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Blogging From the Bushes

First it was Transporter, a local bulletin board system in Provo in the late 1980’s. Then it was America Online, where I was on staff in the Family Computing Forum and later in the Homeschooling Forum. Next, we upgraded to the World Wide Web, and email group lists and website forums and message boards.

Once my screenname was GingerHead (referring the British description of my hair color which I, somehow, prefer to the American “fireball”). But everything was signed with my name. On another board, I was AlisonGinger. But my real name was in my profile.

On the other hand, you can find all sorts of people lurking about on forums and blogs. They are known as shindigdog, changeranthem, JayeGrowl, pantyBOY, whatsahizoo, and spamguish. And they blurt out all the tiny things that pop into their tiny heads without any filtering mechanism in place. Because their identities are hidden, their language is markedly different from 98% of the civilized world. 

As the online forums have prolificated, I found it more and more essential to use my real name rather than a pseudonym when I posted. The greater our access to mediums with which to spread our opinions, the more crucial it is that we stand behind our words. The more careful we should be that we are not causing harm. To me, it’s the ethical choice. People can become might reckless when they have the ability to spew venom and vindictive without consequence.

For this reason, Mormon Momma permabloggers have always used their real names on their articles.

A few years ago, a newspaper story ran about a teenage girl I knew quite well. She was in my ward and a member of my choir. The accusations made against her were false but the crowds of anonymous posters on the newspaper website were out en masse to crucify her.

I made an attempt to defend her against these numb-skulls. But it didn’t do much good. And I was at a distinct disadvantage given that I was known by name — and they were not.

When the discussion reached the point of absurdity, I suggested that posters so sure of their positions — and so willing to defame others — might be willing to expose their own identities so, at very least, their own possible biases and positions might be scrutinized. The response was only to vilify me.

More than once I’ve been turned down by a potential new blogger, who didn’t want to use their real name. Some are really well-spoken, thoughtful bloggers who would have made a great contribution. But I believe that it’s imperative that we have the courage to stand behind what we say. If we aren’t willing to do so, maybe we shouldn’t be saying what we’re saying.

{ 14 comments… add one }
  • Tracy Keeney November 9, 2011, 2:45 pm

    Amen! I agree. I think people are much more likely to behave in a civilized manner if they’re using their real names. Like you, I started out in the “world wide web” with an “online identity” — Facethemusic. Although, unlike many, I didn’t do it to hide my identity and remain anonymous, I did it — I’m embarassed to say– because “that’s what everyone ELSE was doing”.
    My husband and I have always been far behind the mainstream is acquiring and using modern technology. Everyone was using the internet YEARS before we even owned a computer. Everyone had cell phones YEARS before we did. It seems like everyone and their dog now has an Ipod, an Ipad, an Iphone— not us. We still have the phones that flip open like a Star Trek “communicator” and rarely if ever text, because we don’t have alphabet keypads. I have to push the number “1” once to type the letter “a”, twice for the letter “b” and three times for “c”.
    S… when we finally got a computer and a friend came over to hook it all up and get us online, show us how to use the internet, send an email,use yahoogroups etc, he told us to pick screen names, gave us examples– which were all anonymous in nature, so that’s what we did.
    In fact MormonMomma was one of the first “groups” I ever joined! I think my posts still show up as belonging to “Facethemusic”– but everyone here knows who I am!

  • Tracy Keeney November 9, 2011, 2:45 pm

    OH! Nope– they say my name! Guess I haven’t been paying very much attention!

  • ChanJo November 9, 2011, 3:02 pm

    Tracy, now that is funny.

    Kirk out.

  • mercenary November 9, 2011, 3:11 pm

    The problem with saying who you are isn’t so much that you have to stand behind your words, but that you can be hurt by others because of your words.

    I am a “good Mormon” but if people know what my problems are, I would probably never get a “decent” calling again and my family would be seen as problem people. That sounds petty, but you all know it’s true. If I couldn’t at least blog about my problems and discuss them SOMEWHERE then I would just leave and never look back.

  • partone November 9, 2011, 3:16 pm

    I know why people don’t use names sometimes, but often I think it’s because they don’t want to take the time to say things as accurately and carefully as they would in real life. They don’t worry about their reputations or relationships or anything, because they can just say what they want and walk away.

    One of the reasons I’ve read here so long is because of the credibility of the writers.

  • Tracy Keeney November 9, 2011, 3:50 pm

    Mercenary– I DO understand that, and I think it’s a good point. There are probably many people who’ve written in to MormonMomma with real and sincere questions, concerns and problems, that WOULDN’T have, if they had to use their true identities. And I do think that’s a legitimate reason for using something other than your real name.
    Alison’s point seemed to be directly geared toward those who use screen names as a shield so they can be nasty. It IS too bad though, that when it comes to sincere concerns and questions, we can’t communicate as truthfully as we WANT to, for fear of somekind of negative consequence or response.

  • Jil Cornaby November 9, 2011, 4:07 pm

    I agree with Alison. Great post. If we aren’t willing to let other’s know who is saying what, then why say it at all? I don’t think anyone on here knows me, but I’m willing to stand behind what I say.

    One other thought to those that hide behind their on-screen identities – you might not think anyone knows that it’s you saying those things that aren’t very nice, but Heaven see’s everything.

    I also understand how mercenary must feel, but isn’t it better to be ourselves and receive compassion from those who love us and not worry about those that don’t? As for the callings, they come from Heavenly Father, not just anyone. So I think if you were needed, no matter how problematic you feel, you’d be called.

  • Tracy Polyak November 10, 2011, 9:20 am

    I agree that much evil is perpretrated under the guise of anonymity. However, I think that most people use screen names on the Internet, because they believe that it is safer to do so. They are concerned about things like identity theft and online stalkers. And of course, everyone else does it. They don’t realize what it can lead to.

    It is a little like Halloween. Children pretend and dress up all the time. What could possibly be the harm in it? But then people put on the masks and find themselves in a dimly lit environment, and suddenly they are doing things they would never think of doing if everyone could see their face. (Of course, this is the reason the Church prohibits masks at Halloween parties.)

    Most evil is not premeditated. I don’t think that people generally adopt screen names with the intention of being mean and nasty under that guise. It happens because people cease to be watchful and wary and because they act and react according to their feelings without thinking. Of course, this is why we should be careful to say who we are, especially when sharing our opinions or criticizing that of others. It helps to avoid those temptations.

  • Naismith November 10, 2011, 11:43 am

    I am willing to stand behind what I say, and I would never say anything online that I would say to your face.

    However, there are other considerations. Some people may be in a position where anything they say reflects on not just themselves, but the organization they work for, or whatever.

    Even if they think that they are speaking just as a mom or RS sister, on a topic that should have no bearing on their paid job or civic position, it can cause a perception of conflict of interest.

    I have been the official spokesperson for a research center, a newspaper columnist, an elected officer in an organization that has restrictions on officers speaking publicly, and a bishop’s wife. In any of those cases, a comment in my name may cause grief for someone else–not just me. One of my children works for the US state department, and they have strict limits on what officers can say in any such forum.

    So, yeah, I think there are legitimate reasons why some people need screen names. While “leading to evil” should be thoughtfully considered, the consequences to others may be a greater problem.

    Unless we only want to hear from people who have simple enough lives that they are the only one affected by what they say?

  • Naismith November 10, 2011, 12:09 pm

    Whoops! “….that I wouldn’t say to your face.”

  • partone November 10, 2011, 2:34 pm

    “simple enough lives.”


  • Angie Gardner November 11, 2011, 9:44 pm

    I agree with everyone, haha. It depends on the situation, really. Generally, I think it is best to use your real name. However, there might be times where to protect yourself or others it is best to use a screen name. I completely agree that you shouldn’t hide hate or trolling, though. I do get mercenary’s point, and Naismith’s as well. There have been times when I have wanted to blog about something but have not because my real name would be attached and it may cause hurt to others or embarrassment or other repercussions to myself. A couple of examples: I have a couple of posts ready that I am just sitting on, either for the right time or they really may never get published. One involves my marriage and some somewhat sensitive information there that I would not necessarily want people like, say, my mother-in-law reading. Another involves an issue of somewhat of a struggle or question in a church policy. I am afraid if I wrote about that I would be called into my bishop’s office and told I am a bad influence on the youth I serve with (it’s not a worthiness issue…it’s a women’s issue involving the priesthood. Enough said for now.) Anyway, my point is that these are topics that I think could be of interest and that I would like others’ opinions on, but I just can’t “go there” under my real name right now. So, I just blog about other stuff. Or, as Alison might say, I don’t blog about anything. 🙂

  • jennycherie November 14, 2011, 5:35 pm

    Ok, I completely agree with the need to be accountable for what we say, but I must say, I *really* like using a screen name. I don’t on facebook, but everywhere else, I am jennycherie. Most of my friends would probably still recognize that as me, particular since one of my email addys starts with that nickname, but I just prefer not to have everything I’ve ever posted pop up if someone (a potential employer, for example) searches my whole name. Also, I worry that people from church, those who don’t know me well, who only know me because of my calling, reading something and misinterpreting it and struggling because of it. I try to be cautious about what we post, doubly so on facebook, but I am sure there are times where I am not cautious enough.

    When I see what Angie says above, about worrying about being a bad influence on those we serve, I completely get that. At the same time, I’d love to read those topics she’d like to write about.
    jennycherie recently posted…Fear 101My Profile

  • Andrew Williams November 18, 2011, 5:32 pm

    You nailed it, Alison!

    Hiding hate and bias behind a pseudonym is cowardly and beneath contempt! Likewise, rude or hateful comments from an Anonymous source. (I should moderate comments, I know, but it’s so much fun sometimes to confront and rebut.)

    However, some of your readers are suggesting they might have something of value to offer, but couldn’t do so under their own name. That’s a legitimate consideration. But it seems to me these readers are already guided by their own conscience, or else they wouldn’t be appealing their case to you or airing their own consternations. (I don’t want my mother reading my stuff, either! Ha!)

    It’s an interesting conversation. Thanks for letting me jump in!

    Andrew Williams recently posted…Breakfast for a Billionaire!My Profile

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