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Internet anonymity

I find fascinating the story of The Mystery Bullshipper, who (it seems to most reasonable observers) adopted an online persona so he could post glowing reviews, supposedly authored by a female layperson, of his singing, preaching, and liturgical sense. What grabs me most, I think, about it is the question of why someone as successful as this priest seems to be (he's a Priest Vicar at Westminister Abbey, and travels internationally as a preacher and presider at Anglo-Catholic services) would feel the need to lie repeatedly and publicly to get more publicity.

I suppose that's not such a mystery, though. I've met many very successful people who are so successful in part because they're so driven; they take risks to achieve what they see as great things, and if they're bright enough they can calculate those risks well enough to choose mostly the ones that will pay off. I imagine that same drive and compulsive need to be seen as great could motivate someone to take risks that are unlikely at best to pay off, and a constantly nagging fear of being found out as not so great could lead a person to make some very unhelpful choices in hope on some level of being caught, and hence not having to keep up the charade.

Dave Walker of the ever-brilliant Cartoon Church was led by the story to offer these helpful observations on Internet anonymity. I sometimes envy friends who have pseudonymous blogs; there are lots of things one can share and receive sympathy or applause about when one is anonymous that would be irresponsible or self-destructive to post when one's identity is known. But whenever I've thought about finding or developing some venue where I can post anonymously [*], I've thought about how exhausting and worrying it must be to wonder whether or when I'd be found out, and concluded that I'm better off taking the advice I've given to many a pseudonymous blogger: not to publish anything, even pseudonymously, that would deeply embarrass or hurt someone (including me!) if it received wider publication in a different context, and with my name attached. I figure that posting anything pseudonymously would just tempt me to think I wouldn't be held accountable for what I said, which would serve mostly to tempt me to say things better left unsaid for my own sake as well as others'.

I do know many pseudonymous bloggers -- Gordon Atkinson of Real Live Preacher, for example, who blogged in anonymity as far as the public was concerned until his book came out -- who have done it well. Gordon used anonymity not to find more opportunities to attack opponents without accountability, but to be more honest about his own struggles and doubts, and I think the degree to which he used anonymity responsibly can be seen in his ability to keep going both as Real Live Preacher and pastor of his congregation after revealing his name. But for me, the accountability of being Sarah Dylan Breuer everywhere is helpful and perhaps even necessary.

* [Of course, I am unfailingly sober, honest, and godly, and never have any less-than-deeply-admiring thoughts regarding any of my superiors or less-than-charitable thoughts about any sister or brother in the human family, so why on earth would I need an anonymous posting venue anyway? And if you believe that, I've got some beachfront property in Frederick, Maryland I'd like to sell you.]

October 11, 2006 in Current Affairs, Life and Whatnot, Weblogs | Permalink

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