Sunday, May 18, 2003

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Blogging, anonymity, and the paper of record

The New York Times has an amusing article on personal (as opposed to policy) blogs. My favorite part:

Being found out is no deterrent for 18-year-old Trisha Allen, a blogger from Kentucky. She has been blogging for roughly a month, and spends most of her time reporting candidly on her friends and on her relationship with her boyfriend.

A recent entry reveals that the couple are not quite ready for children — though "we have had two scares" — and that Ms. Allen's preferred form of birth control is the pill, even though, she wrote, "I am starting to hate it, because it has screwed up my menstrual cycle wickedly."

"There's not a lot I won't put on there," Ms. Allen said by telephone. Ms. Allen said her mother was aware she keeps an online journal, but does not know how to find it, and added that she relied on a doctrine of security by obscurity, hoping that in the vast universe of personal Web sites known as the blogosphere, she will be able to preserve her anonymity behind all those other blogs.

Good thing she doesn't talk to newspapers with national circulation, or else someone using Google could locate it in about twenty seconds.

UPDATE: Today, I received an e-mail request from Ms. Allen to delete this entire post. I found this a trifle amusing -- the next sentence of the Times story quoted above runs

"Ms. Allen said her motivation for posting personal details was simple: 'I love to be the center of attention.'"

At the same time, I also felt some sympathy for an 18-year old who sounds a bit freaked out by the Blogosphere's focused attention on her quotidian activities. Despite the Times reporter's claim -- and her own -- it's pretty clear she doesn't want to be "found out."

So a compromise: yesterday's version of this post contained an active link to Ms. Allen's blog. Given the quotation above, I suspect the source of Ms. Allen's discomfort was that link, so I've deleted it.

Three concluding lessons from this:

1) Don't ever think it's possible to hide material on the Web. The "doctrine of security by obscurity" never works.

2) Being the center of attention carries negative as well as positive externalities.

3) This episode highlights another distinction between bloggers and journalists. A journalist wouldn't -- and shouldn't -- ever be able to make such a retraction.

Fortunately, I'm not a journalist.

posted by Dan on 05.18.03 at 02:39 PM