Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Blast From The Past

As a history graduate student, I am occasionally amazed when I pick up a newspaper how little things have changed. The editorials in the Independent today include an effort from Terence Blacker, who turns his fire on blogs. The criticism today is that too many bloggers use pseudonyms, and that this manifestly reduces their credibility.

This is highly reminiscent of the newspaper debates between Federalists and Anti-Federalists over the ratification of the US Constitution. Radical ideology on the part of the Anti-Federalists repudiated the appeal of great names, arguing instead that an argument should be considered on its own merits, rather than on the reputation of the author. Federalists, on the other hand, raged against the intemperance of anonymous writers, saying that using a pseudonym was fine, but that names should be left with the printer of the newspaper so any interested party could identify the author.

Understandably, Anti-Federalists were reluctant to do so. Partially because their support did not have the lustre of Washington or Franklin, but also because of fear of intimidation and violence. Especially in Pennsylvania, times were deeply politically turbulent and "debate" often resulted in rioting.

Now, the lives of police officers may not be in danger if they release their names when writing blogs - in contravention of official Met policy. But their livelihoods are certainly at stake, and I can well understand why a copper would want to protect his identity in any case. Although this may make it more difficult for us to decide whether or not his experiences are real, surely that is for us, the discerning reader, to decide?

Admittedly, questions like this are much more difficult when the writer is claiming direct experience, as opposed to pontificating on political issues where it is the merit of the argument that is most important. I, for one, don't want to hide behind a pseudonym when I write - I want people to know that I am happy to put my name to my thoughts. Yet at the same time, I am not writing about anything that may affect my livelihood or my ability to, say, look after a family. And most bloggers, and even commenters, have some form of identity, whether real or assumed, that we are able to judge. It is the demonstration of that personality that makes blogging as powerful a tool as it is.

If you want to reject bloggers, then at least do so having considered their arguments more fairly.