Blogging from the Highlands of Scotland
'From fanaticism to barbarism is only one step' - Diderot

Wednesday 15 June 2011

The pitfalls of "anonymous blogging"

(Please see UPDATE at end)

One of the things this blog is not, and never has been, is "anonymous" - there really is a person called "Bill Cameron" and I have been blogging here for in excess of nine years. Enough people in the "real world" (assuming you don't actually buy into the notion that we are all living in some kind of Matrix make-believe world) know both me and this blog for its genuineness to have been established long ago.

What has prompted this now? Well, it seems there has been for some months a blog purportedly written by a lesbian in Syria, a country currently enduring considerable social turmoil, which was revealed a few days ago to have been a completely fictitious creation of an American heterosexual male currently studying for a Masters Degree at, of all places, Edinburgh University. Another false blog profile was apparently created, a male US military person again writing as a lesbian, to 'authenticate' the original fraud.

Many people write 'anonymously' for one reason or another. Often-times, in my opinion, such blogs are written by Walter Mitty types who have no obvious real need to write anonymously, but seem to feel that it adds an air of 'mystery' or 'exoticism' to their scribblings. So far as I am concerned I find such 'coyness' merely tedious - and boring. I could cite dozens of blogs in the UK and US which fall into this cateogry (but won't, or at least not directly) - some do write interestingly, but most are really not worth the time and effort of anyone else to read them. Perhaps they do save some money on therapists for the writers.

The first I heard of the 'Syrian lesbian blog' in question was a couple of days ago in a gay news ['mainstream' in the online gay community] website, based in the UK although the first link I saw to it was in a blog article today, but unfortunately the blog in question has now been restricted only to invited viewers, so I am unable to comment directly on any of the actual articles in the 'offending' blog; I use the word 'offending' ironically. Equally ironically, the linked blog is itself written 'anonymously' - no doubt the person behind it is a person who exists in a physical reality, apparently in Dundee (a city in Scotland), but I have absolutely no means of evaluating this in any way that might be called 'evidence'; the email address provided in the linked blogger profile is decidedly obscure. I have no particular reason to doubt the claim within the blog that the writer is indeed a 'lady of a certain age' living in Dundee, but nor is there any credible 'evidence' to substantiate this, so I have always read 'her' blog with a certain degree of scepticism. There have been certain incidents in the past which have since made me wonder whether my classification of the writer as 'histrionic' (a sort of 'Winifred Mitty' if you like, a female version of the afore-linked 'Walter Mitty') is not so very far off the mark.

I make absolutely no apology for the scepticism with which I view all 'anonymous' blogs; the writers of such blogs may protest their genuineness as much as they want, but I reserve the right to continue to regard them with some suspicion. Even some of those where I have come to know the real identity of the writers seem to me to have suspect motives for continuing to write their blogs anonymously.

More pernicious undoubtedly are those blogs which set themselves up with a completley false 'persona' which purports to be that of a real person - such seems to be the case with this latest "Syrian lesbian" blog imposter; perhaps the original motive of Tom MacMaster for starting this blog was honourable, but it was at best naïve and at worst deeply destructive and dangerous for those within Syria who have apparently been duped into believing in the genuineness of his blog.

The only safe stance on the internet is to be on guard at all times. It has become all too common in recent years for 'phishers' to purport to send emails from genuine companies or oganisations in the hope of gleaning from innocent users of the genuine websites their usernames and passwords, later to be used by the 'phishers' for nefarious purposes. So although my little blog is completely genuine, as could be attested by various friends, acquaintances and family members in the 'real world', most readers of it do not know me personally, so the only completely safe policy for them is to maintain a healthy scepticism.

One of the other links that Subrosa provides is to a Guardian article written by someone called Kira Cochrane, a more contrived load of pseudo-feminist claptrap than which I have not read in a very long time, richly deserving a complete fisking, but I have neither the time nor the inclination to do a complete job as I have a life to live. However a couple of examples:

In the case of MacMaster and Graber, sexual gratification doesn't seem to have been the prime motive, although there are certainly signs that the two men may have got some erotic thrill from pretending to be lesbians – "Amina" apparently often flirted with "Paula".

- well, although as I mentioned above I have not been in a position to read the actual exchanges in question, it seems to me that it would be a prerequisite to 'carry off' the deception that the two purportedly lesbian protagonists would have possibly 'flirted' with each other, although frankly any semi-sentient human being might just have smelled a rat - just how 'genuine' and believable were these exchanges? Moreover, unless at least some of the articles in the blog were in Arabic I would have been extremely sceptical as to the blog's genuineness - it is perfectly true that a number of blogs written by Arabs (male and female, gay and straight) exist or have existed with most articles written in English, this was specially true in the run-up to and following the invasion of Iraq in 2003 (there was indeed one very well-known blog written by a gay Iraqi man who subsequently became a columnist in the Guardian for a while), but most had at least some content in the Arabic language, either in the articles themselves or in the comments. If the whole thing was in completely perfect idiomatic English, and none of the comment I have read indicates otherwise, then that alone would have been a warning indicator to me.

In fact, as the psychotherapist and feminist writer Susie Orbach says, they seem to have been using these lesbian personas as a "double inversion – exploiting the 'illegitimacy' of the person they were impersonating to give themselves legitimacy".

- am I the only one who thinks this is just so much iname 'gibberish'? It reads like invented pyschobabble to me!

Alomost the only part of this tendentious twaddle that seems to have any validity whasoever is the final paragraph which reads:

While there are worries that this will undermine the lesbian blogosphere – creating a question mark over all who write about gay issues online – Campbell suspects it won't do too much lasting damage. "Internet life is full of hoaxes," she says, "it's full of virtuality. Lesbian bloggers who are embedded and authentic will continue, and all these others will fall away."

- although the bit about internet life being 'full of virtuality' is the kind of trite, pseudo-profound insight that is in reality just the meaningless rubbish that typifies far too much mainstream media writing about the internet. The whole internet IS VIRTUAL - Doh!

There are/were bloggers writing in western countries who have perhaps been justified in maintaining anonymity, either because they were writing about sensitive matters that might have personal ramifications for them from those who know them in real life, or because of their employment if their blogs touched on matters relating to their place of work; indeed a number of such bloggers have been dismissed or forced out of their employment when their identities were revealed.

Finally, I don't pretend to know what it is to be lesbian or to be a lesbian writer from a country where repression and intimidation is the norm. On the other hand I am a gay man who has lived for many years in a number of extremely repressive societies in the Middle East and elswehere, so I think I do have an inkling of some of the pressures involved and certainly a lot more than some of the male and female bloggers and journalists who have been pontificating about this over the past few days, most of whom are neither lesbian nor gay, nor do they have the experience of living under a repressive reigime.

To whose who say "Don't believe all you read on the internet", I can only respond that I may enjoy reading many things on the internet, but I never, ever forget to be sceptical of all I read there - and for you, dear reader, that means this article, too (unless you happen to know me personally, that is).

UPDATE: (Thursday 16JUN2011 08.50 BST) Here's a more wide-ranging analyis and discussion in Slate on the phenomenon of people adopting false personas for their writing exploits - click here; the Google-cache link to the blatantly false apology from the operator of the LezGetReal bulletin board is well worth clicking on, too, from there.

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