Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Anonymous Blogging is as American as Apple Pie

The Kingston Times' Crispin Knott's article on local blogging is really as silly and out-of-touch as can be. "What is this blogging thing of which you speak and that all the kids are doing?" it seems to ask. The article then takes an incredibly superficial look at online writing, while it also wrist-slaps anonymous bloggers, such as myself, for hiding our identities:
Local political blogs aren’t new to the area. In Kingston, two bloggers on opposite sides of the political spectrum — Rich Cahill Jr. and Jeremy Blaber — have been going at it for years, mixing solid information with commentary. But there’s a difference between those widely-read local blogs and Ulster is Your Town Too and others like it: Clear ownership.
Since we don't know who is saying what we're reading online, we can therefore safely ignore it, the article implies. Well, that's not how it works. There are plenty of good reasons to blog anonymously, the most important of which is our right to do so under the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights. But I'll get back to that in a minute.

The first mistake Knott makes is in choosing his subject blogs: Jeremy Blaber's and Richard Cahill's. Both bloggers have been active for some time -- Blabber since March of 2006, and Cahill since Decemember 2010. Blaber, however, wins points for being the most active of the two. Since he started his blog, Blaber has posted 1558 times, which is an average of 0.65 posts per day. Cahill, on the other hand, has posted just 135 times since he started his blog, or an average of one post every three days or so.

This brings me to the first rule of blogging: You have to blog every day to remain relevant. While I don't always adhere to this philosophy, I certainly try to. Without new content, people have no reason to visit. In fact, the most successful blogs out there aren't limited to one voice. Some have as many as a dozen different writers who chime in throughout each day. This is something I'm considering in the future.

And in case you're wondering, there have been 91 posts on this blog since February of this year, or about 0.78 posts per day. I even post on the weekend sometimes, if something newsworthy is going on.

And Blaber deserves some credit for his stick-to-it-iveness in 2007/8, when he averaged well over one post per day (though he has tailed off, dramatically, in more recent years). It's not always easy to come up with new content; so, way to go, Jeremy! You should really think about increasing the number of times you post on average. Besides, your blogging neighbors need link bait.

Cahill, on the other hand, is writing something that is closer to an online diary. He just doesn't update it often enough to call it a "blog" (though he is active this week, likely due to the increase in traffic generated by the article. You need to pick up your game, Rich).

The KT article then illustrates, quite clearly, how little these two bloggers -- and the Kingston Times itself -- know about history:
"To me, it’s gutless to come out and take a shot at somebody like that,” said Cahill. “If you feel strongly enough about something, why wouldn’t you want to put it out there in your own name? The only reason I can see doing it is if you know you’re doing something deceitful or underhanded and you know it’s going to blow back on you. To me it’s a question of honor.”

“I’ll tell people exactly how I feel, and I’ll always put my name on it,” said Blaber, who scored a journalistic coup by being the first to break the news of ex-Kingston cop Tim Matthews’ suspension amidst allegations (to which he later pleaded guilty) of stealing public money. “If you want credibility, you’ll put your name behind what you’re writing. Nine times out of 10, [anonymous blogs] are designed to attack a specific person or a specific agenda. Usually the anonymous blogs, they go after people but they don’t have the guts to put their names behind their attacks.”
Both of these statements are totally asinine. First, Cahill suggests that the ONLY reason someone would want to blog anonymously is because he or she is up to no good. This is so wrong-headed it would be laughable, if it weren't so frightening that people think this way.

As just one example of what can happen to bloggers who reveal their identity, we have this charming story out of Mexico:
Gang members in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, killed and beheaded the moderator of a social network, the Houston Chronicle reported Wednesday.

“Hi, I’m Rascatripas,” read the note on a blood-stained blanket left with the body. “This happened to me for not understanding that I shouldn’t report on the social networks.”

The victim, known by his nickname “Rascatripas (Belly Scratcher),” was the moderator of a site called Nuevo Laredo en Vivo, which had posted information about the local drug cartel.

This is the fourth murder in the area in the past three months that appears to be related to victims’ social media activities. Another blogger on the same site, Marisol Macias Castaneda, was found beheaded in the same location as Rascatripas in late September. A couple of weeks earlier, two bodies were found hanging from a pedestrian overpass with a sign (pictured above) that threatened, “This will happen to all the Internet snitches.”
Am I suggesting that something like this could happen here in Ulster County? Of course not. But something like this could:
A homeowner in El Segundo posted the salaries of the overpaid cops in his town, on his blog - and the next thing he knew he was being harassed at work, by a police captain who makes over $300K a year, according to the LA Weekly.

The blogger, David Burns, is in charge of emergency preparedness at UCLA. After this incident, the same police captain turned in a public records request at UCLA to find out how much Burns makes. It turns out Burns makes a third of what the overpaid captain pulls in, and his salary has been cut by 23% due to budget problems.

It should be noted that El Segundo has only 16,000 residents and barely any crime, but their cops and firemen make hundreds of thousands of dollars.

As for the issue of the police captain harassing a private citizen blogger, it sure sounds familiar to us, here at the Orange Juice. Our blogger Sean Mill was also harassed at work when he asked Supervisor John Moorlach to find out why Liberal OC blogger Chris Prevatt was reading blogs at work.

Prevatt has been quoted in a Voice of OC article, where he complained that he couldn’t read the Voice of OC blog at work. Mill and I wondered why Prevatt was reading blogs on his work computer, since Prevatt is an employee of the Orange County Health Care Agency
Just Google "blogger harassed" and see what turns up. In virtually every case, a writer went after local established power -- and found themselves being harassed by local authorities as a result. It's as if Cahill doesn't believe that officials will misuse their power (or, worse, still, he condones it).

I've watched a number of local elections, and, let me tell you, local elections are far dirtier than the big campaigns that get real press scrutiny (or what passes for it these days). I've seen intimidation, whisper campaigns, business boycotts for putting up a lawn sign, you name it. And there is essentially nothing one can do about this. Call it the coercive effect of those who want to perpetuate the current status quo. People have been shut-up, run out of town, marginalized, and made into local pariahs simply because they disagree with their neighbors, and want a chance to prove their ideas in the next election. Instead of fighting fair, the harassers will do anything -- sometimes using means of very questionable legality -- in order to hang on to power. It's sickening. Petty corruption in small-town America is rampant, and local bloggers are the sunlight disinfectant, to paraphrase Brandeis.

And if you don't want to believe me, The Electronic Freedom Foundation has quite a bit to say on this subject. The organization quotes a court in Washington State regarding online anonymity:
Protections for anonymous speech are vital to democratic discourse. Allowing dissenters to shield their identities frees them to express critical minority views . . . Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority. . . . It thus exemplifies the purpose behind the Bill of Rights and of the First Amendment in particular: to protect unpopular individuals from retaliation . . . at the hand of an intolerant society.

You might also look up Thomas Paine, as well as Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and James Madison (The Federalist Papers were written anonymously, we should remember).

The KT article is also completely out to lunch on the hit counter issue, as I've previously mentioned. And I have a challenge: I've shown you mine, now you show me yours. Let's see how relevant Blaber and Cahill truly are. Both can easily enable the Google Analytics feature in the Blogger platform, which would show just how much traffic these two blogs generate on average. How about it, guys? (I'm not going to hold my breath).

What the KT really gets wrong, however, is that there is no way to contact the author of this blog. There is. The blog email address is listed right on the top of the right column, plain as day, for anyone to use if they want to reach out. In fact, I have received several emails from members of the local community. If you have a local story, I'm interested in hearing what you have to say (please remember that I reserve the right not to publish it if I don't think it's "news," though you can be assured of anonymity if you prefer to remain nameless).

If Crispin Knott (which is an awesome name, by the way) had reached out to me, I would have been happy to answer questions via email. I never heard from him, and doubt I will in the future. Oh well.

My last point is one that has been stuck in my craw for a while: Hey, Kingston Times! They're called hyperlinks. You should use them. Okay, I understand that you don't want to link to me or the Mojo. That's fine. But couldn't you at least have linked to Blaber and Cahill's blogs? Even the stodgy New York Times is now embedding hyperlinks in its stories. And doing so, KT, will actually increase your internet traffic, making your online real estate more attractive to advertisers -- and, you know, increasing your relevancy as a newspaper. Get with the program, folks. It's actually pretty embarrassing how out-of-touch you guys are, so out-of-touch that I'm surprised your story on blogging actually made it into the online edition.


  1. People post anonymously some for fear of repurcussions yopu realize how nasty some of the local races have gotten. Credit to the Dems not nearly like the Rep party where they eat there own. Since Mario, Roger Rascoe and the Bernardo have been involved they have destroyed people's opinoin and I think the turnout proves it. Why would I want to vote after listening to them. Or do I want to vote for the other guy now. Ulster County party bosses should all just go to Chicago now that they are done practicing on us

  2. Cloakroom, Rochester Republicans link MIA?

  3. is working just fine now. It looks like they had a server out all day yesterday.

  4. speaking anonymously of course: A very reliable source is telling me that Cowboy Pete Rooney is going to announce a retry against Kevin Cahill at his big 4th of July fireworks party.

    Now don't get me wrong, I think Peter is a fine Republican. A good example of a self made man. But, he has no chance of beating Cahill, none. Why would he subject himself to that again? He must have money to waste or something. Maybe he is spending too much time listening to people at Smitty's? Whatever the reason, it is a huge mistake. That is my 2 cents worth as a long time Ulster County Republican.

  5. Rooney will announce he is not running my call. Why doesn't Len put his name on all his posys or the blogs he has No guts NO glory there Len

  6. In case you missed it ..
    A new law being proposed in the New York State Legislature makes anonymous comments fair game for lawmakers.