The Ship of Fools website has, for the first time, revealed the identity of one of the posters on their bulletin boards. I think they were right to do it. In summary: (it is alleged that*) a vicar has been posting glowing reviews of himself on the Mystery Worshipper project and has been found out. In addition (it is alleged that*) the individual has been guilty of creating ‘sock puppets’, (different identities used to deceive others) which is against the rules of their community. Full details are in the article here.
Online anonymity is a tricky thing. I have, on a number of occasions advised bloggers to either delete information or indeed their entire blogs because they were posting information that they might well regret in the future. I have seen people get into big trouble because of what they have posted online. I regularly read blog posts which I think the writers will live to regret. My advice regarding online anonymity is as follows:
- Everything you write online, whether it be in blog posts, blog comments or on a bulletin board will be searchable in the future. Probably long into the future. Therefore don’t write anything that you wouldn’t want to be found by anybody who is looking for the information. This could include friends, parishioners or employers, present and future.
- It is really really really difficult to keep up an anonymous internet persona in the long term. It is likely that sooner or later someone will discover your identity. This might be because you give one clue too many, or it might be because someone else ‘outs’ you inadvertently. For instance, if a friend links to your blog using your real name search engines will pick up on your name even if you are careful not to use it yourself. I’ve seen it happen.
- If you blog about your job and your employer doesn’t know about it you could be in dangerous waters. Trust me, I have been there and bought the goggles / swimming cap etc.
- If you blog or post from work it does more or less go without saying that your employer will know the sites you visit and what your online identity is.
- Everything I’ve written here applies even if you have the purest of motives. If you’re setting out to deceive as in the Ship of Fools example then the likelihood of your being found out in the long run is even greater.
I don’t normally like to be so negative in a blog post. It may be that one or more parades have been rained or at least drizzled upon, but I think that well intentioned precipitation of this sort isn’t always a bad thing.
Update: Ruth Gledhill on the Ship of Fools story.
Glowing mystery worshipper report rumbled « Churchblogger
Deep Thought: Still a mystery?
42: Strange co-incidence
Of course, I could be wrong…: Ship Of Fools Fooled By Times’ Journalist
Ship of Fools publishes Bullshipper at Bene Diction Blogs On
Priest censured for false review – Newspaper Edition – Times Online
helmintholog: Sock Puppet in a dog collar
Sock Puppets, Trolls, and Secretly Blowing Your Own Trumpet at Exigency In Specie
Dylan’s Grace Notes: Internet anonymity
maggi dawn: Identity Crisis
Nick Page » Ship of Fools Fooled
*Update 2 (10th October 23.30pm): A clarification. The points above about the vicar posting glowing reviews of himself and the creation of ‘sock puppets’ are allegations rather than 100% proven fact. I may have overstated the case, in which case, apologies. The fact that Fr Peters had mislead his congregation by claiming to be the ‘unknown Westminster Abbey priest’ when he wasn’t is not disputed. You need to read the article for yourself and make up your own mind really.