On Anonymous Blogging

typewriter

It’s the mid-noughties. I’m at university, London is blowing my mind, and I’m tapping away on my LiveJournal like my life depends on it. I’m documenting all of my experiences, preserving them through writing, and reading the blog posts of strangers around the world doing the same. I’m reading (and writing) about breakups, sex, mixtapes, road trips, family drama, and beautiful vignettes about places visited, or wild nights out, or a feeling.

I treated my LiveJournal as a kind of late night confessional, a place to process and unpick and get things off my chest. There was no Twitter, no Instagram, no Snapchat back then. Facebook was just taking off, the wifi connection in our halls of residence was patchy at best, and everyone still spent hours creating MySpace layouts. People didn’t think about ‘managing’ their online presence. Anonymity still had value on the internet, in fact it was the norm.

Skip to 2017 and almost all of that is gone. Reddit is the only mainstream site that springs to mind when I try to think of an online community that has anonymity at its core. Everywhere you look now people are creating glossy narratives about their lives on myriad social media accounts, and the kind of unfiltered ramblings that were the norm on sites like LiveJournal are just a dim memory. Selfie-consciousness reigns supreme.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what all this means for writers, and for me as a writer. My writing developed through the act of ‘journaling’, particularly online journaling; it’s the kind of writing I know best and am most comfortable with. As I’ve got older I’ve journaled less and less (something I’m trying to remedy with this blog), mostly, I suppose, because of time restraints and the fact that life becomes kind of routine with age. But the changing landscape of blogging and the relentless rise of social media has also had a huge impact.

The move from long-form writing to ‘micro-expression’ on sites like Twitter was the beginning of the end for the traditional personal blog. No one wanted to read a page of text anymore, why would you when everything can be neatly expressed in 140 characters? I fell into the habit of tweeting and found that I wrote – and wanted to write – less and less. After a while this left me feeling kind of empty. I can’t help but think that in the process of cutting down the amount we write we’re forgetting how to meaningfully write about ourselves and our lives.

Perhaps even more damaging than the micro-expression exodus has been the move towards almost total non-anonymity online, a change which has radically altered how people write about and present themselves on the internet. We have lost something in this merging of our online and offline selves. Anonymous blogs (even anonymous social media accounts, trolls aside) can be very engaging because there is less of a tendency to present yourself or your life as a ‘brand’. You’re completely free to be honest and vulnerable. This is what lies at the heart of good writing, and so by extension good blogging.

I miss the abundance of thoughtful, honest, creative writing that was around in those LiveJournal years. Yes, there was a lot of guff in the mix, a lot of badly written, ‘I’m bored so I guess I’ll write this post’ posts, but when it was good it was really good because people really opened up. The combination of anonymity and long-form writing being the norm created something beautiful and real. Thankfully, this fragile thing still exists in various corners of the internet, not least here on WordPress (LiveJournal has long since become a blog graveyard). For that, at least, I am grateful. I look forward to reading about your messy, imperfect lives soon.

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219 thoughts on “On Anonymous Blogging

  1. I still have my LiveJournal account. I look back on it now and then, and through some other journals. Most journals are like mine…disused for a number of years. I miss it, but it’s like trying to go back to doing something you used to like and finding yourself wondering why it just doesn’t feel the same.

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  2. I totally agree that anonymity makes writing much easier as you won@t be thinking about who would read it, who would judge you based on the things you write, etc. At least that’s what ‘m mostly worried about when I’m writing for an audience who happens to know me personally or can reach me somehow other than the online platform.
    I never really lived the anonymous days of the blogging and social media, so I’m not an expert, but I’m sure it must have been pretty interesting to go through a creative platform like that.

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  5. I just want to use my life to speak how I want to, but I just keep hearing to be cautious of what I write online because of how not anonymous it all is now and days. And I often worry that if my post is too long, no one will really want to read it.

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  7. Agree with you. When I started blogging, the lost honesty and concealed vulnerability are two factors affected my writing. Dangling between what people like to read and what I love to write left no space for my stories. Somewhere in the process I started reviving, fighting insecurities and typing letters which really mean something to me. This blog of yours will remind me what we should do to keep our words alive.

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  8. I too used LiveJournal like my go to diary. I’ve never read entries quite like you saw there. They were so much more raw back then. It’s cool to know out here in the US we were doing the same thing. Love your post and miss anominity.

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  10. I love this post! I remember when I was younger I always had a desire to write a journal and there have been times where I have found pieces of paper with thoughts from my childhood and teenage self on them. But I have never full y started because I was always so worried about defiling the beautiful journal I bought :D. I always bought beautifully decorated notebooks with butterflies and bears on it and never was brave enough to put pen to paper.

    On the flip side I didn’t have access to the internet at home to write an online blog but when I finally did I was too scared to write publically or express myself publicly…. I learnt to be silent and private and reclusive and ashamed and afraid of speaking… of showing me, my emotions, my thoughts.

    Now I’m trying to change that. From simple expression like DIY to more deeper and personal expressions like my experience with anxiety, vulnerability, stereotypes and finding my place in the world. I want to share more…

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  11. Tiny Rubies,

    I don’t agree that having a nonanonymous blog necessarily has to cause writers to be less honest. I conceded that in some, maybe many, cases writers may be tempted to build a glossy, varnished, personal brand. But among the bloggers I admire and follow, there are as many or more personal blemishes and failings shown in their writing as there are glossed-up events. I know I strive for honesty in my blog.

    Take care, be well, and happy blogging,

    Denny

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  12. Impressive. I feel quite sad not having experienced all that your writing about, but you really encouraged me to write more. I think writing more also means thinking more. I love how you opened up on such a deep level meanwhile writing about other people opening up.
    Growing up into this generation, I never experienced this anonymity like you did. But I am sure I will.
    I think what you really understood is not only the beauty of blogging but the beauty of words. Thank you.

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  14. “Everywhere you look now people are creating glossy narratives about their lives on myriad social media accounts, and the kind of unfiltered ramblings that were the norm on sites like LiveJournal are just a dim memory. Selfie-consciousness reigns supreme.”

    This is the primary reason why I don’t use Facebook or Twitter. I don’t want to be self conscious about everything I do on the internet, and I do what I can to keep my identity hidden on WordPress as well.

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  15. I hear ya!

    Even though, I’ve started many blogs/journals (electronic and pen&paper) throughout the years, none of them went very far. Probably because I never felt like sharing my thoughts with anyone. When I had to think something over, I would just do exactly that – THINK it over. Writing it down would leave me vulnerable to my friends and family and strangers. I didn’t like that. The blogging online gave me a sense of privacy, but then again, I could not share my thoughts with others. Sometimes they were too crazy, sometimes stupid, sometimes plain boring.

    So what I would actually write down would be my attempts at stories and novels and poems. I loved that. I got to express me, and still not feel totally exposed. Then, life came in and I stopped having time, stopped being creative… It sucked! I did not know how to write anymore.
    Which is why, I finally came here – to write. Nothing fancy, but just get used to writing more than 2-3 lines. And express myself.

    I have to admit that blogging about your daily life isn’t the most interesting to me, usually. However, if you do it right, I’m all ears, but I could care less abut your makeup routine or what Starbucks drink you you had today.

    At this point, I’m kind of lost, so I end this comment.

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  16. Thanks for the post! It’s a great motivation to keep a journal and go find the old ones. I believe people shouldn’t lose the writing practice that we were taught in school and that was so good to keep a way of expressing ourselves.

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  17. I really enjoyed this post. It’s a thoughtful read. In such a short period of time you had me questioning why I write and who I write for. For me? Or for my online presence?

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  18. I started anon blog at the beginning of the year. Mainly as I wanted an outlet without Sharing with the world the fine details of everything going through my head. I found it’s harder to stay anon these days especially of social media. But I like my little refuge where I can be honest. No holds barred with no judgement. I’m a new blogger but I’m enjoying it x

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