Online Outing

What are the ethics of revealing a blogger's identity?

On Saturday, National Review Online contributor Ed Whelan revealed the identity of pseudonymous Obsidian Wings blogger “publius” as John F. Blevins, a recently minted professor at the South Texas College of Law. The two bloggers had argued before about issues relating to Obama’s nomination of Harold Koh, and most recently, those relating to the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor; Whelan outed Blevins in a post that responded to the most recent criticism that Blevins had leveled against him.

The outing has caused a small uproar online. Blevins explained that he blogged pseudonymously to keep his professional and private lives separate from what was essentially a hobby, adding, “if I had wanted my name out on this blog, I would have done so. It should have been my choice.” Whelan’s initial response was that “setting aside the extraordinary circumstances in which the reason to use a pseudonym would be compelling, I don’t see why anyone else has any obligation to respect the blogger’s self-serving decision.” He has since apologized, calling it an “ill-considered disclosure.”

Looking beyond the specific circumstances of this case, what do you think? Does outing a blogger cross an ethical line? Is there an ethical line when it comes to pseudonymous or anonymous blogging? Or is it fair game, simply the reporting of a fact (as an NRO colleague of Whelan’s put it) that anyone has a right to reveal?

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The Editors are the staffers of Columbia Journalism Review.