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Shredding my credibility

A little while ago, Jeff Harrell mentioned me in passing, and reminded me of something I tend to forget: I don't use my real name when I post.

The origins are simple: I started out here as a commenter, and I recalled the famous advice about "never give your real name online." Simply phoneticizing my initials seemed a good compromise; I've used it off and on for over half my life, in various fora. Then when the guest-posting gig came up, I thought it might be a fun lark, and I'd established "Jay Tea" as my identity, so I stuck with it. And I don't recall when that temporary gig became an essentially permanent position; it just sort of evolved on its own when nobody was looking.

So, a good year and a half later, is it time to dump it?

The Powerline guys had a similar dilemma, when they started moving more and more toward the mainstream. They were becoming a major force in the media, and one significant barrier was the names they had chosen. Guys with monikers like "Hindrocket,' "The Big Trunk," and "Deacon" have a lot of trouble getting past the giggle barrier. So they ditched them and started using their true names.

That's not a problem for me. I'm not interested in becoming a more public voice.

Also, I've put a lot of work into "Jay Tea." He's become not just a pen name, but a full-blown persona. (He's a smidgen taller, a bit lighter, and has better hair, just to name a few differences.) "Jay" has become a voice in the blogosphere, and has a bit of brand-name cachet of his own. To toss that aside would be difficult.

One of the main arguments against pseudonyms in the blogosphere has to be "credibility." "Why should we believe you," they say, "when you don't even tell the truth about your own name?"

I've considered that argument, and I agree it's a valid one. But I've always had my own way of dealing with it.

"Credibility," to me, is a form of trustworthiness. It's saying "you should believe what I'm saying, because of who I am." And that is an incredibly seductive power -- one with which I don't trust myself.

Whenever I make my arguments, I always try to make a point of spelling out exactly what I believe, and why I believe it. I give my position, but then back it up with facts. I don't want people agreeing with me simply because I say something, but because they also think I'm right.

I've seen what happens to people when they start trading on their reputation instead of their work. It's mainly on the left, where people like Oliver Willis or Kos simply pronounce things, and expect their loyal followers to blindly follow them. And it frightens me.

I am, at heart, a lazy guy. But I know that, and I know how to avoid some of the pitfalls. I don't want "loyal followers." I don't want people to simply agree with me. I want to continually have to re-win their approval and agreement. I want people to agree with me because I make sense, not because I'm me.

So, in the end, I think it doesn't matter if I post here as "Jay Tea" or "Joe Tormolen" or "James Tiberius" or "Jackass Twit." The messenger's name is irrelevant. The messenger himself is irrelevant. It's the message that matters.

After all, everyone knows what a marathon is. Some even know it involves the Battle of Marathon. Some can tell you that it's 26.2 miles long, the distance a messenger ran with the news of the victory. They might even be able to quote his exact message -- "Rejoice! We Conquer!!" -- and say that he dropped dead the very next instant.

But how many can tell you the name of that messenger?


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Comments (31)

Do you find that when you a... (Below threshold)

Do you find that when you are using a pseudonym, you say things that you wouldn't say using your real name?

I thought about going by my... (Below threshold)
Lew Clark:

I thought about going by my real name too. But I asked Mrs. Rove and she says Karl......!!!!!
And that ended that!

Privacy has never meant muc... (Below threshold)
Don:

Privacy has never meant much to me. It's not in the Constitution (no anonymous signers either) and anonymous people--Jay Tea being an exception--have always bugged me on the internet. Anonymity too often allows people to be more annoying in chat rooms, on message boards or in blogs than they would ever be in real life. I've always been of the persuasion, if you want to read my mail, search my car and set up a camera in my house, fine...you'll be board to death.

I apply a higher litmus test for credibility to anonymous sources since they are intentionally reducing the personal consequences of what they say. An anonymous writer has a rebuttable presumption against them that they are espousing an opinion they wouldn't say to your face which seems somewhat disingenuous or cowardice.

I don't know what ever got ... (Below threshold)
Rodney Dill:

I don't know what ever got in to you that you thought you needed to use a pseudonym.

;)

People who put their real n... (Below threshold)
Mark:

People who put their real name behind their work have more credibility with me. To me it suggests they are more serious, and they probably did a little more homework than they would if posting anonymously.

And, Ill go one farther. People who post personal bios on their blogs have even more credibility. For instance, knowing John Hinderaker's education and training, and knowing his current occupation and place of business adds a ton of credibility to his work. Not only does it tell me he's very disciplined and capable of throrough research, but the fact that he's willing to put his livlihood on the line by not shielding his business tells me he'll be careful to use all his skills to render solid, responsible opinions.

I wish more bloggers used their names and published bios.

Phidippides.Consid... (Below threshold)

Phidippides.

Considering that it's unlikely he had spent a lot of time training to run a marathon (think about it), his time of about 3 hours is amazing....even if he did drop dead at the end.

Plus it's cool being one of... (Below threshold)
Jay:

Plus it's cool being one of the "Jay" bloggers. I know the real story is that you took note of me, OF Jay, Jay Manifold, etc. and so forth, and just had to be one of us.

I am not opposed to anonymity at all. Sometimes it's necessary to blog at all. I chose to be halfway anonymous, partly so I wouldn't be as easy to Google under my full real name, and partly for the fun of using a pen name I'd had since before the internet as we know it existed. I am legitimately Jay. People in real life call me that, though some call me by my first name instead. However, everyone knows by now my surname isn't Solo, and I've made no effort to hide what it is by never mentioning it on the blog.

At this point using "Jay Solo" remains in part because it's what people know and expect.

If you want to talk about l... (Below threshold)
Mark L:

If you want to talk about lousy hack writers that use pseudonyms to hide their identity, what about Mark Twain?

Although I can understand *why* he used a pseudonym. He anticipated today's PC climate and did not want his real name tied in with racist writings like "Huckleberry Finn."

(Notice to the credulous. Irony alert.)

I agree with your rationale... (Below threshold)
terry:

I agree with your rationale for using a "pen name." But I would quibble a tiny bit with your remark about fewer folk knowing the name "pheidippides" than the story of the marathon's origin. I ALWAYS teach my students his name, and I find few of them know the story before they enter my world history course. There used to be a line of sneakers named after the legendary runner, as well. So you have a point, but I would argue that as few know ANY details of the story of the battle of Marathon as know the story of the messenger minus his name.

Jay Tea has become your blo... (Below threshold)

Jay Tea has become your blog name. And I don't see anything wrong with that.

I agree with the premise of... (Below threshold)

I agree with the premise of the message being the point, not the messenger. I use a pen name because there are too many nutballs in the world for me to take a chance on risking my family's safety.

PheidippidesNot on... (Below threshold)
Mark:

Pheidippides

Not only was there a running shoe named after him, but track clubs across the country were named after him. And shoe stores.

Probably the only reason I know that, however, is because I was an obsessed marathon runner (off and on) for about 20 years.

The most difficult part of his myth, for me, is the claim that he ran it in 3:00 hours without specific marathon training. I've run 3:00 marathons with years of 85 miles per week training, and it ain't easy. No wonder he supposedly dropped dead.

People who put their rea... (Below threshold)

People who put their real name behind their work have more credibility with me. To me it suggests they are more serious, and they probably did a little more homework than they would if posting anonymously.

As a general rule I agree with this philosophy -- but I also know that there are all manner of valid reasons why one would choose not to use a real name, so I judge on a case-by-case basis.

Not everyone who is anonymous is a flake. And not everyone who uses his or her real name is worth taking seriously.

After all, I use my real name and ...

That didn't come out right ...

Yes, posting with your real... (Below threshold)

Yes, posting with your real name lends you credibility.

I think there's a big diffe... (Below threshold)

I think there's a big difference between posting anonymously and pseudonymously. This is more true in comments than in a regular-writing atmosphere like a blog.

I find that people that are truly anonymous hide behind the veil of the internet to spew things that they should think twice about. A pseudonym, however, is just a different 'handle' for a person. Jay Tea is Jay Tea wherever he goes. There may not be any particular need for him to use a pseudonym, but it's not like he's hiding behind anonymity to spew vile rhetoric. His "brand" in the blogosphere is being known as Jay Tea, and if he does something to ruin that "brand", it's just as bad for his blogging career as if he was using his real name.

I use my real name, but I'm not that worried about it. It's not like anyone reads me anyway :-)

I've preferred personas for... (Below threshold)

I've preferred personas for years when commenting online. When it comes to reputation--i.e., making a name for yourself--and all people have to associate with you is your text and your handle, why is it important that the online name match your real one?

It might be significant if you argued from personal authority all the time and made yourself the issue. I try not to do that, so the persona thing doesn't get in my way. Besides, I am as careful with what I say as slarrow as I was when I posted under my real name on some message boards lo these many years ago. If a screen name causes some people to disregard what I say...well, their mistake.

Also remember, using a real... (Below threshold)

Also remember, using a real name has one advantage. If at some later point, you want to expand your career into writing op-eds or books (as I'm considering), your real name will likely be a big help there. And if you grow your online persona around a pseudonym, it might make it harder to transition and use the name recognition you gained as a blogger.

Then again, maybe Mark Twain was really his era's equivalent of a blogger using a pseudonym for other writing, and just carried his pseudonym into his book writing career?

I always assumed you use a ... (Below threshold)

I always assumed you use a pseudonym because you faked your death for the insurance money like I did. The only difference is that I used a pseudonym before I faked my death so I get to use my real name now.

I don't have a problem with... (Below threshold)
Mark:

I don't have a problem with pseudonyms, and I agree with slarrow's implication that good credible writing usually steers clear of the author's personal authority.

However, I do think candor about the author's identity and qualifications tends to enhance credibility that may already exist.

The big question in my mind is, why hide behind a pseudonym? Is it for simple privacy? Or is it to avoid accountability? There's nothing wrong with that. I can see not wanting your boss or clients to access your deeply held political views, knowing they may suffer from Bush Derangement Syndrome and will probably be inclined to take their business elsewhere. On the other hand, that is precisely why I respect the transparency of the Powerline guys. They're willing to live or die by their pen. I also suspect that transparency creates a little extra incentive to do their homework before posting.

I really like Jackass Twitt... (Below threshold)
FlickerFarkel:

I really like Jackass Twitt verses Jay Tea. I think when you are either really pissed off, or being sarcastic, you should use the jackass monicker!!

None of you apparently read... (Below threshold)

None of you apparently read (or know) the full story with Pheidippides. He was a professional messenger - i.e., he spent all of his time "training" to run long distances. Indeed, as the Wikipedia article Jay links to points out, the run from Marathon, though his best known, has the least basis in historical fact. His prior, and most likely historically accurate, run was from Athens to Sparta and back - a round trip of 250 KM - in three days.

Hey everyone.. those who wa... (Below threshold)
jason mclaren:

Hey everyone.. those who want to know the secret of Jay Tee's real name .. simple go to paypal.com and tribute a unreasonable amount of money,

just to find out his real name is Tea Jay

If one speaks as an authori... (Below threshold)
AnonymousDrivel:

If one speaks as an authority on particulars, then presenting a real name and bio adds weight.

Question: On how many things is one an authority?

Overwhelmingly, blog commentary is not authoritative more than it is opinion. Further, presenting data to support one's position does not require any expertise other than a willingness to do basic research and a bit of reading.

As mentioned previously, anonymity forces the reader to focus on the point and words presented with less saddling of everything with preconceived ideas. A good point remains a good point whether it is graffitti on a wall or typeface in literature. Simply knowing one's gender, for example, causes most to respond differently. Same goes for nationality or skin tone. Baggage like that intervenes, both consciously and subconsciously, to taint perception. Sometimes it's best not to invite such bias and force the reader to work a bit harder - i.e. not rely on old habits to address a new or different idea.

Besides, you can spot a nut a mile away whether that nut adopts the moniker of "Mounds Bar" or just calls herself by the given name of C. Sheehan.

Jay Tea has a nice rhythm and it's easy to spell, too. What more could you want?

sheesh...posting hypocrites... (Below threshold)
Drew Edmondson:

sheesh...posting hypocrites...many of the top liberal sites ...KOS(that's not his real name) etc ... play the game of not posting their real name ...who cares??? I know your name is Jay but just like the majority of blogs you choose not to use it all the time ...so what ..??? it is so feeble for folks to post on this issue .. a blog is a blog..if people choose to use their real name or not in posting or responding to views so what . ..???? I visit this site because sometimes you give me insight and sometime you don't ... but it is your site...unlike a lot blogs on all the sides you allow a discussion on Your Views ... plus you put yourself upfront which is an action I have always respected ... (however like other blogs I often wonder of their origin... WIZBANG?...maybe you gave it early on before I visited)

I had to modify my post ..i... (Below threshold)
Drew Edmondson:

I had to modify my post ..it was rejected because I had a c followed by ... (although it wasn't the four letter c word I have no problem with that .... it forces us to refine our language and refrain from pretend obscenities...

I've only recently started ... (Below threshold)
Synova:

I've only recently started using Synova rather than Julie and even back when internet conversations were relay or only usenet news the most pseudonymous I ever got was j.pascal, which isn't. A person's real name is just as unknown as a pseudonymn anyhow, and either way you've got to develop a reputation. I don't think any less of someone who uses a pseudonymn.

Someone who *changes* their name constantly is different. I figure they're trying to escape a reputation.

I know many authors who use pseudonymns and I know a few people on the internet who *carefully* conceal their identity on-line, even while forming RL face-to-face friendships with their on-line friends because they've had to deal with stalkers of one sort or another.

I plan to *insist* that my daughter uses a pseudonymn when she puts together a web page to publish her art, even to signing her drawings and paintings with the name she has chosen... at *least* until she's a legal adult.

Most pseudonymns aren't exactly secret anyway, particularly when it comes to authors or actors. I started to use one because I hope to publish fiction some day and started to think that maybe it would be a good idea to avoid limiting my audience to hawkish libertarians. Not that it would be a secret or anything, but I can't see the point of rubbing it in people's faces either. Someone who searches my name and checks out my website (non-existant) to find out about the book (that I haven't written yet) shouldn't have to face a side order of political diatribe without having made at least a token effort to look for it. ;-)

Hehe okay, so that's a whole lot of hypothetical considerations that may never be an issue, but that was my reasoning.

Some people HAVE TO use a p... (Below threshold)

Some people HAVE TO use a pseudonym!

I'm late to this, but I too... (Below threshold)

I'm late to this, but I too am a commenter turned glommer-on turned guest poster turned intranet mogul. I saw that thing from Jeff Harrell, and I thought about you. for the past few months I've become this MacStansbury, just Mac stuck in front of my last name, but now I'm referred to as "Mac" instead of "John." makes no difference to me.

I'm just happy to be on MY Vast Right Wing Conspiracy and getting the message out from there.

I appreciated what you said... (Below threshold)
Suzi:

I appreciated what you said. I don't think that a pseudonym is any less "you" than your real name. And you chose it, you use it. I'm great with that.

I think not using your name doesn't impact your credibility with me. I know when I read something by you it has a certain force, built up by what I've read from you in the past. (Or maybe just read on this blog.) So it doesn't matter if it's your name or not, your pseudonym has a credibility factor in it.

I use a pseudonym, though anyone who was really trying could find out who I am. But I don't want it to come up first thing on a website search when I'm interviewing for a new job. My bio on my site, in several "about me" entries, is incredibly complete. I wouldn't be hard to find. I just don't want you to stumble across my body randomly. You should at least have to look.

So I agree that you don't need to use your name, but I disagree that what you say necessarily does or has to stand on its own merit. Really, you have a body of work here that it stands as part of and that body of work, perhaps, is where it gains its power of persuasion. (Facts help though. We check.)

Just a contrarian question.... (Below threshold)
loadthemule:

Just a contrarian question. How is that you know the people who are using their real names are using their real names?

Regards...

I too use a pseudonymn (sp)... (Below threshold)

I too use a pseudonymn (sp) for my blogging and commenting. Some part of my reason for doing this is safety. Were this the world of our grand parents, we wouldn't have to worry about people trying to find us and harm us for thingking and believing differently than they do, but after 2004 where we saw people SHOOTING blindly at GOP offices and trying to RUN OVER GOP state representatives, simply because they were associated with the GOP, I figured I would not tell the NUT JOBS who I am. They know I'm a volunteer Firefighter, and that I'm somewhere in Texas, so I figure that's close enough for my comfort. BTW - Jay - You may only use James Tiberius if you add Kirk to it.

Also, I spoke to a man not too long ago who's name ACUTALLY IS James Kirk (no Tiberius), and his son is a Captain in the USAF, meaning I spoke to Capt. Kirk's father!




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