I’ve been reading some work on privacy and social networks recently, and this combined with Ratliff’s “Gone Forever: What Does It Really Take to Disappear” has led me to think about whether a geek with a website that is clearly their own (e.g. Christopher-Parsons.com) should reasonably expect restraining laws to extend to digital spaces. I’m not really talking at the level of law necessarily, but at a level of normativity: ought a restraining order limit a person from ‘following’ me online as it does from being near me in the physical world?
Restraining orders are commonly issued to prevent recurrences of abuse (physical or verbal) and stalking. While most people who have a website are unable to track who is visiting their webspace, what happens when you compulsively check your server logs (as many good geeks do) and can roughly correlate traffic to particular geo-locations. As a loose example, let’s say that you were in a small town, ‘gained’ an estranged spouse, and then notice that there are regular hits to your website from that small town after you’ve been away from it for years. Let’s go further and say that you have few/no friends in that town, and that you do have a restraining order that is meant to prevent your ex-spouse from being anywhere near you. Does surfing to your online presence (we’ll assume, for this posting, that they aren’t commenting or engaging with the site) normatively constitute a breach of an order?
While it’s fine and good to leave a comment where neither you nor an anonymous blogger know one another, what happens when you do know the anonymous blogger and it’s clear that they want to remain anonymous? This post tries to engage with this question, and focuses on the challenges that I experience when I want to post on an ‘anonymous’ blog where I know who is doing the blogging – it attends to the contextual privacy questions that race through my head before I post. As part of this, I want to think through how a set of norms might be established to address my own questions/worries, and means of communicating this with visitors.
I’ve been blogging in various forms for a long time now – about a decade (!) – and in every blog I’ve ever had I use my name. This has been done, in part, because when I write under my name I’m far more accountable than when I write under an alias (or, at least I think this is the case). This said, I recognize that my stance to is slightly different than that of many bloggers out there – many avoid closely associating their published content with their names, and often for exceedingly good reasons. Sometimes a blogger wants to just vent, and doesn’t want to deal with related social challenges that arise as people know that Tommy is angry. Others do so for personal safety reasons (angry/dangerous ex-spouses), some for career reasons (not permitted to blog/worried about effects of blogging for future job prospects), some to avoid ‘-ist’ related comments (sexist, racist, ageist, etc.).