Over at Obsidian Wings two of their pseudonymous bloggers, Hilzoy and Publius - both professors at different institutions - have recently had their identities outed against their wishes - both by people whose arguments they had criticized in blog posts. And while Hilzoy's outing seemed less driven by retribution for the criticism than the more recent and much more vicious outing of Publius, both outings were unnecessary and unwarranted by the criticism which elicited the revealing of their true identities.
Anonymity and pseudonymity - I take it the two are distinct - are important to this blog and to many of its readers. Most of us here want to protect our true identities for various reasons, but (probably) mostly to do with lack of job security and the critical (or revealing) nature of many of our posts. The pseudonyms many of us adopt allow us to speak more freely and truthfully than we otherwise would were we afraid that doing so would damage our (low) standing in the profession, would incur retribution from those we criticize, or would reveal something to our colleagues or family we wouldn't want to otherwise reveal. And, I take it this is part of the point Publius makes in response to his outing.
Now, as Hilzoy hints at in her outstanding post addressing Publius' outing, there's no reason to think that simply adopting a pseudonym or remaining anonymous is itself an expression of a desire to remain unaccountable for what one says or provides a license to act irresponsibly. And though many do want to be unaccountable for what they say on the internet so they can act irresponsibly, I think that so long as the reasons for blogging pseudonymously are those in the above paragraph, I'm with Hilzoy when she says, "I think there is a presumption that people should be able to decide for themselves what facts about themselves to reveal; and that decent people should respect this, absent some compelling reason not to."
Brian Leiter, one of the more ardent critics in the philosophy blogosphere of anonymity and its abuse on the internet, has tackled this general issue before and more recently has updated an old post in response to the outing of Publius. In the former, he remarks, "That someone chooses to blog anonymously creates no moral or legal obligation for anyone else to honor that choice." In the latter, Leiter states (while also acknowledging how reprehensible he finds Publius' outer intellectually), "[He] can certainly understand why he would identify a blogger who repeatedly attacked him."
I think the first comment - in relation to the generation of moral obligation - is wrongheaded for reasons similar to those Hilzoy gives above and for others. She states, "By outing someone, you are deciding, on that person's behalf, to incur whatever consequences outing that person might have. If you don't know whether or not the [circumstances generating the reasons for someone's blogging pseudonymously] obtain, you ought to err on the side of caution, absent a strong reason for outing the person in question." In other words, the reasons for outing someone's identity (taking into account the consequences of such an outing) should outweigh the reasons to not reveal their identity - reasons I take to be tied up with a more general respect for the wishes and projects of others.
And, I think, ceteris paribus one should respect the wishes and projects of others, and to allow them 'to decide for themselves what facts about themselves to reveal' to others. Of course, the scales can tip in favor of revealing someone's identity, but, along with Hilzoy, I think there should at least be a presumption in favor of not doing so since, generally, the reasons for respecting the wishes, projects, and decisions of others will outweigh the reasons for outing that person. You may not want to call this an obligation, but I think it's close enough.
This is why I find Leiter's second comment, in effect sympathizing with Publius' outer, disheartening. Of course - as we all know - Leiter is often the target of unfair, irresponsible, and vicious attacks from anonymous (and otherwise) sources on the internet (I even, regrettably, linked to what may have been perceived to be such an attack on Leiter in the form of a survey; that was a mistake on my part). Maybe this is why he says he can understand why this person outed Publius' identity. But, the outing in this case was especially egregious as it was not prompted by a vicious, unfair, or irresponsible attack (read here). The outing was done with the intent of damaging Publius, not in response to anything of substance in the original criticism. It was internet bullying, nothing more, nothing less, and there is no reason to sympathize with the outer whose ideas were the brunt of the original criticism.
More generally (and separate from anything Leiter says), I think that outing someone's identity who chooses to remain anonymous or pseudonymous - and who behaves responsibly - is not something to be cheered, or to be shrugged off even if there is no damage incurred by the outing. There are many reasons to blog under a pseudonym and they are important to those of us who do so. And so long as those reasons have nothing to do with being unaccountable for or irresponsible in what we post, I think these reasons should place strong considerations in favor of respecting the desires of certain bloggers to remain pseudonymous.