In the Footsteps of Franklin

In the early part of the 18th century, Benjamin Franklin was in Philadelphia working as an apprentice to his brother who was a printer. In those days, newspapers were local, generally with a relatively small circulation, and the letters to the editor were avidly devoured by readers, who read them, answered them, copied them and shared them.

You know, something like a status update on Facebook.

Franklin wanted in. He didn’t want to just clean up around the shop and learn to set type. He wanted to write. But he was only 16 years old. You can imagine the delight with which his brother would have received an article Ben wrote and submitted for publication.

So Ben did something that was very common practice in those days.

He created a pen name.

He called himself “Silence Dogood” and wrote a series of letters to the editor (his brother) and caused no end of speculation as to his identity.

No one ever guessed who he was—he finally revealed his identity and his brother was really peeved.

But the important thing is that nobody thought that “Silence Dogood” was really a widow writing these letters. They knew the name was a pen name.

Writers still use pen names from time to time today. Sometimes authors do it, especially if they write more than one genre of book, so that their romance novel fans don’t think that the horror story they wrote is a romance novel.

And people who comment on the internet do it.

Only today, on the net, we call them “screen names.”

It’s a rich tradition. In many ways, social media is very like those small newspapers dotted all over the country—they were driven by readers, not by advertisers. Revenue came from sales of the papers, not by sales of ads. There was a back and forth, a true conversation, even heated arguments  (see Thomas Jefferson and John Adams if you want some glorious insults to fling about) that make a lot of Facebook fights look tame indeed.

Let’s suppose for a second that one of the Disaffected came over here and began commenting using a screen name.

Do you think I care for one second if they do?

I would be delighted to have any of them join the conversation and if they want to use a screen name, that’s fine. What do you think would happen?  Are they going to be able to present cogent reasonable arguments that convince me that I am wrong?  More power to them if they can. That would be great and I would readily admit the error and correct it (I already did this before, so it’s nothing new.)

Brenda Bough was not a screen name. Brenda Bough was a fake identity. The intent was not to engage in a conversation without revealing that you’re a 16-year-old boy. The intent was to spy, to gain access to remarks, conversations, photos, and information that was not intended to be shared publicly.

I know who most of the people are here who are using screen names. There are a few I don’t know, but I don’t care. The rules are the same for everyone, from Linda Fossen to Tita Wyatt and Fly on the Wall.

Those who choose to use screen names do so for a reason and nobody needs to know what that reason might be. They are following a very highly respected tradition, and I will not invade their privacy.

Maybe, like Ben Franklin, Fly is only 16 years old.


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