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October 25, 2013

Anonymity is fleeting when people are tweeting

(Continued)

WASHINGTON —

@HillStaffer, who has more than 5,300 followers, argues that most accounts "are born out of frustration or boredom." He started his in early 2011 — and yes, he's a he, though he once overheard a fan claim the author was a woman — to mock the habits of his work milieu. (Sample tweets: "99% of the creativity in Congress goes into the naming of softball teams"; "Get pictures of all the members of Congress who force their unpaid staff to work tomorrow. No one is 'essential.' ") And there was never any doubt he'd remain anonymous: Too many staffers had been fired for Twitter hijinks.

He can relate to Joseph. "I'd say he felt like he was originally providing some kind of 5th estate insight," he wrote in a Twitter direct message. But "once you have that platform, and anonymity, it's easy to become vitriolic, as he did. Not saying I think I'm writing the Federalist Papers over here either, but I try to point out hypocrisies with a [Stephen] Colbert-like character."

Other anonymous types write not to vent but to scratch a creative itch. Will Sommer was so consumed with the movements of Washington journalists as he looked for his own job in media that he figured, why not write about it? He blogged and tweeted as "D.C. Porcupine" so his then-bosses at the AOL-owned Patch publications wouldn't know what he was up to — but even with his insight into the company, he made a point of not writing about it. "That's where you'd get tripped up," he said. Eventually, it led to his current job, as a columnist for Washington City Paper. He revealed his former identity when he got hired last year.

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