6/20/2006

The Pros and Cons of Pseudonymity

For a while now, I’ve been thinking about revealing my identity to my readers. Granted, many of you already know it, and I haven’t exactly been super-secretive about it, but I’ve been somewhat reluctant. Being a Rabbi, I often must play my cards close to my chest. On my blog, I can be far more open, though, in some cases I’m more open in real life than I am on my blog (for example, I’m much more likely to speak leshon ho-ra in real life than on a blog). Using a pseudonym allows me to keep my professional career separate from my blog, despite the significant overlap in the audience and content of the two.

Moreover, pseudonymity lends a certain measure of objectivity to my readers’ reactions. The Torah I post will not be evaluated based on my reputation, for better or worse, nor will people like or dislike what I write based on whether or not they like me personally. Commenters have the luxury of being brutally candid with their opinions. If a D’var Torah of mine stinks, then someone will let me know, and I won’t take it personally. I simply don’t have either of those luxuries in real life.

On the other hand, remaining ‘hidden’ always entails a sacrifice of credibility. I’m not putting anything on the line. Why should anyone believe me or take me seriously if I’m not willing to stake my reputation to my words? It’s not that every anonymous blogger is a liar or slanderer, rather, that most lying and slandering bloggers are anonymous (or pseudonymous).

Furthermore, in the 17 months that I’ve been blogging, I have developed a reputation that may well outstrip my reputation in real life. I’m probably one of the better-known blogging Rabbis out there, but I’m not a well-known Rabbi. Given that I’m vacating my current position to make Aliyah in 2 months, and that I haven’t found a job in Israel yet, raising my real-life profile might not be such a bad idea. Nobody’s going to offer a job to a pseudonym.

Finally, there’s an element of discomfort with this charade. I must make sure that nobody ‘outs’ me; I must change or omit details so that I don’t compromise my identity. I can’t post about things going on in my life, for fear that they may be easily correlated to readily-available information.

Ultimately, I decided to dispense with the charade, at least partially. I still don’t want this blog to come up in Google searches of my real name, so, instead, I will link to another page which does disclose my real identity.

Now that I’ve resolved this, I can announce to my readership the birth of our third kid, this past Motza”sh just before midnight. The little guy is sleeping in a car-seat right by my feet as I type these words. Please respect my request to keep my real name and pseudonym from appearing on the same site.
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