Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Pseudonyms

I've been thinking about posting on this for a bit. Aliases, noms de plume, alter egos. We all have them for some reason.

When I started blogging as Gizabeth Shyder back in the fall of 2008, it was primarily out of fear. Fear of failing, fear of exposing my kids online. I was in a bad marriage and it was just a hell of a lot easier, and more comfortable, to be out there as another person. My real self, shrouded in a name I stole from a geek at Best Buy that set up my new laptop as Gizabeth Scheider. I thought the "y" was a lot cooler. I thought the name was much more interesting than my own. My kids were initially John and Sicily, but have since been changed to their real names, Jack and Cecelia (or Ce-silly, as she prefers to be called).

Within a few months of blogging I was written up in a local medical news rag. I let them use my real name, and answered something like this when I was asked about blogging under a pseudonym. "You are never really anonymous on the web, and I think it is dangerous to think that you are." I believe this wholeheartedly.

A recent comment thread on MiM got me thinking anew about aliases. I have no real judgment about them, unless they are used to talk negatively and scorn patients. Embarrassingly, I have followed some of these blogs, kind of like rubbernecking. I don't always approve but am sometimes entertained. As far as the comment threads, someone I love railed on an anonymous commenter who was full of negativity, recently. The commenter wrote back - basically asking what the heck is different about anonymity and having a pseudonym. Despite their negativity cloaked in anonymity, I thought what an apt observation.

Most of us on MiM are more comfortable writing under pseudonyms, using cute/false names for our kids, and I have never felt that uncomfortable feeling I do when I read about doctors judging patients here. These women are all pretty high quality. The fact that they choose anonymity doesn't detract from their posts, and I see that many choose it for different reasons, some similar to my original ones, some different.

I write about this in hopes of sparking a conversation about aliases. Opinions, and people's reasons for using them. Some women, like Michelle Au who I interviewed this summer, are completely kosher with using their real name (If I had a name as cool as Michelle Au - I would be sharing and spreading all over the web). But many other women are not. I personally see no problem with going either way, as long as you stay within the lines. By that I mean adhere to ethics, as each of us hopefully learned from our parents, and if not picked up in medical school. What do you think?

15 comments:

  1. It's probably true that a pseudonym that is unlinkable back to another site is not that different from "anon." Still, in my completely unscientific observation, it seems that people who post under a fake unlinkable name are more likely to be diplomatic/ constructive in their commentary than the people who just use anon. If you are required to log in, diplomacy improves by an additional increment. This is not an issue I've invented, btw. Many of the news sites I follow have recently abolished anonymous comments with the logic that the quality and productivity of the discussion is elevated when people at least have to log in to comment. There was an article on slate to this effect about 6 months ago.

    http://www.slate.com/id/2287739/

    For my own blog, I have mixed feelings about this. One of the best parts about blogging is the comments, and not permitting anonymous comments basically halves the comments I receive. I recently eliminated anonymous comments on my blog because of my pregnancy, not because anonymous comments are never useful or interesting, but because I didn't want to deal with people telling me what a selfish b*tch I was for wanting to be a doctor and a mother under the veil of anonymity. I've seen this happen on other sites, and though THOSE sites kept anonymous comments open because they felt it was important to have dissenting comments on their blog, they have also blogged about how much those comments hurt them. Michelle's blog is one example of this.

    I used to receive about one inflammatory anonymous comment a week, now I receive almost none. You can still post dissent on my blog, but you have to link back to a profile that you log in to. If creating a profile is too much effort for you to post a vitriolic comment, then it's probably not that important, and may be something better off left unsaid. The profile creates a layer of accountability, even if the profile you use is not your real name.

    Just my 2 cents. I will also freely admit to posting anonymous comments on this blog and others even though I have a profile to link to. I use this option when I feel my comment discloses something about myself I don't want directly linked back to me, or when a comment I post contains information about my husband's job (I don't want him to get fired). Oh! I also use this option when I want to say something unpleasant. So.... there it is.

    :-)

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  2. Leaving a non-linkable tag to an anonymous post is probably not that different than leaving it as anonymous. However having to log in to comment is very different, even if you use a pseudonym. It provides a layer of accountability, and a small barrier to posting. If a person is not willing to log in to post a vitriolic comment, then I would argue it probably wasn't worth posting to begin with.

    I did not invent this. Most of the news sites I regularly read require that you log in to comment for this reason. Slate published an article on this a few months back.

    http://www.slate.com/id/2287739/

    I recently got rid of anonymous comments on my own blog. I was getting about one inflammatory comment per week (always from anonymous), and since I'm pregnant and don't really want to deal with people trashing me publicly for wanting to be a mother physician scientist, I decided to get rid of them. You can still post dissent, you just have to log in to do it. I realize some bloggers feel that it's important to allow anonymous commenters to call you a bitch on your own blog because that is dissent you need to hear for your own character development. Michelle Au is one blogger that feels this way, and even she has written that these types of comments are hurtful. I do not feel that these types of comments are productive, so I don't allow them. The downside is that I receive fewer comments. To me it's a small price to pay.

    I occasionally take advantage of anonymous posting myself to post something about myself that I don't want directly linked back to me or my husband (I don't want him to get fired). Sometimes I also post anonymously when I have something not especially pleasant to say. So.... there it is.

    Just my 2 cents.

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  3. IMO a non linkable pseudonym isn't that different from an anon comment. However a linkable pseudonym is very different. It provides a layer of accountability, and creates a small barrier to commenting that someone who just wants to say something vitriolic and unproductive is unlikely to bother to do.

    I recently disabled anonymous commenting on my own blog and have found that the more harsh unproductive comments have completely disappeared. You can still post dissent, you just have to be linkable.

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  4. I agree with OMDG that when people troll, they tend to do it anonymously. Whenever I see an anon making a comment, I prepare myself for hate. But mostly, I just want people to make up a name so I don't have to reply to Anon@6:45.

    Giz: I wholeheartedly agree that no blogger is anonymous. My goal is at least for my blog to be anonymous though.. meaning patients and colleagues who know me irl can't google me and immediately find my blog. And I also try not to write anything that would cause me to lose my job or anything.

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  5. I am fairly non-anonymous since my program only has 8 people in it and I have a small picture of my head on my blog. Oh, and if you google my program I show up pretty quickly in the results which has led to some people affiliated with the program finding me. Comments have been positive, which is good but also awkward because I don't really want to have a conversation about my blog. Seriously.

    I think the only difference between if I were anonymous or not is that I curse less.

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  6. Not that I am a doctor or anything, but I personally have an alias as I don't want people who know me in real life know my thoughts on my blog. Most people are used to me being upbeat, etc, but I am quite depressed. So writing about those depressed feelings helps me to feel those feelings instead of trying to hide them because I'm not suppose to feel them because i believe in God.

    It gives me a freedom to say whatever I want although there will be a few people reading my blog as I am not a popular person. I honestly don't mind alias it just the anonymous thing I don't like because I don't have a name to address people by.

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  7. When I started blogging, I promised my husband and son anonymity...therefore I had to be too. The "disguise" is pretty thin and I keep it that way and I don't try to be mean or controversial. Over the last year, as they realized that the blog wasn't a "vent" I think they would be more comfortable with everyone knowing names and such, but I don't think I'll chanage.

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  8. Hey Elizabeth!

    For me (as we talked about in the interview), it's about accountability. Knowing that what I say in the blog publicly reflects upon me, under my name, in real life, makes me more aware of what I am putting online. Real anonymity on the internet is spotty at best, and at worst can tend to breed the worst in human instincts and behaviors.

    I've said in the past (and this is probably a good rule of thumb for anyone) that if there's something I could put online anonymously but would be embarrassed about having associated with my real name, I probably shouldn't be putting it online in the first place. Anyway, that's just my take on why I continue to blog under my real name, though I certainly understand why, in medicine in general, people tend to want at least a layer or two separating their personal online identities from their professional ones.

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  9. Thanks Michelle! Guess we solved the first half of the identification puzzle.

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  10. Rock Star MD Girl - I agree that linkable pseudonyms have more accountability. You have educated me about linkable and non-linkable stuff. You are obviously not that anon with your pics on your blog - I am that way, too. I enjoyed reading your reasoning behind previewing blog comments, on your blog. I found I had to do that for similar reasons about a couple of years ago - some stuff was just gross/lewd/inappropriate.

    Being anonymous does create a little too much of a "disinhibition syndrome" at times, on the internet. It sucks for us when it hurts. But hell, having been through medical school and being victimized by miserable residents - well, it's not so bad.

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  11. Fizzy - I appreciate your desire to stay anon at work. A couple of my co-workers know about my blog, and it makes me uncomfortable when they talk about it to me - kind of like you, ThatGirl! Seriously is right. It kind of embarrasses me, even though they are complimenting me.

    That Girl - I've a bit of a cursing problem, too. Maybe blog, maybe divorce, who knows. Easier to cuss on blog than at work, and it is a "vent," like Dr. Kay Elizabeth.

    XOXO Dr. Kay - I don't have many followers on my own blog, either, but for me, like you, it isn't so much a popularity contest as it is a form of therapy, for me. Such an emotional release. Glad you have found a place to work out your inner self, too.

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  12. Christie Critters - oops, you were the one who used "vent." I agree. And I remember my ex-husbands concerns about using our real names, and kids names, on the internet - gotta take the spouses comfort level into consideration as well. There are some people who are freaked out by Facebook - you have to respect that.

    Michelle Au (I kind of imagine your last name as a song note) - I almost e-mailed you to ask to use your answers in interview but, well, this is a blog, and that felt too complicated to me last night. But I am glad you re-iterated your ideas on this topic, because I thought they were very insightful, and our conversation between us and with KC was part of the inspiration for this small discussion.

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  13. I think this is a very interesting subject and I find myself in a hypocritical position. I have a pseudoname (as does my daughter), however anyone who spent 10 min on my blog could figure out who I am. It is actually my husband who requested I not be completely out with my identify out of concern for the privacy of our daughter, but I wholeheardedly agree that if you aren't willing to put your name to it, you probably shouldn't blog about it. I try to remember that when I am oh-so-frequently tempted to rant about patients and co-workers. And it certainly does restrict what I say, sometimes frustratingly so.

    Not sure what, if anything my comment adds, other than to say I think about it too.

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  14. The Red Humor - thanks for your empathy. I think as long as we all continue to think about it, it will prevent us from falling into that tempting trap. I was frequently tempted to use my blog as release for divorce feelings - but realized that would only hurt my kids and my ex - who I will need to get along with for the rest of my life - so absolutely not appropriate. Feelings pass - I was better off venting to girlfriends at dinner with wine.

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  15. I choose to blog anonymously (and very few people...I think...actually know my true identity) for a variety of reasons. The biggest is that I know patients google me--they tell me--before they come to see me for the first time. Although I always change info re patients that could be in any way identifying before blogging about them (and I blog about my patients, cancer patients, uniformly in awe of them never critically), I wonder how it would make a past or future patient feel to google me and see that I do sometimes blog about patients. That, and concern for the privacy of my husband and kids, who didn't sign up for this, are my main reasons for using a pseudonym.

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