As the fall-out over the apparent suicide of Paul Tilley continues, attention in the US has been turning to the nature of blogging anonymity and whether regulation might be required to curtail the worst extremes of some overtly abusive behaviour.
Although Mr Tilley’s precise motive for taking his own life remains unclear, fingers have been pointed in the direction of the AgencySpy ad agency blog. Mr Tilley was subjected there to a series of personal insults by commentators following a ridiculing piece by the blog’s author encouraging contributors to "bitch please".
The author of AgencySpy – an anonymous 29-year-old female ad industry insider – has since defended her blog against the charge that it played a part. She claims that any attempt to link her editorial and comments associated with it to the death of Mr Tilley is “unacceptable".
She also defended internet anonymity on the grounds that it “allows for more compelling, insider content”.
Christians and lions
However, many others – especially close friends of Mr Tilley – don’t see it that way. They are beginning to question whether anonymous blogging is, in fact, a cause rather than an effect of the type of personal abuse suffered by Mr Tilley.
A contributor calling himself Mr Michael summed things up when he said: “Are there ethics in blogs? Should people have the right to publicly and anonymously criticize and attack the private lives of private people simply for entertainment?”
Even George Parker, author of the equally vitriolic ad agency blog AdScam, has been quoted in the New York Times as saying that it was “worth considering” a policy that would require those who leave scathing, personal comments on his site to identify themselves.
The Guardian's Gogarty scandal
There is clearly some way to go, and a lot of emotive arguments to be had before the case of Mr Tilley and the larger issues surrounding it can be put to bed. What does appear certain, however, is that the issue has finally come to the fore on both sides of the Atlantic now.
Paul Gogarty agreed that such matters are a “serious issue” but declined to comment any further when we called him. His son was subjected to a similar tirade of abuse from anonymous contributors after the first instalment of his gap year travel blog was published on the Guardian website
However, TechRadar did manage to squeeze one precious piece of information from Mr Gogarty. He says his son Max is apparently “fine” after his ordeal and “enjoying” his travels. It’s a shame that Mr Tilley wasn’t able to enjoy quite such a positive outcome.