Bloggers practice varying levels of privacy when revealing personal information on their blogs. Some people are comfortable revealing their names, contact information and pretty much everything else, while others can go to the opposite extreme, use pseudonyms and in general be very protective of their identity.
In many cases privacy concerns arise out a greater fear of revealing too much personal information in case someone decides to come after you in anger (if you think that’s ridiculous, you haven’t been the target of such incidents – it’s very real, if not frequent).
However, as professional bloggers, there’s also another concern – do we want our names attached to our most controversial opinions / most personal thoughts?
I wrote about this last year in an article on managing reputation in which a lot of people gave good advice on how to deal with a situation where your personal blog can become a liability when people search for you online (especially if they’re looking to hire you).
In the comments, a Performancing reader linked to an article he’d written in 2005 about the same problem, albeit from a different perspective. Of note:
I remember telling someone at a dinner party years ago how, “Even though it’s after work, and we’re friends, for better or for worse, I still represent my employer, right now.” The response was an incredulous, “Are you serious? How can that be?” I went on to explain that, “If I act like a fool, you will form the opinion that my employer hires fools. If I act unethically or immorally, you will form the opinion that my employer hires unethical or immoral people. If you are a customer of my company, or were considering being one, or you yourself work for a company who is a customer, how would this impression influence your decision or recommendation to do business with my company?” From the pause that followed, I could tell that he got the point. Even though I was “just an individual contributor” working for a large corporation, I was representing my company even when I wasn’t working, even in times that many people would consider my own very private, personal time. And this was long before blogs existed, let alone popular.
He’s absolutely right – just as a person you are responsible for your own actions, you are also responsible for how your actions and words reflect on the people associated with you – whether they are your family, your co-workers, your employers (or employees) or even your religious or social community.
You might not like it, and you might not judge other people this way, but that is how most people make quick decisions and form biases. It’s not just about blogs, it’s about how we are in our daily lives.
But getting back to blogs, this raises an interesting question – I have a strong desire to use my own name everywhere and not ‘hide’ behind pseudonyms, but several times this policy has gotten me in trouble (a case of mistaken identity, or just because someone read something on my personal blog that they didn’t agree with).
The underlying lesson is that if you are pushing to use your own name and reveal personal information online (or anywhere else), you have to be prepared for the consequences and own up to what you say (whether it’s on your blog, in the comments of another blog, a forum thread, in a conference or even an email). Otherwise, you are best off by using a pseudonym or hiding your identity as much as possible. I used to think that it was the cowardly thing to do, but it’s not about being brave or not, it’s just a decision you have to make about which set of consequences you are willing to live with.
So what about you? Do you use your own name everywhere online (especially when you’re blogging), or do you take on a pseudonym and play it safe?