Thursday, June 18, 2009

Anonymous Blogging

NightJack, an award-winning anonymous blog maintained by a Lancashire policeman, has been taken offline. A Times journalist broke his identity, and a High Court judge ruled on Tuesday that bloggers have no right to keep their identities secret.

Not surprisingly, plenty of bloggers have something to say: Heresy Corner finds it 'all rather disturbing', Church Mouse thinks the Times comes out of this badly, Dizzy thinks anonymity was never a 'right' in the first place, whilst Tom Harris takes the opposing view and wonders if the Times were just trying to silence a rival news source. Good piece by Hopi Sen.

NightJack himself has written for the Times giving his own story of the 'outing', and what it will mean for him. Lancashire constabulary said yesterday they would let him off with a written warning.

1. Iain Dale accuses the Times of hypocrisy. They protect the anonymity of their own sources, but are happy to torpedo the anonymity of bloggers. At the very least this is double standards.

2. On this blog I've deliberately chosen not to be anonymous. That's partly because it was initially created to be part of a conversation about mission with people I meet both face to face in Yeovil/Somerset and online. It's also because it's a good discipline: I feel that it makes me accountable. On several occasions I've had to think twice about posting something, or check that I had my facts right, or that I'd been fair to someone I was debating with. Also as a Christian there's an integrity about blogging as myself, and I'd feel uncomfortable with having a split/secret identity.

3. In some settings, like the police, civil service, army etc., anonymity is the only way to blog. But it's also risky. If you've entered those professions and have an agreement to keep confidences, then blogging breaks that agreement. At the same time, we need whistle blowers where a culture of secrecy is hiding malpractice, corruption, or things that would be 'in the public interest' (notoriously slippery term!!!)

4. The fact that I'm 'me' puts some limits on things. There are thoughts I've had about the Church of England, individuals, issues etc. that I've had to keep to myself. And there's nothing wrong with that - there's a Ben Elton novel (Blind Faith) set in the future where everyone knows everything about everybody, and it's horrific. Privacy is a good thing, and not everything in your head should just be splurged out willy nilly. There are some things better said in private, or thrashed through face to face with particular people and groups, rather than vented online as cut-price group therapy.

5. I wonder what the reaction would have been if another blogger had identified NightJack. The fact that it's a newspaper, with all the associated issues about anonymous sources, has, understandably, got bloggers up in arms. There are two separate issues here:
- whether the Times is operating to double standards
- the ethics and protocols of anonymous blogging: is it simply a fair cop if you're found out? And does it matter who finds you out? If you are the author of the words, then is it only right that you take the consequences of those words?


  1. Good thoughts, David. I've added a link to this post from my own on the topic, which I wrote before receiving the benefit of your thoughts