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42 responses to “#Grogsgate and the right to privacy”

  1. Jacques Chester

    Gossip. That’s all it was ever about. Folks love knowing secrets about other folks.

    I maintain two distinct online identities. One of them you know; an identity with a decade-and-a-half arc of youthful optimism going back to chatting up girls on IRC and ranting on usenet.

    The other is pseudonymous.

    The two identities do not refer to one another. They do not visit the same sites. They do not discuss the same topics. The pseudonymous one avoids mention anything that can be used to identify him.

    Why? Because I live a public life and the scatalogical other-me doesn’t want to have to guard every word, weigh every sentence, measure every tasteless joke. I’ve got enough dumb shit under my real name as it is, thanks to teenage-me.

    But if other-me ever became famous somehow, he’d lose his point: safe, anonymous outlet. I’d be forced to descend to 4chan levels.

    Fuck that.

  2. Robert Merkel

    One thing that I’ve found very interesting is that most of the discussion so far has continued to refer to Grog by that name, rather than the one his parents gave him at birth.

    That says something about the relative importance of the two identities in the context of his public writings.

  3. Jason

    Kim,
    Back in February we had something similar here in Adelaide, where the government wanted to out people
    http://www.adelaidenow.com.au/news/in-depth/labor-gags-internet-debate/story-fn2sdwup-1225825708827
    News limited being the only paper here were not at all happy,but I guess if your posting on their sites they will protect your right to privacy.
    But the editor of the advertiser whilst attacking the government made one salient point.” The SA law also differs from federal legislation, which preserves the right of internet users to blog under a pseudonym.

  4. liz_beths

    I very much agree with you Kim. I also don’t use my full name on my blog Left Flank. In part this is because I understand it is necessary to separate work and political views, but also because my work involves dealing with people who are often distressed (and often angry) and I don’t want them to track me down outside of work. This is the same reason I’m silent on the electoral roll and take other action to ensure the ‘work me’ and ‘private me’ stay that way. My actions are not always successful, but I think it is a reasonable step for anyone working for a public institution to take.

    Additionally, the outing of Grog has also likely given confidence to managers with other agendas that there is something wrong with blogging about things unrelated to work in your personal time. Or that somehow intelligent people can’t separate their work and personal being. Already yesterday, passing reference was made by my supervisor to my twitter account and my blog. Alongside that came an email from a person alleging I could not conduct my role professionally because I ran in a union election two years ago. In my view, more and more there is an idea in workplaces that no one is allowed a political private life.

    And just for the record – I’m writing this post at my desk as I eat my lunch on my break. Hope that is OK with James?

  5. Ken Lovell

    Peter Martin cites Stephen Spenser saying Grog’s Gamut has been ‘silenced’. I don’t know if this is true but if it is, it certainly wasn’t a journalist who silenced him. It was either his own choice, or his employer enforcing his conditions of employment. In other words it’s not quite as clear-cut as evil reporter forces blogger to quit.

    There’s a certain amount of straw man argumentation going on about the incident. I haven’t read anyone suggesting that people don’t have a right to blog anonymously. Clearly they do. The bone of contention is whether anyone is obliged to protect that anonymity if the blogger fails to do it properly – i.e., discloses their true identity to someone, as Grog’s Gamut did. I don’t believe there is such an obligation, for reasons I explained on the earlier thread and have no intention of revisiting here.

  6. Tom R

    The problem with that, Ken, is that there is a difference between “willingly identifying oneself”, “being negligent or careless about concealing one’s identity”, and “failing to take every conceivable step to conceal one’s identity”.

    The last one is vulnerable to either sheer bad luck or to someone with extremely good skills and equipment for hacking. (I have heard from someone who works in IT that just about everything Lisbeth Salander does in fiction is doable in the real world by top-level hackers).

    Arguably Grog fell into category 2 by wearing his name badge at the conference. But others may fall into category 3 through no fault or default of their own.

    Example: Many US States have laws prohibiting donor children being told the names of their biological parents. In one State, however, the law permitted the clinic to tell the child, once 18, one or two non-identifying details about her egg and sperm donors. So one young woman books two separate visits. On the first, the counsellor says “Your parents were both architects”. On the second visit, a different counsellor tells her “Your parents died together in a plane crash”. An hour or two going through microfiched news archives (quicker, of course, today with Google) and she finds “John and Jane Smith, both architects, died together in a plane crash yesterday” and she’s contacting her blood relatives.

    (Perhaps donor children should have that right by law, but that isn’t the point. She might have been a stalker or an angry client.)

    Or if I tell one person “I live in (say) Brisbane,” a second “My house is (say) number 123 on my street”, and a third “My street is named (say) Evergreen Terrace”, then separately these data are non-identifying, but put them together and you can get a fix as accurate as specifying a line of latitude and a degree of longitude.

    A third real-life example (Mark Bahnisch can attest to this one): at university, I wrote an article for the student rag under a nom de guerre making fun of one particular residential college. Someone from that college found my name simply by asking the editor if he could have a look at the cheque stubs.

    The point of all this is that people may inadvertently give away their identities without any intent or even carelessness (again, Grog may not qualify, but others will), and if so then it’s bastardry to take a free kick at their anonymity without some good reason.

  7. Mark Bahnisch

    @6 – Indeed, Tom.

    I found Margaret Simons’ defence of the ethics of Massola’s article in Crikey today quite unconvincing. What’s at issue, here, is whether such a course of conduct is prudential not whether it can be justified according to some tick a box matrix of journalistic ethics. In practice, the intent and motivation of the article’s author and publisher are not as easily separable from the supposed general issues as a lot of the contributions to this debate seem to assume.

  8. Incurious and Unread

    Is a relevant factor that Grog’s Gamut was an anonymous contributor to the ABC’s Drum website? At that point, has blogging moved from a private matter to a public matter?

    Would we be comfortable if anonymous op-ed was being published in the OO, for example?

  9. Ken Lovell

    Tom R @ 6 if you include things like hacking in the discussion then you are opening up a whole new bag of ethical issues, this time with some legal ones as well. I haven’t tried to address them in anything I’ve written to date and they aren’t applicable to the Grog’s Gamut situation. I don’t therefore see their absence as a ‘problem’ but as an attempt to keep the discussion from flying off in numerous separate directions all at once.

    On Jericho’s own account, Massola had known his true identity for months (I don’t think he explained how); Jericho also admitted to several people at the conference that he was Grog’s Gamut. As a few people observed on the earlier thread, he seems to have had quite a cavalier attitude towards his anonymity. I would class Massola’s behaviour as discreditable for what it says about the character of the man, but not unethical.

  10. Josh

    @8, you mean like an ‘editorial’?

  11. Incurious and Unread

    @12,

    Well, perhaps these two should be “outed”.

    Jack the Insider is a highly placed, dedicated servant of the nation with close ties to leading figures in politics, business and the union movement.

    Henry Thornton is the nom de plume of a prominent economist. Like his predecessor the modern Henry Thornton has been a banker and an advisor to M.P.s although he is not a politician himself.

  12. Tom R

    Ken, I’ll take “discreditable but not unethical” as being not too many pages removed from what I’m arguing.

  13. Siobhan

    I have a lot of sympathy with this desire to be allowed to remain anonymous.
    I have often found myself in a situation where I am not allowed to comment, or my views are discounted and assumed, because of my connections. I want to be able to express my opinions, and have them heard and evaluated for themselves. I don’t want my thoughts ignored by people who go instead for the straw man of what they assume I think.
    I have also found myself in situations where I want to contribute to a debate, but do not want to be seen to be disloyal.
    At these times, I want to be able to offer my opinions, anonymously, to stand on their own merit, uncontaminated by their association with me.

  14. Mary

    Robert Merkel @ 2:

    Actually, I at least was using his pseudonym because I disagree with his outing and I want to signal that by not being one of the people using his legal name. (It’s purely signalling, because it can be found in outgoing links.)

  15. sublime cowgirl

    I vaguely recall it being legal to have a number of aliases in real life, so long as the intent isn’t to defraud.

    Isn’t that why Income Tax Returns have a box that says “list any other names you have been known as” ?

  16. Incurious and Unread

    @19,

    And so you write in the box: “sublime cowgirl”?

  17. Incurious and Unread

    Kim @21,

    That is an interesting editorial, given that (as you pointed out to me @12) the OO has its own anonymous contributors.

  18. Gummo Trotsky

    That’s fine, but let’s not elevate the right to pursue what amounts to vanity publishing on the net to an issue of freedom of speech.

    Absolutely! Free speech is for News Limited journalists only.

  19. 2353

    Kim says:
    September 28, 2010 at 4:48 pm

    Update: The Australian editorialises.

    And it’s not attributed!

  20. jane

    The Australian editorialises, what a load of rubbish. Revealing Grog’s identity is mischievous, spiteful and unnecessary. The only reason it was done was because the OO and the LIEberals have been exposed as the mendacious manipulators they are.

    There was absolutely no reason to reveal his identity publicly and nationally. It is not in the public interest. Murdoch’s miscreant is a grub.

  21. Gummo Trotsky

    2353:

    I guess that means we’re justified in treating the OO’s editorial as amounting to “vanity publishing on the net”.

  22. Paul Burns

    Vanity publishing on the net? Never occurred to me. Ages before I had my own blog I used to surf teh intenet looking for info on everything from politics to history articles. Seems to me OO has a very restricted view of the political uses of teh internet. Only confirms the view I’ve held for quite some time that some of the things that turn up in cyberspace bother the Australian. Wonder why.

  23. Dave Bath

    Obviously “The Australian” must think it absolutely reprehensible that the even more influential “The Economist” has a policy of keeping ALL reporters anonymous as a means to promote good reporting. Either that, or the Oz thinks “The Economist” is a rubbishy rag no-one uses to form opinions.

  24. kymbos

    I commented on both pieces by this ‘journalist’, but neither were published. Perhaps because I didn’t use my full name?

    To take the Australian to a new low is quite an achievement.

  25. Megan

    @ Ken “The bone of contention is whether anyone is obliged to protect that anonymity if the blogger fails to do it properly…”

    That is such passive phrasing. It is not about merely meeting or not meeting an obligation, but about the deliberate act of ‘outing’ a pseudonymous blogger in a national newspaper.

    After all, the real issue isn’t “total” anonymity (which is not an achievable goal), but pseudonymity. It is about distinguishing comments made as a private individual from comments made as a public individual representing a public organisation. It was ethically provided by Grog, and unethically violated by News Ltd.

    So is there a compelling reason as to why it was violated? Perhaps, erm, to ensure that people know that this person was influencing debate as a public servant?

    But wait…they weren’t, because they didn’t wield influence as that public individual or by publishing insider information relating to their public job! A cavalier attitude comes from knowing your true identity does not change the merit of your arguments. As Kitty F commented on Pure Poison: [Grog] was influencing public debate as an anonymous blogger with a picture of Ralph Fiennes as his avatar.”

    So clearly, Ralph Fiennes has a lot to answer for.

  26. John D

    If someone with a high profile blogs knowing who the blogger can distort the message. The issue becomes “Sir Fred says” rather than the argument being advanced by Sir Fred.

    The extent to which bloggers remain anonymous is there business – It is certainly not the role of powerful newspapers to make that decision.

  27. Mr Denmore

    The arguments about anonymity are a red herring. The real issue here is sloppy journalism by The Australian and the mainstream media generally, which coincidentally is how Grogs Gamut came to prominence in the first place.

    See my own blog post on this issue here.

  28. sublime cowgirl

    @22 – if i made income under this name i probably would.

  29. Ken Lovell

    Possum seems to me to have it about right. Summarised: Of course you can blog anonymously if you want to and FFS lets stop talking about ‘The Australian’. Amen.

  30. Tom R

    Am I a tragic for wishing that Mark Scott’s predecessor was still in charge at the ABC so we could tag this as “The Battle of Jericho/Hill”?

  31. Ken Lovell

    This story caught my eye in the news reader, courtesy of Ballon Juice. I wonder if anyone believes this blogger’s anonymity should have been respected by those who were in a position to out him? I’m sure from the perspective of people who shared his attitudes, his anonymity was every bit as deserving of protection as Grog’s Gamut’s. IMHO however it deserved no protection whatsoever.

  32. terangeree

    Tom R @ 38:

    Wouldn’t have been fitting if Mr Massola’s first name had been Joshua?

  33. Fran Barlow

    No Ken

    I don’t get the comparison.

    Shrivell was engaged in some cross between cyber-stalking and criminal defamation while an A-G for Michigan while GG was commenting on matters of public policy.

    In Shrivell’s case there was a clear public interest served by the outing which would not apply in Jericho’s case.

  34. silkworm

    Ken has contradicted himself within a short space. First @37 he says anonymous blogging is OK, but then @39 he says anonymous blogging doesn’t deserve protection.

    Furthermore, Ken’s snide remarks towards the left shows that he supports The Australian’s cowardly act against Grog because Grog holds political opinions opposite to Ken’s. In other words, Ken’s views on anonymous blogging, even if they are contradictory, are not based on principle, but rather on ideological grounds.