On blogs: don't fake it, don't lie, don't pretend
As I travel around the country talking to folks about using the internet to win political campaigns and change the world, one question has been coming up a lot lately: Can a blog know who you are? Is it kosher to post anonymous comments?
First, the technical answer: When you post a comment on a blog, they can only know what you tell them. But among the things that you "tell" them is your IP address (through routine traffic logging on the site.) Sometimes, your IP is a static one that's tied to your machine. Sometimes, you share an IP with other people (perhaps in an office building or a dial-up network.)
Sometimes that IP address will provide an explicit answer as to the rough identity of the commenter ("Hey, there's a comment here from someone at the State Capitol!") but usually not. It can, however, be used to tie together multiple comments - which can often provide enough data points for a motivated sleuth to figure out your identity.
Second, the political answer: It's not worth it. Blogs can be meaningful way to connect with an audience that cares about (or criticizes) you or your cause. And sure, the blogosphere is full of anonymous and pseudonymous blog commenters. But it's just not worth it to risk your campaign's credibility by doing the same -- especially if you're attacking your opponent or fluffing up your candidate.
Over at Blue Mass Group (the leading progressive blog in Massachusetts) there's recently been a dust-up caused by an anonymous comment attacking one Democratic candidate by a volunteer for another Democratic candidate. The problem? The anonymous volunteer was sitting in campaign HQ -- and the IP address led the blog right back to the source.
Finally, some guidelines: As I've been telling audiences that ask, campaign staffers and candidates should disclose themselves when they post on blogs about their own campaigns.
The cardinal sin? Posting multiple comments from multiple faux identities -- that will almost always get you busted.
That said, it's perfectly legitimate -- actually, recommended -- that the campaign encourage its volunteers (sitting at home) to post on blogs in support of the campaign. Just don't be overly heavy-handed. Invite people to comment in their own words; don't send exact language to be copied and pasted.
If you can't find five friends to talk about the campaign, you've got another kind of problem.
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