twice.

  40. I think he should have been left alone.

    What if all this stuff was just fiction? What if he was testing the waters for a novel?

    The backlash could be deadly to him and his family.

    Anonymity needs to remain if that is what someone chooses... of course my mind completely changes if someone is harming children, exploiting people, any kind of trafficking etc.. but he was harming noone.

  41. They absolutely do not! If a blog is doing harm against someone, that is another matter. I'm thinking of the woman who posted on My Space the awful things that led to that little girl committing suicide. But if it is not doing anyone harm, then we deserve to be anonymous.

    Thanks for stopping by my blog, btw!

  42. Very interesting read, rather like you last one about bloggers before. Scary stuff.

    Right, i'm off to your other blog posts now to dutifully catch up.

    BTW, I just reread your profile recently. It truly is hilarious tht bit about excercise. Love it, love it, love it.

  43. Most of the time I believe bloggers should remain anonymous. I can see that there could be times when a blogger should be outed if they were blogging about say killing someone or killing themsleves.
    In this case, this gentleman tried very hard not to remain anonymous and didn't go for money and fame dangled in his face (not so me - bring it on :-).
    Even mean-spirited bloggers should not be outed. One can easily avoid the venom that some bloggers spread.
    Oy vey. I do believe that this incredible tool for free speech from the breadth of humanity causes traditional media fear. It's hard to control free minds.
    Thanks for your post.

  44. "outing" should be the blogger's prerogative, although objectionable content is a rather sticky issue with me.

    And there are many many Isaams in India as the rest of the world knows only too well, and not all of them end up so lucky!

  45. Oh I would be so sad if I could not blog anonymously. Then, I would not be able to blog at all.

    Why can't we say something anonymously??? This makes no sense. He did nothing criminal, but offer his thoughts and opinions.

    This is censorship.

  46. It fills me with glee that the media moguls are threatened by individual bloggers. Public opinion can no longer be controlled by large corporations. I love it.

  47. It seems that everyone is sort of in agreement that unless we are blogging about something which is harmful to someone else then our thoughts and opinions are just that. Ours. And if we want to be anonymous we should be allowed to be. As Pearl said its interesting times we all live in.

    And who is to say what the media landscape is going to look like even five years out. I think it is still laughable that the traditional media seem to think there is one rule for them and another for anyone else that wants to express their opinion publicly. It just make sme want to share my views more than ever. Keep on blogging evryone, and like Lisleman suggests, dont believe eerything you read and check out the sources. thanks for your fascinating comments everyone. It just goes to show the calibre of people blogging. no wonder the traditional press see a change coming.

  48. If this guy was sharing details about crimes and they were real maybe he shouldn't have been. however for his own privacy given he locks up criminals for a living I dont think it was right to out him. 'there is no gain to anyone in doing that. The press has a mind of its own. The term 'gutter journalism' is there for a reason.

  49. The amazing/amusing thing about the Mikhailova article is that she apparently sees no similarity, let alone causal effect, in what she is curently experiencing and what she put you through. Such short-sightedness form one who aspires to be an investigative journalist..!!

    With such a marked application of a different set of lesser moral standards for herself, I am sure that she will yet surface as a member of parliament...!!

    Mind you, that would probably be a good thing,....keep all the shits under one roof, is my idea......

  50. my guess is that "print media" feels threatened by clever bloggers... of whom people can read (mostly) for FREE! stupid... hello? freedom of speech... this is so dumb, especially with regards to the privacy/well-being of his family.

  51. If you're an anonymous blogger it's probably most prudent to assume eventually if you're doing something interesting enough that someone is going to find out who you are. It's probably not realistic to think otherwise.

    It's just like any secret. If you tell me something you don't want anyone else to know, I have the right to tell anyone I want unless I've signed some legal document saying I won't. It's not MORALLY RIGHT, but I do have the right.

    I think it's crummy that people had to push it. If he doesn't want to be known, I don't know why there's such a big deal if he's not doing anything wrong. People love to sensationalize and this is a case of someone wanting the thrill of "outing" someone. It's petty and childish.


Thanks for your comments.