Blogging and identity: To name or not to name?

I got into an interesting exchange with one of my readers in my last post, regarding whether Singapore bloggers should blog anonymously or use their real names.

The reader and fellow blogger thought I was criticising bloggers who don’t use their real names on their blogs, and argued that some bloggers (like himself/herself) choose to use a pseudonym, but not out of fear. I clarified that it is a blogger’s right to use a pseudonym, and that it’s better to use a pseudonym and speak out than to remain silent.

This issue surfaced recently after PM Lee and MCYS Minister Vivian Balakrishnan discussed social media issues in separate interviews recently.

PM gave an interview with CNA, where he said:

But even in the Internet, there are places which are more considered, more moderated where people put their names down and identify themselves. And there is a debate which goes on and a give and take, which is not so rambunctious but perhaps more thoughtful. That is another range.

Separately, Dr Balakrishnan told a youth forum:

Anonymity in cyberspace is an illusion. You will remember in 2007, we prosecuted three persons under the Sedition Act because of the blogs they put up which denigrated the religion of one of our communities in Singapore.

I remember Straits Times did a two-page feature article on TOC on Oct 3 last year, and their headline was “The Online Citizen won’t play hide and speak”.

Implicit in all these words, was that bloggers who use their real names are more “credible” those who remain anonymous.

I’m not surprised that this would rile up many fellow bloggers, particularly those who blog with pseudonyms.

Lucky Tan gave this explanation for his anonymity:

for many bloggers, our anonymity is to keep our friends, parents and relatives from worrying and not for any other purpose.

Fair enough. I understand about parents and spouses worrying, because mine certainly do, and express their concern quite regularly. But friends and relatives too? I don’t think any of my friends worry for me that way, and neither do my relatives (few even know I blog).

I think if most of my fellow socio-political bloggers are like me, their main source of fear is not their parents, not relatives, not even the government, but their employers.

Yes that’s right. I think we fear our bosses more than the government. And here’s why:

The government, despite all its illiberal ways, usually does not persecute “lesser mortals” like you and me. Neither does it have a habit of gunning down opposition members who make no attempt to challenge their right to rule, at least not in recent times. The targets of their persecution are usually people associated with a particular opposition activist with a PhD. (I know if I go any further, I will be the target of criticism from his supporters, so I shall stop there.)

But many employers, like most Singaporeans of the older generation, don’t seem to know that – or perhaps they refuse to believe that. They think that anyone who criticises the government is sure to get hantam (beaten). I think this fear afflicts SME bosses the most, because they are afraid of losing out on government contracts if one of their employees criticises the government.

I have a friend who told me that at two different jobs, his bosses requested him to leave after they found out he was a political activist, even though they were satisfied with his work and he had done nothing illegal. Admittedly this was sometime back when people still viewed all oppositionists as troublemakers. Fortunately my employer is quite enlightened and hasn’t expressed any objection to my blogging activities. I hope they don’t. But if they do, and it’s a choice between keeping my blog and keeping my job during an economic downturn, I will probably have to make the pragmatic choice for the sake of my wife and four month old baby, since I’m a sole breadwinner.

So why do I still blog with my real name?

It is a decision I made when I first started blogging in June 2006, when I had just left my job in MFA. (The Singapore Civil Service permits officers to blog, but not about political matters.) Prior to that I had occasionally written to the Straits Times and TODAY forum pages, where it is a requirement to use one’s real name. So blogging was just a continuation of that. At that time, I was running my own business, so I had no bosses to worry about.

For me (so far) it has been the right choice. My blogging has opened up a whole new social circle for me that I never expected. I’ve met many fellow bloggers, readers, journalists, academics and political activists because of my blog. I don’t think I would have been contacted by, or ventured to contact, these people if I wasn’t using my real name.

A case in point: Almost all of the dozens of socio-political bloggers I’ve met in person are bloggers who use their real names (or at least don’t bother hiding their true identity, like mrbrown). I think I have yet to be acquainted with any blogger who keeps their identity secret – or at least I didn’t know they were bloggers when I met them. It’s not because I’m atas (stuck up) or anything. I just don’t get the opportunity to meet them at events and gatherings, possibly because they also don’t go to such public events in their capacity as bloggers. (I know at least one exception: Mr Wang Says So once spoke at a public forum, but he was still introduced as Mr Wang.)

So my take on blogging and identity is this: If you want to meet more interesting people in the real world, and your employer is not bothered by it, use your real name. If you’re happy keeping your online and offline life separate, then by all means, use a pseudonym. The issue is really not about “credibility” or lack thereof, in my opinion.

Author: Gerald Giam

Gerald Giam is the Member of Parliament for Aljunied GRC. He is a member of the Workers' Party of Singapore. The opinions expressed on this page are his alone.

23 thoughts on “Blogging and identity: To name or not to name?”

  1. I witnessed one real case where the Sales Manager of a company complained to the Boss of the company that she will quit if the Boss joined WP. She claimed that by joining the opposition, the Boss will affect her chances of closing government deals, thereby affecting her own performance.

    The reverse case of employers asking employees with political affiliations to leave.

  2. Not only the gov is discrediting people who blog anonymously/use a pseudonym, I think many named bloggers, I won’t name names, consciously or unconsciously distance themselves from them. It’s almost as if there is a class system. Named bloggers are better, more credible, anonymous ones are rubbish, not trustworthy. Its sad but all the propaganda has worked.

    PS, Tell me if me being anonymous has not made you question my credibility?

  3. Sometimes, people take on pseudonyms out of creative expression– using a phrase or term (coined up or not), as a means of representing themselves creatively, and not so much as a smokescreen to cover their tracks.

    I wouldn’t be worried to tell employers, friends and relatives that I’m with an opposition party, since we’re all entitled to our own opinions and viewpoints. If you feel strongly about something and believe your views can make a difference, you should stand up to it, even if it’s contrary to the policies of a (powerful?) ruling party. In fact, I’d be proud to say I dared to step out and speak up.

    As Shakespeare put it, “what’s in a name? A rose by any other name would still smell as sweet”, and likewise, I don’t think getting people to blog with their real names will put really stop anyone from writing about something they believe in strongly. Afterall, as our very intrepid Dr Balakrishnan put it, even with an “anonymous” identity, it would still be possible to track down any perpetrators of hate or dissent through ISP tracking, and the myriad of wonderful “Big Brother” technologies anyway.

    So what’s the big deal?

  4. “At the end of the day, if we are talking about the credibility issue, do we look at the message or the messenger?”

    We look at both, I guess. If the messenger has a vested interest in something, and it shows up in his message, this will reduce the credibility of both the messenger and the message. For example, if a ‘particular opposition activist with a PhD’ criticises democracy in Singapore, the reader has a right to doubt the credibility of his criticism, because he has vested interests in democracy here, and so he has an incentive to play up his criticism.

    “If you want to meet more interesting people in the real world, and your employer is not bothered by it, use your real name. If you’re happy keeping your online and offline life separate, then by all means, use a pseudonym”

    I totally agree with you, Gerald (: Alternatively people can use their real name, but not divulge their personal or working life.

  5. Choong Yong – That example is just bizzare. But come to think of it, it makes more sense than an employer fearing that his minion will affect the credibility of the company.

    Anon @ 1101am – I wonder if you even read what I wrote. I said, “The issue is really not about “credibility” or lack thereof, in my opinion.”

    The Dude – “if you feel strongly about something and believe your views can make a difference, you should stand up to it, even if it’s contrary…”

    Well true but practically speaking it offers no protection when dealing with biased, ignorant or irrational employers.

    Chemgen – Agree. I’ve stated publicly before that I think blog readers judge bloggers by the content of their writing, not who they are.

    eternalhap – “If the messenger has a vested interest in something, and it shows up in his message, this will reduce the credibility of both the messenger and the message.”

    True, which is one good reason why some people choose not to reveal their identity, so that they will be judged by their message, not by their person. Actually I really don’t like the tendency for people to get judged based on who or which organisation they are affiliated with. All of us have a free will. We are not zombies that are programmed to behave a certain way the moment we become members of a particular organisation.

  6. “firereaver Says: Just use a fake real name if it’s so difficult. John Tan or something.”

    John Tan not authentic enough– given the way Singaporeans name their kids, you need to have a fake real name like Ignatius Alexander John Goh Ah Meng to be credible.

  7. Whether the blogger is anonymous or not, the issue of credibility would be the views.

    The issue arises because the proportion of incredible views is often larger among the anonymous than the ones using real names.

    I feel anonymous bloggers should do their best to derive points in order to maintain the credibility of anonymous bloggers (never mind that the views may be out of lack of knowledge or contain bad English) and not personally tailgate those using real names and tag people with unfactual, misleading labels, although this is not the case for predominantly most anonymous bloggers.

    Of course, the measure of credibility is always subjective. Because I am not referring to the definition of “credibility” promoted by the PAP.


  8. So if real name mean having crediability, Strait Times sure must be the truth news in deed.

  9. I totally agree with you about us fearing our employers more than our government.

    Recently, I have a friend who, in his Facebook account, commented about his employer. He did not mention any names though.

    Our Deputy MD had a talk with him subsequently, telling him that should he have any grievances, there are other channels available. His own boss also knew about his Facebook comments and kept a distance from him.

    After which, my friend had an argument with his boss. It’s not surprising though, as such arguments were frequent.

    Then, his boss accused him of insubordination and transferred him out of the department.

    Currently, he’s residing in a new department with the following consequence:

    1. His communication with both his colleagues and other staff was minimised.

    2. His work cubicle was minimised as well.

    3. His workload was reduced to the extent where he need not make any executive decisions anymore.

    4. He does not have an office phone.

  10. James – You’re talking about a different issue. I didn’t mean “fear employer” as in not talking trash about your bosses online. I meant that some bloggers fear the backlash from their employer as a result of what they blog about regarding the govt.

    In the case of your friend, I think what he did was not right. Your Deputy MD is right. Criticizing your employer is not the same as criticizing your govt.

  11. Gerald – My friend didn’t name names. Only those of us who were in his social circle understood what he meant. Anyway, I got sidetracked by Facebook. My bad.

    My point is, I see blogging, political or not, as a personal past-time. Employers should not mix work with an employee’s personal life, unless that employee mixes his personal life with work.

  12. Since I’m quoted, just to clarify, I’ll certainly be in big trouble if my employer knows and becomes fearful due to the inevitable need to deal with the govt for business – unavoidable given the size of govt linked business.

    However, my main concern is for my aged parents, if they become worried, their health will be badly affected. They have been in the past extremely fearful of this govt – old phobias don’t go away.

    It is true for some people, they will choose to remain anonymous because of their employers.

    It is sad that there is so much fear and apprehension among bloggers. The large number of anonymous Singapore blogs with credible material is a reflection of the pervasive fear that still exists in our society. Why would anyone who writes well and is able to defend his opinion want to be anonymous?! …Why would I ever choose to anonymously write 700 articles in my blog?…if not for the fear…

  13. In Singapore taxi drivers work very hard to earn a living as they must earn above their daily rental fee (ranging from $80 to $90) of their taxi and also must pay for the petrol then they are consider being paid after that for the long tiring day work.As they are providing services to us/public, I think it is not fair that they still have to pay the parking fee as this will eat into their income. besides, the taxi is not own by them personally.Most of the taxi driver are in their 50 who have young children to support. It is very
    heartpain that they have to struggle very hard under the hot sun daily earning a meagre income to support their family.In order to lighten their financial, I would suggest that they should be exempted from paying parking fee when they finish their work.Thank you.

Comments are closed.