Friday, August 21, 2009

The Five Commandments of Anonymous Blogging


I am a semi-anonymous blogger. Which is to say, while I make an effort not to proclaim myself in big bold letters, it doesn't take a degree in cryptoanalysis to figure out who I am. Still, I was inspired by [t]he coming-out stories of anonymous bloggers [on] CNN.com to come up with a list of commandments for anonymous blogging.


  1. Thou shalt not commit libel. Truth is an absolute defense against a charge of libel, but one had best be ready to document things just in case. Defamation of character is a bit trickier, but I don't want to go into that.

  2. Thou shalt not disparage thine own employer by name. Whistleblower laws may vary from state to state, but it's a given that most employers have some sort of employment codecil that allows for dismissal on the basis of the employee making harmful remarks about the company/organization in public. In other words, the hands-that-feed don't like being bitten and are within their prerogatives to put you outside.

  3. Thou shalt not hold thy fellow employees in contempt by name. This goes towards the "public image" argument. It also dovetails into the general area of "creating a hostile work environment." If your remarks single out a person or persons by name, you bring the organization into disrepute. You also may be tugging on Superman's cape while believing you are simply tweaking Clark Kent --you never know what sort of connections folks have. And this most especially includes gossip --which can leave you exposed to the lower standard of proof available to plaintiffs in a defamation lawsuit.

  4. Thou shalt know the laws by whence ye live. If your company expressly forbids discussing company business in any public forum, you are open to summary dismissal. Another example of interest to education bloggers is the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA). This is the one that (in)famously has led many entities to forbid posting of grades and even recognizing high-performing students in class without prior consent. You mention a student by name, you court disaster. It's this simple: breaking laws is simply not a good idea.

  5. Honor thy elders. Certain topics never get discussed by senior employees; this does not mean that they are cowards, toadies or part of The System. It means that they have Been Around and know the limits of public discourse. It is wise to pay them heed.


"So what's the point, then?" The point is you will still have a job at the end of the day. If you feel so strongly about Bad Things that you are willing to put your neck on the line to say something, then you should either go through proper channels or be prepared to find alternative employment. You probably aren't very happy where you are and on some level are looking to get out. I like where I work, so I don't have a lot to say about my institution. Many of my gripes concern academia in general, not my immediate colleagues or my students. And you can bet that the second I crossed that line, there would be repercussions. So I respect it.

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