I’ve never been tempted to blog anonymously, but I can very well comprehend why there are bloggers for whom anonymity is not just desirable but essential.
There are, for example, good reasons for thinking that the tearing away of that veil of anonymity from blogger Detective Constable Richard Horton from the Lancashire Constabulary, who blogged as Nightjack, served no useful purpose. The Guardian, leader writer, commenting on Justice Eady’s ruling that Detective Constable had “no reasonable expectation of privacy”, in a nicely judged aside observes the decision in this case resulted only “a blow to new media, on behalf of the old.”
No right-minded person would take issue with the Justice Eady’s argument that “blogging is essentially a public not a private activity”, or would want to suggest that Mr Horton, just because he wrote on the internet, should expect special protection. The Guardian concedes all this, but it also recognises that there are people like Mr. Horton whose anonymity is central to what they do and can do. If they lose that anonymity, as Mr. Horton now has, they can no longer operate effectively.
With it will vanish some of the more fascinating and useful online writing. Mr Horton’s blog expanded the public’s understanding of policing, as he could not if he had told his employers what he was up to and published a sanitised account of life on the beat. At their best, blogs such as Nightjack, or the Civil Serf who revealed life in a Whitehall office before also being exposed, made the public services more open, and improved debate about how they should run. Anonymity was essential to their ability to do this.
So the problem we are now left with is whether or not we can ever have any bloggers who can operate anonymously. If we can’t, then there is a big problem, that might appear to be just a local one now, but is an iternational one by implication.