Did anonymity lend him mystique? "Oh, 100 percent," Sommer said. "People were thinking it was all these fancy media reporters. But those people don't have time for that! It's just this 23-year-old."
"Tweeting anonymously is great for people who either have an image to protect, or no image at all," said Jason Sattler, who puts himself in the latter category. A Michigan social media consultant, he launched @LOLGOP (160,000-plus followers) just for fun a few years ago; it led to a job with the left-leaning political site NationalMemo.com, where his new bosses decided he should come clean about his Twitter identity. "That made my reveal far less interesting," he said. "Personally, I was hoping I'd turn out to be Tagg Romney."
Abra Belke looped in her boss when, as a Capitol Hill staffer in 2008, she launched CapHillStyle, a blog and Twitter feed, "because I was tired of explaining to interns what they should be wearing to work." He was fine with it, she said — but lawyers for the House ethics committee fretted that lobbyists would try to woo her with gifts of shampoo or shoes.
Under the nom de plume of "Belle," she found anonymity hard to preserve: After she mocked the shiny green vest a congressman's son wore in his wedding photos, his aides tracked down her identity through her domain registration and called her chief of staff to complain. Now a lobbyist, she wonders what Joseph was thinking.
"Was he looking for people to retweet him and be microfamous? In the national security sector, you should know you're never truly anonymous. Somebody knows who you are!"