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When a small town is too small

October 31st, 2005 · 4 Comments

Sometimes I forget I live in a small town. For example, when I start dancing in the baking aisle of T&C while searching for cookie cutters, swaying my hips and singing along to Madonna’s True Love on the background music – and then I stop myself, hoping no one saw me. You didn’t, did you? Good.

But sometimes it’s easy to feel the size of our little city. A trip to a restaurant or store becomes an accidental intersection. Anonymity is not an option. You never know who you’ll see or who will see you. You might dine with the mayor (as Chris Holmes did last week) or see the other candidate for mayor at the T&C (as we did last week) or run into another blogger (as Chris and I did once at Safeway).

I especially feel the fears and suffocation in our community as I see more bloggers and writers in the Buzz comments choosing not to use their own names.

Last week I received an email from “anonymous@anonymous.com” forwarding an article from the Kitsap Sun.

New Bainbridge blogger Making Trouble explained the choice to blog under a pseudonym, especially when writing about the Bainbridge Island Youth Soccer Club (BIYSC):

Bainbridge is a pretty angry place. Oh, sure, there is a lot of smiling and happiness, but I sense an undercurrent of anger, resentment, and insecurity running through the place. I am not saying that we are bad people. What I am saying is that I have glimpsed something terrifying about some of the parents on this Island, especially those involved with sports. I’ve talked with other parents on the island who have kids in various sports and they agree.

Let me give you an example and you, dear reader, tell me whether I am wrong: If someone were to stand up in public and criticize the BIYSC, that person will be called (1) anti-child, (2) anti-family, (3) anti-American, (4) anti-equality, and (5) closed-minded. How pleasant do you think it would be for me to go to Safeway or T&C? If you don’t believe me, take an unpopular stand and enjoy the ride.

I confess I was surprised and disappointed when anonymous bloggers began appearing on Bainbridge. I blog because I want to build relationships with people. If no one knows who I am, I can’t get to know anyone else. Likewise, if I don’t know who the blogger is, I know we’ll never meet. And I’ve had fun meeting some of the others who are burning midnight oil typing away on the keyboards late at night.

But I understand Making Trouble’s concerns. There are topics I choose to avoid, words I decide not to say because I live in a small town. Bainbridge has its blinders. We talk tolerance but don’t live it quite as well as we say we do. It seems suffocating at times. Sometimes the only way out is a pseudonym.

While commenting on a recent ruling in Delaware that protected the identity of an anonymous blogger, Dan Gillmor wrote

That said, I’m not a fan on anonymous sniping from the cyber-bushes, as the person in this case seems to have been. People should stand behind their words in all but the most limited circumstances, such as when their lives might be endangered if their identities were disclosed.

We allow pseudonyms in the comments here, but we also require a valid e-mail address before anyone can post a comment. (We ask for real names in blog postings.) For the most part people behave in a civil manner.

On sites where totally anonymous posts are allowed, I give such postings a minus credibility rating. That is, I start off disbelieving everything these folks say, and unless they provide direct evidence for their claims I assume they’re false.

If a totally anonymous poster starts off with, say, -10 credibility points, people who post under a pseudonym start off at zero on this scale. They may earn some points over time, but they have to persuade me.

People who use their real names start off with positive credibility ratings. They have to make serious mistakes of fact to lose my trust.

I share some of Dan’s concerns. How much do I believe what Making Trouble is posting? How do I know to trust this blogger? According to Dan Gillmor’s credibility point scale, we’re starting in negative territory. Now that Making Trouble has posted some accusations/evidence regarding the soccer situation here on the island (and I know some of the people involved in it), I have more concerns. I’m also intrigued by the lack of response to Making Trouble in the comments – what does that indicate?

Yet I also believe we will see more bloggers on Bainbridge writing under pseudonyms so long as there is fear. When a small town is too small, we can suffocate each other. I hope our island can become a place where we can speak truth without fear, where we can put our faces behind our names and be truly who we are.


In the time that it’s taken me to polish and publish this draft, another Bainbridge blogger Emily Groff made the news with her link and post regarding former mayoral candidate Will Peddy’s appearance in a 1992 Fresno Bee piece. Thanks once again to Steven Gardner and the Sun for keeping up with the blogs, and for publishing and verifying Emily’s work! As Steven pointed out in his article Emily’s identity is interesting: her mother has been listed as a suspect by Peddy’s campaign manager for removing Peddy signs. Identity and context are key. I’m grateful for Emily’s bravery. And I hope others on the island are willing to follow in her footsteps, or blogsteps, as they may be.

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4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Pauly D // Nov 1, 2005 at 7:15 pm

    There’s no such thing as SMALL TOWNS, just SMALL MINDS. Er, or maybe it’s there’s no such thing as SMALL TOWNS, just SMALL ROADS.

    Well, something like that.

  • 2 Pauly D // Nov 1, 2005 at 7:15 pm

    There’s no such thing as SMALL TOWNS, just SMALL MINDS. Er, or maybe it’s there’s no such thing as SMALL TOWNS, just SMALL ROADS.

    Well, something like that.

  • 3 Atticus Finch, aka Making Trouble // Nov 1, 2005 at 9:39 pm

    Thank you. I don’t expect to have anyone’s trust until I establish a track record. Thank you for not dismissing me out of hand. I truly appreciate it.

  • 4 Nickie // Nov 10, 2005 at 6:22 am

    Julie, you raised some very important and interesting points. I think these issues have to be addressed in any community whether it be a community in the traditional, geographic sense of the word or a different type brought together based on ability or interest.
    Your post comes at an interesting time for me as my Reflective Woman class is studying a unit called “Searching for Truths”. One important aspect is determining credibility. Of course as we’ve discussed various articles, on contraversial or difficult topics, freedom tto say what we feel we need to say has been critical.
    Thanks for addressing these issues!
    I plan to link to this post in my blog, but unfortunately, livejournal doesn’t allow trackbacks (although I’m not the most technically savy person to know about such things.)
    Thanks again for yet another great post!

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