There's a thing bloggers of the old school variety often refer to. Like the UK constitution, it's not written, and asked to define it, we'd probably all have a different take. But almost one thing is constant in the so-called blogger's code: you don't out publically without good reason.
It's probably no secret that while several circa-2000 bloggers had their suspicions I was writing as Belle de Jour, and more than a few had personal reasons to dislike me, not a one of them was the person who outed me. Some others even went to great lengths to observe and in some ways protect my secrecy without my knowledge.
If I had to hazard as guess as to why, my suspicion would be that they kept the secret because they knew that what I was risking (my career, my residence in this country) outweighed the short-term thrill of putting a name to a blog. And some of them probably also liked being in on the secret, because who doesn't like that?
This sense of a code extends even where people have exchanged unkind words in public. Zoe Margolis and I, for instance, have not often seen eye-to-eye on many topics. But there is a shared sense of communitas when we get together and talk about being outed. There were times, hearing what she went through, that I wished I'd talked to her earlier or had otherwise made more explicit how my anonymity was maintained. It might not have stopped the press from doing what they did but it might have helped slow them down. On the one hand, the anonymity details were kind of tedious and not something many blog readers would have been interested in (blah blah shell company blah dividends blah). On the other, giving the impression that maintaining secrecy was a breeze was a misleading thing to do. It wasn't easy and it wasn't airtight.
The flavour of blogger outings has shifted over time into a kind of retribution. People are outed whom others think "deserving" of outing. Trolls, basically. And here's where things get slippery and hard to handle. There are times I've applauded an outing. The case of Alexa DiCarlo is one example. There are other outings I have to admit feeling a sense of relief about. Most people think there are folks whose actions make it necessary to reveal their true identities. Usually because someone else is experiencing or fears a kind of harm. When trolling starts to verge into harassment, threats and stalking, for example. But that line between harm and common-or-garden "this person is annoying to me therefore let's grass them" is not always crystal clear.
As Dan Savage once said, "Outing is brutal and it should be reserved for brutes."
Often the intention of the outing backfires. Plenty of people you may have thought would skitter into the shadows don't. Plenty of people who were just finding their true voice are scared away. Some who felt vindicated in outing are perceived by others as bullies. Sometimes they are.
It's a delicate balance and we're not too good at that yet.
Outings are something to approach with caution. Twitter does not excel in this regard and the discussion there is depressing. There are a few formerly anonymous writers - and I am talking here about ones who risked little by writing, and who outed themselves - who seem to think if they can handle it we all should. That's appalling logic. There are people who think writers should be "brave enough" to write under their real names or not at all; surely most of us can see the problem there. And no shortage of tweets saying that the only people who should use anonymity are the people who "need" to. Someone remind me again where the unanimously agreed Needs To Be Anonymous checklist got to? I can't find it anywhere...
In the instance that provoked this blog entry (sorry again to be so opaque) the outed writer seems to be exactly as resilient and provocative as the image they project. It probably won't affect them negatively and there's a book in the pipeline anyway. The writer is someone I don't always agree with and whose reasons for anonymity are far different to my own: does that make outing okay? If you answered yes, are you sure? There's a part of me that would like to believe the outing was done in service of principle. There's a larger part that thinks the person who outed showed unspeakably bad manners in doing so. Linking it tenuously to the spirit of the Leveson inquiry doesn't pass the sniff test.
Following the drama as it developed, a lot of people went down in my estimation. The collective high horse was shown to be about the stature of a Shetland pony. After years of being constantly scolded for my manners and morals I had begun to wonder if the scolds might be saintly enough pick discretion over rank tribalism.
I needn't have wondered. Silly me. They're just as feral as the rest of us.