Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you’ve probably heard about the outing of @GrogsGamut by James Massola of The Australian newspaper. Just in case, here’s a good summary from @tobiasziegler over at Pure Poison. This isn’t intended to be a post about Grog, other than to say that I don’t think it was necessary to publish his identity, and that I hope he comes out of this ok.
The outing of Grog reignited the periodic debate on twitter about whether people should be entitled to remain anonymous/use a pseudonym on the internet. It’s a complex debate, and I can understand the arguments from people on both sides, but I (obviously) come down on the side of the right to anonymity.
I’ve touched on it before (on twitter), but today I’ll discuss in more detail why I don’t use my real name on twitter. Part of it is the professional/personal divide (i.e. the argument used by Tobby and Grog), but for me it’s more about my own privacy.
Last year I had a student requesting to become my friend on facebook. I ignored the request, because while I am teaching them I prefer that my students know a minimal amount about my personal life. I thought that would be the end of it, but the next class this student asked why I didn’t accept his friend request. I politely explained my position on friending students, and he claimed to accept my explanation. Later that week, I received another friend request. This time the request was from a largely empty profile, with no picture, very few friends, and minimal “about” info. One thing stood out though: the birthdate on the profile coincided with the approximate age of my students. Hardly conclusive, but suspicious nonetheless (I ignored the request).
Mildly unnerved, I thought that would be the end of it, but later that semester, after their final test, the student approached me. This time, he asked me whether I would accept his friend request if he un-enrolled from the continuing unit the following semester. I told him that I thought that would be a rather extreme length to go to, and left it at that.
Since then, I haven’t heard anything from this student (apart from encounters related to my teaching duties), but I’d be lying if I said the incident didn’t leave me rattled. I’m pretty relaxed with my students, but this student’s determination to add me on facebook (and thus know things about me beyond what I choose to share in class) made me feel a bit anxious.
When I set up my twitter account, the primary reason I chose not to use my real name was that I didn’t want students (or others) to be able to find out lots of things about me without my permission. I didn’t want to turn up to class one day and have a student ask me “So, you think that Clive Palmer is not a shining example of human generosity and empathy?”
Anonymity is not necessarily about not wanting to be held accountable for your opinions. If you really want to know who I am, just ask me. I just don’t feel the need to broadcast my real name.