In the Comments section to a recent blog post by Peter Black there was quite a debate on anonymous bloggers, with one writer calling them (and Miss Wagstaff in particular) the "scum of the earth". Now I'll reveal you a big secret, just don't tell anyone...Hen Ferchetan is not the name on the Hen Ferchetan's birth certificate (I know, what a shocker!) so as an anonymous blogger I thought I'd better stand up for my kind.
The main argument given against anonymous blogging was that they could "spread malicious garbage that cannot be challenged". It's an interesting argument and one that has some merits. Cast your mind back to the NatWatch debacle and you will remember the trouble that was caused when an anonymous blogger became vicious. What's to stop me spouting allegations here against every Tom Dick and Harry without fear of legal consequences?
The reason I chose a pen-name was not because I wanted to reveal scandals (true or false) without the world finding out who I was. I'm the Hen Ferchetan because I want to say what I want here, and defend what I say here, without also having to defend it to my friends or family down the pub or at the kitchen table. I like the fact that I can switch off my computer and forget about whatever discussion or argument that's going on here without having it brought up in my daily life.
So how is an anonymous blogger held to account for his words? Well, there's two ways, depending on what kind of blog you run. Firstly, no blogger that regularly angers others in the small world of Welsh Politics can keep his identity hidden for long. If I said some lie or other that enraged someone enough that they wanted to find out who I was I don't think my secret identity would protect me for very long. Welsh politics is a small world, and even an outsider like me could probably be identified without much hassle. Look at NatWatch, while technically the writer remained anonymous anyone with any interest in the Welsh blogosphere will have a pretty strong and similar view as to who the writer was. The heat got too much for the blogger very quickly and the blog was soon left to another writer and swiftly fell into obscurity.
That's the problem with trying to remain anonymous with a "sensationalist" blog. If you annoy enough people and cause a big enough storm, you will be unmasked very swiftly. Even if the unmasking is not public for all to see, being identified by those you work with (or more importantly, for) is usually enough to end your sensationalist blog.
But what if you do not go for the secret revealing sensationalist blog and prefer to run a simple blog with your opinions on matters? You're very unlikely to anger someone enough that they go to the effort of unmasking you and therefore you will usually be able to hide behind your false identity for long, if not for ever. But even then you are not immune from criticism and correction. The Welsh blogosphere is a small place and while most of us do not know each other personally we feel familiar to the blogging identity of others. While I could not begin to tell you who Miss Wagstaff, the Welsh Lobbyist or the Miserable Old Fart are in the real world I don't need to. Their blogging identities are strong enough that if i need to criticise or correct their post I can do so to that identity instead of to their true self. If I feel the Cynical Dragon is being unnecessarily offensive or vindictive (just an example Dragon, not singling you out for any reason!) then my respect for the Cynical Dragon as a blogger would go down - who cares if I can't convey that to the real person?
The two type of anonymous blogger (the vindictive sensationalist and the opinion based blogger) are very different animals. the first has adopted their screename to purposefully spread information/lies without the world finding out who they are. Whether they are doing good or bad, they will eventually be unmasked and their anonymity is always vulnerable. For those who have no sensationalist agenda (and, unlike the commenter on Peter Black's blog I'd put Miss Wagstaff into this category as well as all the other current Welsh bloggers with screenames) their names may never be revealed, but they still live and die by their words, even if they still have the ability at the end of the day to shut down the blog and walk away into the sunset.
Edit: Matt Wardman makes a similar argument here