Blogging about work under a pseudonym is a more risky business today than it was last week. There was a British police detective who blogged anonymously under the name NightJack and received an Orwell Prize for it. A reporter for the Times newspaper decided to find out who was behind the blog. NightJack went to court to protect his identity, and the judge ruled against him. There is a Times article from the reporter that did the digging, Patrick Foster, and another from NightJack, now known as Detective Richard Horton. Personally, I’m surprised Horton is even speaking to the Times.
One of my favourite bloggers, Tom Reynolds (not his real name), works for the London Ambulance Service. He posted his opinion on the ruling, and also talked to the Guardian newspaper. Happily the London Ambulance Service is OK about Reynolds blogging. An article in the BBC includes reactions from other bloggers on the court ruling.
I’m not at risk from this kind of ruling, and I likely never will be, but the ruling about NightJack makes me uneasy for people in his position. He wasn’t even blogging when the Times reporter came looking for him. There’s almost nothing about my job on this site. I work for a privately owned company doing geek stuff, and we company produce custom arrangements of ones and zeros for clients. A couple of people from work know this site is here but the amount of knitting content probably keeps them away (comment if I’m wrong).
The closest offline analogue to anonymous work blogging would be putting up a letter on a community notice board in the middle of the night, where some of those letters start to get circulated among a wider audience. We don’t have laws yet that fully account for what the internet has evolved into. Until 1951, there was still a Witchcraft law on the books in Britain, dating back to 1735 (last conviction was in 1944). The 1763 act is still in force in Israel, they inherited a set of English laws via the British Mandate over Palestine. The ruling may be legally correct, but it feels morally and ethically wrong to me.
(Tom Reynolds is the author of two excellent books, Blood, Sweat, and Tea from 2006, and More blood, more sweat, and another cup of tea released last month. Both are well worth reading and both are available in PDF format for free. Please buy the dead tree versions if you like them.)