On tweeting and blogging anonymously
I spotted today that one of my favourite bloggers FleetStreetFox had been unmasked on Twitter. Everyone seems to have had their opinion on this so here is mine – on what it’s like going through ‘unmasking’.
[Updated to add – Foxy has since outed herself some 8 months later – Susie Boniface]
Both Foxy and Puffles tweeted under avatars. Both foxes and dragon fairies have paws and tails too. Foxy’s real identity Twitter tells me was fairly well-known in Fleet Street just as Puffles (and myself) were fairly well-known in the digital and social media circles in Whitehall. But seldom beyond. The purpose of tweeting under an avatar is that you have that little bit more freedom to comment than you otherwise would under your own name. In an ideal world we’d all be free to comment under our own names without having to worry too much about the boss over our shoulders, but in a world where personal insults were not thrown around with such abandon.
One of the things that worried me during my civil service days was being unmasked as part of a tabloid sting. Having seen it happen to other colleagues, I did not want to go through the stress of dealing with it. In the early days of Puffles, Twitter was a bit of fun as well as being very enlightening. Fun because people liked interacting with a dragon fairy persona (you should have seen the reaction to Puffles’ first night out on the tiles & coming back sozzled) and enlightening because I was able to find the views and opinions of people far beyond the mainstream.
One of the best things to have come from my Twitter experience is that ‘personalised news feed’. In my case, the majority of personal accounts (i.e. non-corporate ones) that I follow are of women – mainly because they are the ones that followed first and have interacted. As a result, my Twitterfeed contains news and opinions through a lens of a number of very bright and intelligent women. The difference between what comes out of the mainstream media and my Twitterfeed is noticeable.
But I still didn’t want to be unmasked. I didn’t want to be on the receiving end of a hatchet job – for the sake of my own mental health. I was in somewhat of a mild panic when Polly Curtis, Tom Clark (of The Guardian) and Mark Henderson (then of The Times) started following in quick succession. What did they know that I didn’t? Had I retweeted something that was going to get me into trouble? Was it because I was following and being followed by someone who had sent out a pro-anarchy tweet? “Whitehall Twitter dragon is anarcho-nut-job!” and similar headlines were flying around my head.
In the end, nothing of the sort happened. Even as more journalists started following – especially towards the end of my time in the civil service, my reaction was more *Ooh, that’s nice 🙂 * rather than **OMGz they wanna destroy me and go through my bins!!!*
You could say that not being a target was the result of not being particularly offensive or dangerous to anyone in particular. After all, how many of you have heard of a baby dragon fairy harming anyone? Puffles may run off with your jellybellies but is hardly the sort of creature to bite your arm off. Yet at the same time, it wasn’t until this year that I allowed my mask to slip. Enough water had flowed under the bridge to allow the institutionalised reins to slip away. It’s amazing how long they seemed to stay on even long after I had left.
It was only after some tweets of a digital video I took part in started doing the round on Twitter that I thought there was no time like the present. Hence incorporating the video into a short post on my official website and tweeting it to people to see if they would notice or comment. Interestingly, few did. It was sort of an anti-climax – partly because I was in the process of preparing a feature with a local weekly paper that closed the week before I was due to feature, and also because I had sort of prepared myself emotionally for a social media storm that never came. (Thus far, anyway). It’s the opposite of something unexpectedly going viral – you think it will go viral, and sort of want it to go viral yet it doesn’t.
There was also a sort of inevitability about unmasking too. At some stage it was going to happen, so I thought it best to try and stay in control of it. By the time the digital video went flying around, many of those that I had been interacting with regularly knew already. Unmasking wasn’t a story.
The reaction (outside the worlds of Fleet Street and Westminster) to Foxy’s outing? More a case of “That’s nice, what’s on telly?” rather than “OMGz – HOLD the front page!” The transient nature of social media means that many people will have forgotten in a few weeks time. What was all the fuss about? Those who missed the tweets or who were away on holiday/having a social media break may also be none-the-wiser that anyone was unmasked in the first place. A reminder to me that the world of social media is one full of bubbles. Some big, some little, but still bubbles.