Not long ago, there was a big hullabaloo in blogland because a damn good blogger, Damn Good Technician, got outed at her workplace and subsequently removed her blog (she has since re-established her blog).
This caused several people to question whether they should continue blogging or at the very least if they should change what they blog about (Drugmonkey links to some of these posts and Mrs. Comet Hunter weighs in on the topic as well). This is a difficult decision to make and depends on why you blog in the first place. Some people blog mostly to give advice and encouragement to other scientists which means there is probably little on their blogs for the Powers That Be to be angry with. Others blog frankly about their circumstances in order to help others in similar circumstances and to reach out to a sympathetic community for support. This may mean that what they write about their superiors is not complimentary.
I have written about the challenges of anonymity in the past. And, I admit, when I heard about this latest kerfluffle I felt a little twinge of fear that one day I, too, could be outed. When I blog I try to be very careful not to mention the subfield I work in or the proteins I study or the general questions the lab investigates. I also don’t talk about local issues or say much about the weather in order to keep my location something of a mystery (although it is obviously within driving distance of Iowa). I never, ever, ever, never, ever use my real name and my pseudonym in the same context. My pseudonym even has a separate email account. So, I can be reasonably sure nobody is going to find me with a google search.
Another precaution I take is that very few non-bloggers know who I am IRL. In fact, I can think of only one. Wait, she’s blogging now, too. Okay, so we’re back to none. My husband and a few friends know about the blog but they don’t know the name of the blog, my pseudonym or the URL of the blog. Some have asked and I’ve refused to tell them. Not so much because I don’t want them to read what I’m writing, I just don’t trust non-bloggers to fully understand why I’m blogging under a pseudonym and I don’t trust them to protect my anonymity. Not that I think they would out me on purpose. They just might be careless in what they say in the comments or IRL and that might cause a problem. This has also led me to not link to perfectly lovely blogs because they know who I am and they are too open about who they are and where they live. Paranoia is your friend when it comes to protecting your identity.
However, I do post from lab so someone from my lab could sneak peeks over my shoulder and maybe find my blog and I do comment on other blogs under my pseudonym from lab so a stats program will pick up that IP address and if any of those bloggers are at the same institution, they’re going to know where I am. Although, if I’m commenting on a blog the author is probably not going to out me because she may be worried about being outed herself.
I also give quite a few personal details of my life (mental breakdown, anyone?). Enough that, if you stumble across my blog and you know me IRL you will almost certainly know that it’s my blog. You may also recognize yourself in the posts (there really can’t be more than one person who fits some of these descriptions–like Husband, for instance). I’ve also mentioned where I’m going to be moving to and when and what books I’m reading and where I’m from originally. There’s definitely enough there to identify me. I suppose this means that I have a n0n-zero chance of being outed.
Despite the risks (and there aren’t nearly as many for me at this moment as there are for other people since I am almost done with my program and have no plans to stay in academia), I am not going to change what I blog about for several reasons:
- Venting on the blog gives me an outlet for my thoughts and feelings that is unique and important to my mental well-being
- The support I get from the commentors and from being a part of this community is amazing
- I want to help other people who may be going through the same things I have gone through
So, I’m not going to change how I blog and I’m not going to obsess about the possibility of being outed (though I will continue to be cautious). However, I know that’s not going to be the choice everyone makes and I respect that. Everyone has to do their own risk/benefit analysis and come up with a plan that’s right for them. It will be sad, though if everyone becomes to scared of being outed to write frankly about their situations. We’ll lose some very valuable insight.