Putting aside the possible legal challenges to anonymity for the time being, there are some practical considerations that you should think about before deciding to carry out your online publishing activities anonymously or pseudonymously.
There are good reasons to publish your blog or website under your real name. Using your real name tends to increase your credibility. Many readers will be inclined to discount anything published anonymously, and for other readers it creates a presumption of unreliability that can be difficult to overcome. You may want to distance yourself from these assumptions, even if you find them unjustifiable. Using your real name may also help you develop a reputation as a quality provider of information and/or commentary. Finally, using your real name promotes transparency. If people know who you are, it is easier for them to determine whether you have a potential bias or conflict of interest when it comes to certain topics.
On the other hand, you may have compelling reasons to publish your blog or website anonymously or pseudonymously. Publishing anonymously may protect you from retaliation by those who don't like what you write. This is a real possibility if you write about those with power over you such as your employer or engage in whistleblower activity. You could be harassed or fired from your job for what you write, even if the person who objects to your speech does not have a valid legal claim against you. In some places, what you write could threaten your safety or lead to your arrest and detention by political authorities. In these situations, there are good reasons for hiding your online identity. Alternatively, you may want to engage in lively debate on local politics without being judged based on widely known personal attributes, or you might want to discuss sensitive topics without being discovered by friends and family. These reasons, while less dramatic, are no less justifiable.
As we discuss in the Potential Legal Challenges to Anonymity section of this guide, you should be aware that publishing anonymously or pseudonymously will not necessarily stop someone from bringing a "John Doe" lawsuit against you and using court procedures to obtain your identity from your Internet service provider or web host. It is a misconception that you can act with impunity when you post anonymously or pseudonymously. However, the law does provide some protection for anonymous online speech. You can read more about these protections in the section on Legal Protections for Anonymous Speech.
In the end, this is a personal decision, and you will have to decide based on your own preferences and assessment of the relevant risks.
The legal guide sections listed below deal with legal and technical issues surrounding anonymous speech online:
- How to Maintain Your Anonymity Online: This page provides information on and to techniques you can use to maintain your anonymity online.
- Potential Legal Challenges to Anonymity: This page discusses the court procedures that a lawyer or party can use to identify an anonymous Internet speaker.
- Legal Protections for Anonymous Speech: This section discusses First Amendment protection for anonymous speech online and summarizes key anonymity cases in various states.