EpiGate: when blogging under one’s own name can be used against you

23 Aug

Some of the best early advice I received when I started online discussions about autism came from Autism Diva. In an exchange online, she told me that I was giving out too much private information and eventually it would be used against me or my family.

She would know. She had people show up at her home one time. Parents angry at what she wrote who wanted her to know that they knew where she lived.

The blogger Orac at Respectful Insolence has had repeated attempts to silence or hurt him. Most notable of these was an attempt last year by the Age of Autism blog to get Orac fired from his real-life job (discussed here and here). Luckily (a) Orac’s employers respect freedom of speech and academic freedom and (b) Orac’s employers can see through the false accusations that AoA fabricated. (sadly, many of the readers of AoA were unable to parse the confused logic of the post and bought into the story, resulting in them sending calls and emails to Orac’s employers).

Perhaps the most spectacular attempt to silence a blogger was levied against Kathleen Seidel. Ms. Seidel is probably the premiere blogger (in any field) that I am aware of. Her series have exposed some very unhealthy activity in the autism communities. Her work is scrupulously researched and referenced. She raised the ire of some people to the point that she was actually subpoenaed by Cliff Shoemaker (vaccine injury attorney) in a fishing expedition attempting to link her to being supported by pharmaceutical companies and/or political groups. It was the last desperate act of litigation that was about to close, and the subpoena was quashed.

Over the past few days, another story has played out. Liz Ditz discusses it in detail in A Public Servant, Blogging and Tweeting Under His Own Name, Has Been Silenced By His Employers. Orac has covered it in: The consequences of blogging under one’s own name.

Basically the story is this: EpiRen (blogger, tweeter, commenter, etc.) got into a disagreement with another person online. The other person ended up taking his opinion to EpiRen’s real-life employers. EpiRen’s employers have asked him to cease online discussions related to public health.

The Bully wins. It’s quite unfortunate. EpiRen has brought much good information to the online discussion. I must say I am disappointed in EpiRen’s employers. They have stated that EpiRen’s efforts reflect on them. I wonder if EpiRen were to face legal action for his online activities, would his employers aid in his defense? Would they do so for other employees? If not, perhaps they might reconsider what is free, individual, speech.

17 Responses to “EpiGate: when blogging under one’s own name can be used against you”

  1. Joe Blough August 23, 2011 at 14:41 #

    How funny! You crack me up Sully. Every cowardly, anonymmous ploy used by the “anti-mercury in vaccine” crowd was copied from bloggers like yours, AustismNewsBeatMeOff, Oracs, etc. They’re just beating you at your own game. Reap what you sow!

  2. David N. Andrews M. Ed., C. P. S. E. August 23, 2011 at 14:57 #

    An’ good ol’ Joe Blow there is of course posting under his real name … NOT! The surname says all you need to know about that one!

  3. daedalus2u August 23, 2011 at 15:09 #

    Joe Blough, oh really? When have any anti-vaccine crowd received death threats? Or had people show up at their doors to threaten them? Or their children? How many subpoenas have been sought against anyone in the anti-vaccine crowd? How many of the anti-vaccine crowd have had their children mocked and threatened by “adults” in the other camp?

    • Sullivan August 23, 2011 at 18:04 #

      “Joe Blough” has demonstrated the technique of trolling quite effectively.

  4. Joe Blough August 23, 2011 at 19:03 #

    What I do is Google “autism vaccines” and hit “news” and “past 24 hours”. I read all the stories. If that’s the defintion of a troll that’s me I guess. On AOA every author uses their real name. You go by Sullivan. Dave Gorski hides behind Orac. Ken Reibel is AutismNewsBeatMeOff. Get it? You are the ones who invented this weird game. You are the ones NOT blogging under your own names. When I used to use my real name your goons went after my family and employer. You’re a bunch of sick hypocrits!

    • Sullivan August 23, 2011 at 19:29 #

      Joe Blough,

      If you read AoA, you know my real name. You also know how that came about. You know that a conspiracy minded blogger over there made one of his lesser logical leaps of faith and and became “convinced” that I was some (supposed) enemy of his.

      You know Orac’s name…How did that happen if he is hiding? You know the name of the person who writes autismnewsbeat. Again, how did that happen if he is hiding?

      If using a pseudonym is such a big deal, tell me, how has my writing changed since I’ve been outed? How has Orac’s writing changed since he was outed? How has his writing changed since his employers were informed of his efforts?

      I’ll save you the time–there is no change.

      “Troll” in this case was posting a basically content free, inflammatory comment and waiting for responses.

      Here’s a suggestion–broaden your search criteria to include subjects that can actually help autistics. Just a thought.

    • Sullivan August 23, 2011 at 19:38 #

      I don’t know who you are, so I don’t know your story. However, I know this to be false:

      “When I used to use my real name your goons went after my family and employer. ”

      I never “went after” anyone’s family or employer.

  5. Dedj August 23, 2011 at 23:31 #

    “On AOA every author uses their real name.”

    And every authour on AoA also has an organisation with access to legal funding backing them up.

    “You are the ones who invented this weird game.”

    Sorry, pseudonym’s for blogging was a la mode well before they were routinely called blogs. AoA isn’t even a blog but an online newspaper, according to itself.

    “You are the ones NOT blogging under your own names.”

    And for good reason. I’ve personally been threatened, cyber-stalked, harrassed over email and accused of criminal acts. I doubt I could afford the time, money or effort to defend myself against even a clearly vexatious and baseless formal complaint. Even the notification phase would be extremely worrying and time-consuming, not to mention the damage caused to my reputation if it ever got to the official hearings list.

    Others have been contacted at work or home. Others have had home or work addresses and other personal information collated and cross posted with intent to intimidate and harass in violation of state and federal law.

    That is just what has happened to bloggers. High profile figures have had it worse.

    “When I used to use my real name your goons went after my family and employer.”

    I too have never ‘went after’ anyone’s family or employer.

    I will have to question what you mean by ‘went after’. If people expressed genuine concern in regards to your behaviour, that is not ‘went after’.

    “You’re a bunch of sick hypocrits!”

    Kindly state exactly what happened before making accusations of criminality again.

  6. Bill August 24, 2011 at 01:00 #

    I am endowed with Asperger’s.

    I am careful never to reveal who I actually am, and intentionally distort familial relationships slightly to deter someone recognizing me or my family.
    It is not exactly that I want to hide, but I have a responsibility to not identify my children or siblings as being on the spectrum. It is their medical history or condition, and I should not violate their privacy any more than someone in the medical profession should violate privacy.
    I am surprised at how many parents advertise that their children have autism or AS; I fear they are hanging an Albatross around their child’s neck, making the rash assumption that their child can never mask their predisposition to autistic behavior enough to integrate unobtrusively with society.
    There is also the ugly specter of job discrimination; I have made the mistake before of confiding to co-workers that I have Asperger’s, and it has been an unmitigated disaster; I will never make that mistake again.
    I am not ashamed of my AS, I do not “suffer” from AS; my intellect earns me a good living as an engineer, but it is not something to advertise with “Asperger Pride Parades” either, and few of us fit any kind of precise stereotype anyway, we are guaranteed to have people make unjustified conclusions about us.
    I wouldn’t even ever attend an Asperger’s support group, because what if one of my obviously geeky co-workers showed up, and then clueless start talking at work about how he saw me at the AS support group meeting?

  7. Liz Ditz August 24, 2011 at 02:56 #

    Joe Blough wrote:

    When I used to use my real name your goons went after my family and employer.

    Dear Mr. Blough:

    That event must have been painful for you, but you don’t provide enough information for anyone to make amends, or to chastize or correct the folk you characterize as “goons”.

    I keep a blog (with commenters) and I comment here. I am only responsible for my own behavior and the comments I allow through on my blog.

    To the best of my knowledge, I have never “gone after” anyone, let alone contacting anyone’s employer. I do not allow commenters on my blog to out someone, or to post identifying information about another.

    If I’m wrong about that, let me know.

    Tell us who the goons were, and perhaps we can make amends.

    Joe Blough wrote:

    On AOA every author uses their real name.

    I haven’t the time or interest to go back through the AoA files to know if that is true.

    What I do know is that AoA allows

    1. anonymous and pseudonymous commenting
    2. Aggressively moderates commenting so that only comments that follow the AoA party line are let through
    3. Allows commenters, even anonymous ones, to post identifying information about people who are pseudonymous on the internet.
    4. Encourages commenters to “go after” people who disagree with the party line.

    It hasn’t happened to me, as I blog and comment under my own, real life name; but it has happened to others — not just “Orac” but private citizens.

  8. julia August 25, 2011 at 02:05 #

    Joe, should people treat you just like incredible accounts on reddit and other sites and say: please provide proof or ***it did not happen***?


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