Why did one blogger keep Belle’s identity secret for eight years?

As noted by Journalism.co.uk yesterday (and before that, by the Guardian on its front page) LinkMachineGo [LMG] blogger Darren deduced Belle de Jour’s real identity as early as 2001.

But he kept quiet. Journalism.co.uk asked Darren why – and what he thinks of blogging anonymously. “I protected [Brooke] Magnanti’s identity because we were both early bloggers,” he says.

“I respected her blogging and realised that her real life and career might be ruined if I did not keep her identity a secret. Discovering her identity started out as a fun game but turned serious when I realised I was right. Especially after I saw how Zoe Margolis (Girl with a One Track Mind) was treated by the press.”

Once Darren guessed who was behind the Belle blog, he published a ‘googlewack’ on his blog (the words ‘Belle de Jour’ ‘Brooke Magnanti’ and ‘Methylsalicylate’ were published and available in Google’s index on a single page on the internet, on LMG). If someone googled ‘Belle de Jour’ and ‘Brooke Magnanti’, he would see it in his referrers for LinkMachineGo.

It was five years before someone did: “I don’t know who was behind the searches that arrived at my blog over the years. It was only two or three. I suspect other bloggers who had guessed (there are many who were in the same position I was re: guessing) or friends of Magnanti. All the hits came from Internet services used by homeowners (BT, Virgin etc).”

Then a couple of weeks ago he spotted that numerous people were searching the terms several times a day – from Associated Newspapers’ IP address. That’s when he alerted Magnanti. This, with other tip-offs, convinced her to go public on her own terms.

So what does Darren think about the mainstream media’s revelations? “The coverage has been generally reasonable apart from the Daily Mail’s. I’m very glad I emailed her after seeing what they reported.”

The incident is a lesson in online anonymity, he says: “You cannot remain anonymous or pseudonymous on the internet for long. It’s an amazing achievement she managed to last six years without being outed.”

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