Blogging Anonymously – Worth The Risk?

In light of a recent court case (Apple v. Does), the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has released ‘How to Blog Safely (About Work or Anything Else)‘.

With the privacy of bloggers and their news sources coming under fire in the court system, it’s crucial that web writers know how to express themselves without risking their jobs or social lives. Yesterday the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) released “How to Blog Safely (About Work or Anything Else),” a how-to guide for bloggers worried about protecting their privacy and free speech.

The guide covers basic measures people can take to keep their blogs anonymous and explores what the law says about discussing work-related issues online. Some advice is common sense; for example, don’t post a picture of yourself if you want to stay anonymous. But for bloggers who want strong guarantees of privacy, EFF suggests using technologies like Tor or Anonymizer to prevent your blog-hosting company from logging your computer’s unique Internet Protocol (IP) address. Bloggers who fear they could be fired for blogging are also given an introduction to laws that prevent an employer from punishing them for speaking out online.

“There is a lot of misinformation out there about the ways people could get into trouble for blogging,” said EFF Policy Analyst Annalee Newitz. “We hope advice about online anonymity and the law will help more people engage in free expression without living in fear of reprisals, legal or otherwise.”

Here’s some of the advice given by the EFF:

Blog Anonymously

  • Use a Pseudonym and Don’t Give Away Any Identifying Details (PunditGuy is already taken)
  • Use Anonymizing Technologies
  • Limit Your Audience (Absolutely no Instalanches!)
  • Don’t Be Googleable (That means no, no weblogs, no nutin)

If you want to be anonymous, why blog? Granted, I haven’t gone as far as putting my last name on my blog (though you could probably find it within 5 clicks or less). I haven’t posted my picture (I’m sparing you all). I don’t blog about my work or the industry I serve (I love my job). Do I have insights (salacious dirty laundry) about the industry I’m in? Sure. Anyone who spends as much time as I have in the same field picks up on all the quirks, the dysfunctionality, and the pettiness that can be found in any industry. The difference is, I don’t feel the need to dish about it. I’m not the gossip type (OK, OK, most of the time). The fact is, what comes around goes around. Anytime I reveal something less than flattering about someone else, I open the door to being the subject of the next exposé (and I’m sure there’d be lots to write about). 

While I’ve never been involved in an act of blowing the whistle on corporate wrongdoing, I understand the advantages in it, if it is done privately, that is. The minute the investigation becomes the ongoing subject on a blog, I put on the skeptic glasses. Why? Because there are always two sides to a story. While reading the blog posts of the individual whistle blower might be entertaining drama, I’d have to wonder why they were telling the world when they might be more efficient and effective talking to counsel. You don’t need hundreds of thousands of dollars to hire a lawyer either. Heck, check the blogosphere! There are dozens of lawyers available within a single well written email message. At least you’d get preliminary advice on what to do.

Blogging about corporate wrongdoing while you remain employed by the wrongdoing corporation has got to be tricky anyway. How are you going to keep an audience engaged if you don’t add a little drama once and awhile? You know, adding a little fish story flavor to the narrative (really, the trout I caught was 8 inches…no, 12 inches…OK, it was really 16 inches!). Moreover, how do you avoid any self incrimination if you publicly blog about the goings on? Too much risk for me.

Here’s advice on whistleblowing from the EFF:

Whistle Blowing

Often there are legal shields to protect whistleblowers–people who expose the harmful activities of their employers for the public good. However, many people have the misconception that if you report the regulatory violations (of, say, toxic emissions limits) or illegal activities of your employer in a blog, you’re protected. But that isn’t the case. You need to report the problems to the appropriate regulatory or law enforcement bodies first. You can also complain to a manager at your company. But notify somebody in authority about the sludge your company is dumping in the wetlands first, then blog about it.

And be careful about what you blog. Be honest, truthful. Don’t say anything that can come back to bite you.

While I won’t be blogging about my workplace, my industry, or the chemical company who dumps glowing slime into the hometown water reservoir, some of you might want to. If you do, take a look at a few of these sources first.

C|Net’s guide to workplace blogging
How Tor Works
Anonymizer’s Anonymous Surfing
A list of fired bloggers
The Bloggers’ Rights Blog

As RSS tools and services become more popular, it’ll become even more difficult to hide in the blogosphere, and it’ll involve a lot of extra work too.

One thing is true: blogs are getting a lot of attention these days. You can no longer safely assume that people in your offline life won’t find out about your online blog.


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