Tuesday, 14 February 2012

On Being ‘Ben Trovato’

At the weekend, I was pushed quite hard on Twitter by Stuart of eChurch Blog, about pseudonymous blogging.

He was suggesting that I should man up and reveal my identity; that my blogging would have more authority if I was public about who I really am, and that being open about my real identity would make me more accountable, and force me to take responsibility for what I write.

It was an interesting and thought-provoking conversation, about which I have been reflecting.

I can see his point.  However, I also have reasons for remaining pseudonymous.  The original reason for it being a pseudonymous blog was to respect the privacy of my family.  For example, I recently posted Charlie’s essay, as I thought it would entertain; but I could scarcely have done so if Charlie's schoolfriends  could identify him.

Likewise, I have had occasion to criticise and sometimes commend the various schools the children have been at over the years, concerning sex education, religious education, inappropriate films etc.  I think that this is best done, at least in the first instance, without naming and shaming, and I think the results have borne that out.

A more recent reason for pseudonymity has been the realisation that the selective quotation and misrepresentation of my comments could easily cause me to lose my job.  I actually work on a freelance basis, on short term contracts.  It would be very easy for a trouble-maker to make it embarrassing for a client to re-hire me.  There would be no question of dismissal or employment rights: I would simply cease to be offered work or to win contracts.

Stuart rightly pointed out that we are called to suffer for the truth; but I don’t think we are to seek out martyrdom, and suffering for our family.  I’m with St Thomas More: I will seek every escape route!  Not perhaps a purist approach, but one we all take (unless you are reading this in a UK prison cell where you have been incarcerated for refusing to pay taxes which support the NHS - and thus the provision of abortions.)  

I think that there are some other benefits to pseudonymous blogging.  Although it would seem axiomatic that someone blogging or tweeting over his own name will take more responsibility for his comments, I don’t think an objective observer of the recent spats would say it was the pseudonymous bloggers who were solely responsible for the more-heat-than-light contributions.

I think there’s a reason for that.  Ben Trovato is a fiction.  Scratch him, and he doesn’t bleed.  It is easy for me both to expose myself (as Ben) as an idiot (see blog, passim - I recently added a tag: Ben gets it wrong, and realised it would be a mammoth task to go back through all the posts and apply it wherever it would fit...) and to accept correction.  My ego is less invested in the debate.

I am of course, happy to reveal my real identity (in confidence) to anyone who has a legitimate interest in it; and with regard to the ‘taking responsibility’ point, I always write in the knowledge that plenty of people whom I respect know precisely who writes the blog (as does my Guardian Angel, my patron saint and the whole company of the heavenly host; though I think most of them have better things to do than read it).

So I think I'll stick with Ben: if you disagree, feel free to tell me.

PS Please pray for Stuart who has subsequently been admitted to hospital.  May Our Lord speed his recovery.  (And no post hoc, propter hoc assumptions, please!)


Re-reading this now, I think I was perhaps a little over-sensitive with regard to my work.  I do not think that anything I have written would trouble those who employ me; only a mis-representation of it. And I am confident that they would look at the facts, not rely on a misrepresentation.  But I still think my family could be embarrassed...


Patricius said...

Just want to say I agree 100 per cent - besides, even without your explanation, Ben Trovato is an excellent name. And no one complains at Joseph Ratzinger's "handle" being Ben XVI!

Lazarus said...

Being in a similar position, I sympathize with your stance. Whilst we have a duty to evangelize, we do not have a duty to blog. If blogging on the 'hot button' issues of the day would get in the way of our primary duties to support a family etc, then we shouldn't do it. Blogging anonymously is perhaps less than ideal (although there is a strong tradition of pseudonymous writing in Catholicism -Dionysius the Areopagite anyone?- let alone the secular internet) but it allows us to engage in internet evangelism without undermining our other responsibilities.

Amanda said...

I am reminded of the Shakespeare quote from R&J..."That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet!". Ben, you are always responsibile and accountable in all your SM interations. One of the voices of sanity, in fact. If only I'd thought it through I may have done the same! ;-)
Prayers for our dear friend Stuart! X

Ben Trovato said...

Thanks for all the supportive comments: Ben rides on...