June 03, 2007

The Dr. Robert Lindeman / "Flea" anonymous blog outing - Blogging HARMS!

There's a dogpile over the Dr. Robert Lindeman / "Flea" story, where a pediatrician who was sued over a malpractice claim, settled immediately after being revealed to have written blog posts concerning the case.

I can say something slightly relevant here, from my own experiences in trying to work anonymously: Anonymity is difficult to maintain. Much more difficult in practice than the glib proclamations about it that are usually found in net policy punditry. Many people immediately leap and cite examples where it's been successful. But they don't give extensive weight and consideration to examples where it's failed.

Note we will NOT see this case being acknowledged by blog-evangelists as a serious downside of blogging. Of course, there's an obvious defensive line: Don't write about legal matters, no anonymity is absolute, it was stupid - so it's all his fault.

But to me, this goes back to my comparison of Blogging Effects As Quack Medicine. By the time the negative aspects have hurt someone, the snake-oil sellers are gone, looking for new suckers. And the injured person did something wrong anyway, they'll say.

But I've said this before, to no good [sad face image] .

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in cyberblather | on June 03, 2007 11:58 PM (Infothought permalink)
Seth Finkelstein's Infothought blog (Wikipedia, Google, censorware, and an inside view of net-politics) - Syndicate site (subscribe, RSS)

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But ... but ... but ... it was stupid.

Any doctor who blogs anonymously about a malpractice suit in which he is the defendant, expecting that the attitude he projects through the blog is not going to come back and haunt him in the courtroom--even though the blog was well-read enough to be linked to from the Globe's site and even though, by the doctor's own admission, the defendant's personality is crucial in determining the outcome of a malpractice suit--such a man's ego must be outsized even by medical standards.

Which of course doesn't mean he's guilty.

Malpractice awards are, in general, distributed more on the basis of "who is more likable" than on the basis of objective medical harm. If Dr. Lindeman had blogged under his own name in a way that made him seem like a paragon of hard work, sensitivity, and compassion, then he might never have been sued in the first place. (Which might be considered a harm of blogging in the other direction.)

Posted by: Seth Gordon at June 4, 2007 09:38 AM

I've been telling people: Anonymity is incredibly difficult to maintain over the long haul. Short haul? Sure. Start a blog. Do a few posts. Forget the password and never ever post again. But over a year or more, sooner or later, you point to something with pride and Poof! You're Known.

In this case, I have to admit, I think Seth G is right: The doctor was, um, less than bright on how to handle things.

Posted by: walt at June 4, 2007 11:08 AM

SethG - Actually, his blog (available in cache and also archived at a few legal sites) is, as far as I can tell, pretty good vis-a-vis presenting him well as a doctor. He seems well-regarded in terms of being a medical blogger. It was the snarky comments about the prosecutor and the jurors which apparently did him in. And from the standpoint of someone being sued, those comments are very understandable (though obviously horrible strategy).

Which brings me to my point in reply to Walt also. It's just TOO EASY to slip from what might be considered "safe" to unsafe. PEOPLE MAKE MISTAKES! And blogs are really quite dangerous in terms of creating situations conducive to making such mistakes.

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at June 4, 2007 11:50 AM