May 142015

Last week Koos Jansen “came out” (as in his identity, not sexual identity) by publishing an interview he did with a Netherlands newspaper on 9 April under his real name of Jan Nieuwenhuijs. Is writing under a pseudonym shirking from taking responsibility for your work, or just a safety measure to protect yourself from nutters?

Probably the most famous anonymous writer(s) is Zero Hedge, who explained their position in 2009 by arguing that not using their real names “turns the conversation to the content, and away from the author, the author’s biography” and should only be a problem “where the reader is unwilling or unable to distinguish facts presented by the writer from opinions expressed by the writer”. Admirable sentiments, although some may argue that Zero Hedge has changed quite significantly since 2009, with content now being subordinated to clicks.

The counter argument is that without any real reputation at stake, a writer may be more careless with the truth – not a problem in the gold blogosphere, however (I think a “LOL” is appropriate here).

I asked Jan/Koos why he initially decided to operate under an alias (FYI “Koos” is a normal name in the Netherlands, like say a “Bruce”). He said that he felt it would mean he would be more free to say whatever he wanted to say and it would keep that completely separate from being a sound engineer. This was also a factor for Australian blogger Bullion Baron, who said that while he stands behind what he writes, “some of my views aren’t popular and I prefer to minimise the risk they come back to bite me (e.g. potential employer finding out of context comments using Google)”.

Warren James, who writes at the Screwtapefiles group blog using his real name, sees it differently and he considers using his real name as a positive for current and future employment as he gets credit for his work (specifically the Bullion Bars Database). He said it also makes him more accountable and forces him to double check his work.

In my case, when I started my personal blog in 2008 I thought it was “important to disclose any potential “agendas” or commercial interests because while in theory one should be able to assess the validity of an argument independent of the writer, full disclosure helps the reader to be vigilant”. I also thought in practice that it would constrain my writing to have to constantly think whether something in my writing would “give me away”.

While being anonymous gives you more freedom to speak your mind, it doesn’t save you from being attacked personally by trolls and nutters, which is a general problem on the internet. In the case of precious metals, for those advocating self storage anonymity is probably essential lest someone try and find out where you live.

When Jan Nieuwenhuijs started his In Gold We Trust blog in 2013 he said he didn’t know it would gain the popularity it did, or that he would be able to make a living out of it (Jan quit sound engineering work at the end of 2014 when he started writing for Bullion Star professionally). Often the choice of a pseudonym is made without consideration of the future. As an example, consider the case of Craig Hemke, who runs the TF Metals Report. No doubt he considered his choice of “Turd Ferguson” as nothing more than a funny alias to use for commenting on Zero Hedge, without any expectation that it would lead to his own paid website. While in Craig has noted “how few interviews I do? It’s because so few want to have someone named Turd as their guest”, he still posts under the Turd alias as its “brand” recognition is just too strong.

Jan feels that same branding problem, as all his work to-date is under the Koos name. He’d rather use his real name, but how to transition? My suggestion: dual brand for a while, like Nissan did when it phased out the Datsun brand – write as Jan “Koos” Nieuwenhuijs for six months and then just drop the “Koos”.