Are Anonymous Comments Evil?

from the hell-no dept

This sort of debate comes up every so often among folks who run news/commentary sites, and it seems to have boiled over again recently, as a bunch of newspapers/blogging folks got into a nice little discussion on the goodness or evilness of anonymous comments. Not surprisingly, I side with Mathew Ingram on this one. Since we began, we’ve always allowed anonymous comments, and, for the most part, find that we’ve benefited tremendously from allowing that sort of level of speech.

Does this mean we prefer people comment anonymously? Not at all. In fact, we try to encourage people to identify themselves in some manner, but we generally do so by providing greater and greater benefits for those who have verified accounts (with a lot more on the way). However, we recognize that there are times when there are benefits to having people comment anonymously, and we see no reason to take away those benefits.

Does this mean that people don’t abuse this privilege? Again, not at all. However, it is actually quite rare that anonymous commenters abuse their ability to be anonymous. It does happen at times, and, in our opinion, there are ways to deal with this that don’t involve banning anonymous commenters at all. Some of these methods we have not implemented yet, but we’re working hard on them (and, yes, this blog post will hopefully act as a push to those doing the coding…).

Techdirt gets an awful lot of comments, and we’ve been at this for a long time. We’ve seen no evidence that anonymous comments, by themselves, are a problem. You can have an occasional annoying commenter at times, but on the whole, the quality of the discussions we see in the comments here is much better than on many other sites that do not allow anonymous comments, and seem to stall out with just a few comments on each story (even on sites that get a lot more traffic than us).

There is a bit of a balancing act that needs to go on. At times, people start demanding we moderate comments (when a particularly annoying commenter hijacks a thread, for example), but then, when a legitimate commenter accidentally gets his or her comment caught in our spam filter, suddenly they get angry and ask “how dare you moderate comments!” Of course, as we explain, if you have a legitimate comment and it gets caught, we free it up within a few hours. If your comment is blatant spam, however, it gets deleted — and at times, we have noted that “pure trolling” is spam (i.e., comments that don’t advertise anything commercial, but are so far off-topic that they are designed solely to send the discussion off-topic). We will never block commenters just because you disagree, however, no matter how wrong you might be or are anonymous. We did have an issue for a while, where our UI confused some commenters into submitting totally blank comments (which automatically get held as spam) because two submit buttons could be seen, and some people clicked the wrong one — but we recently fixed the comment UI to solve this. Unfortunately, this did confuse some people, including some people who accused us of moderating legit comments, and we apologize for that UI confusion.

On the whole, we have a pretty great community of folks around here — including those of you who I regularly disagree with. It makes for a fun conversation. Sure, every so often, an immature person tries to cause trouble, but those are few and far between, and it’s not because they’re anonymous, but because they’re jerks. The vast majority of our anonymous commenters (even those we disagree with) add value to the conversation, and blocking them completely seems counterproductive.

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Comments on “Are Anonymous Comments Evil?”

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85 Comments
Matt (profile) says:

label anonymou commenters per story

I have always respected Techdirt’s policy of anonymous commenters and wish more more sites offered such functionality.

One feature request:

Would it be possible to identify anonymous commenters per story? For example, the 1st anonymous commenter to a story would be labeled as “Anonymous Coward #1” for all posts relating to the that story. The 2nd anonymous commenter would labeled as “Anonymous Coward #2”, etc.

It is frustrating to read the commentary and not know if the anonymous comments are coming from one person or from 20.

BearGriz72 (profile) says:

Re: label anonymou commenters per story

I like this idea in principle but I have doubts as to the feasibility of implementing it from Techdirt’s end. As it has been pointed out repeatedly in relationship to other topics an IP Address is not sufficient to identify an individual. I imagine it could be done as an opt-in (setting a session cookie) but considering that you are not requited to verify your identity for Techdirt registration it seems redundant.

Matt (profile) says:

Re: Re: label anonymous commenters per story

An IP address is not perfect and there are ways to spoof/hide it. However, in the context of this forum, it would provide a good proxy to identifying a single user.

BTW, I am not advocating the listing of user IPs. Just using the IP address to create a unique nickname for the thread.

jjmsan (profile) says:

Number of Comments

This site also gets fewer comments than newspaper sites. Anything approching 100 is unusual here whereas something controversial in a paper gets several hundred or a couple of thousand; most of which seem to wind up as name calling rather than discussions. I am ok with anonymous comments, but I think some moderation by the site is ok.

DJ (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

:::exagerated sigh:::

It really annoys me when a blatant point is missed. It’s not a question of who you actually are (“real full name, date of birth, home address, and phone number”), it’s because you don’t want something to be used against you.

I stand behind what I say, even if it’s against popular opinion. You, however, are afraid that you “make statements that could be used against [you]”.

Along with Cowboying up, grow up, and wake up too.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

It really annoys me when a blatant point is missed. It’s not a question of who you actually are (“real full name, date of birth, home address, and phone number”), it’s because you don’t want something to be used against you.

Heh, talk about missing the point. If you really think that what you post “CAN’T be used against you”, then post your ID. After all, it “CAN’T be used against you”, if you believe it, can it? Or are you just another mouthy hypocrite?

Along with Cowboying up, grow up, and wake up too.

Still waiting for that ID. You gonna be a mouthy little hypocrite or a man?

Flakey says:

Anonymous posting

/puts on tin foil hat

I’ve not been here long. I came with the big toss up from ARSTechnia. When they deemed that blocking ads was somehow stealing from them, I granted them their wish and left both that site and Reddit who is also owned by Conde Nash. I feel all the pressure to present that side of the issue came from on high.

While I haven’t and probably won’t register, I do always give a nick to those that agree/disagree know they are talking to the same poster, whether we see eye to eye or not.

One of the reasons I have stayed is the polices in place here. In today’s trace everything said on the net mentality of government, I’m not sure I want to give out addresses and at least would like to think they gonna have to work a smidgen to get that info rather than me hand it to them on a plate. It’s not that I am up to anything in the sense of wishing and physically doing some one harm, it’s the looking over your shoulder that gives me the willies. I keep feeling like we are sliding towards Nazism with our present directions.

So I support the Anonymous posts. Like others, I would like to know that whom I think a troll, is really just one and not many expressing the same idea. If it is many, then maybe my viewpoint on some issue is wrong and I need to reconsider my stance. If it is a single individual trying to sound like several, that gives validation to my thought.

Again, this is just my opinions and I am sure the rest of the community will have theirs.

Matthew Cruse (profile) says:

AC First, register second.

I have found that the sites that let me post anonymously first, ie testing the waters, are much more likely to get me to post in the first place, and thus to become involved in the conversation. If I become involved in the conversation once, I am much more likely to continue to return and be involved in the conversation in the future. This is how you build brand loyalty.

Anonymous Coward says:

Reporting issues you "shouldn't" have found

Those of us in your slave dungeon for coders… feel that the comment system is FINE just the way it is…

Being anony-mouse can both be funny and/or useful (I’ve anonymously reported finding bugs on websites that even finding the issues sorta made me look like a ‘hacker’ {wasn’t , just and observant coder} so just being able to report the issue without registering made it easier for me to help the site/community)

Anonymous Coward says:

I like posting anonymously simply because registration is annoying. I’ve had to register for hundreds and hundreds of sites over the years, usually just to post one or two comments, and it’s not worth it anymore.

It’s not worth it to fill out all the required fields with bogus information. It’s not worth checking the email account I use for spam purposes to find the verification mail. It’s not worth writing down the username and password, which because of unique constraints, will be different from every other site I’ve ever signed up for. It’s not worth looking the username and password up again the next time I want to comment because my cookies have been cleared. Single sign-on solutions may have solved this, but they were a solution nobody wanted.

When a site’s registration is too annoying, I just won’t bother commenting. Luckily, Techdirt doesn’t annoy me, so they get to bask in the glorious genius of the comments that I do supply.

DJ (profile) says:

A step further

“(even those we disagree with)”

I sign all of mine (unless I forget) for a few reasons, including, but not limited to, A: I work at my own machine (assigned not owned), so it’s easy to just stay signed in 24/7, and B: it’s easier to agree/disagree with someone when you know who it is.

But here’s the thing, what kind of a discussion are you having, anyway, if EVERYONE agrees?? I would say change those lines to read “ESPECIALLY those we disagree with”. You’re not going to change everyone’s mind no matter how strongly you feel about an issue, but you might change SOMEONE’S; or they might change yours; but if you can’t have a civilized debate over an issue, all you end up with is a bunch of pomp and/or a bitch session.

So if someone doesn’t want to (or can’t) sign their post, that just means you can get more points of view and therefore have a discussion.

Fentex says:

I often find I want to contribute something (some personal experience or knowledge of a topic or issue) on comments at sites but find the demand to register too much bother when simply wanting to add some small part to a conversation.

What would it mean if I did, and used some free throwaway email address to register with? Nothing, no proof of ID or assurance that I’m not a spammy scum sucker.

Demanding registration does not avoid anonymity, it’s just a barrier that requires contributors care more than momentarily about submitting. It’s a jdgement call if that’s worth anything.

Anonymous Coward says:

http://www.eff.org/issues/anonymity

“A much-cited 1995 Supreme Court ruling in McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Commission reads:

Protections for anonymous speech are vital to democratic discourse. Allowing dissenters to shield their identities frees them to express critical, minority views . . . Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority. . . . It thus exemplifies the purpose behind the Bill of Rights, and of the First Amendment in particular: to protect unpopular individuals from retaliation . . . at the hand of an intolerant society.”

Getting rid of anonymous speech may be appropriate under certain circumstances in part of the web, but is a bad policy for the internet as a whole.

IANAD says:

Magic in the Forest

I concur, doctor.

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor.

Also, I am not a Lawyer. Butt Do You? //so juvenile!

More Also: my third post here in roughly a year. //my ovarian friend has the, “privilege,” of dicussing the insanity of the farce quit frequently. //it is all that cash!

How Many Could There Be: While remaining on topic, I felt this was a post that seemed like a, “free-for-all,” sort of thing.

Anonymous Coward says:

I’ve been coming to this site for a very long time now, (one of the first things I added to my igoogle) and enjoy leaving comments. I’ve never made an account and I doubt I ever will. I find it more of a hassle and 99.99% of the time I’ll just pass over leaving a comment if registration is required. I think the only places I’ve registered to comment on something are youtube and . . . maybe one or two more but I seriously can’t remember.

Thanks for letting us comment anonymously, I’ve never noticed how much I valued it.

NAMELESS.ONE says:

AND STICKS N STONES

will break my bones but names will never hurt me. REMEMBER MOMMY TELLING YOU THAT?

NO?
Bad parents then.
That’s right BAD PARENTS.
thats all this really is about
so what if theres bad posters , and dumb asses.
blah blah.

notice how TAM is now just posting as anonymous cause that scheme a mine to anti anti mike drove him right silly
have fun in your ways a dealing with a holes and they will get so mad as to either change a nick or leave entirely

Jimr (profile) says:

I like how slashdot handles the registered user making comments as an Anonymous Coward. I can stay logged in and a simple check box on the comments allows me to make it from an Anonymous Coward and I still stayed logged in.

There are times when I like to make a comment that, for what ever reason, I do not want associated with good name. Maybe I just want to call someone an asshat or talk about some potentially embarrassing moment. Or maybe it just my alter ego talking while my brain is on vacation. In any case I like the option to post as an Anonymous Coward when I so choose.

I can understand why newpapers do it. Although I comment on one that allows me to change my username associated with the comment fairly easily. This has the added advantage that all my comments are still viewable from my one registered account even if I use different Names on the comments.

CN says:

Why anon is good...

There are lots of times where a person may have something of value to post, that would not be posted if they had to sign in.

As some others have mentioned: Often too lazy to sign in.

Other times, I go to a site I have not been to before, and would like to comment, but a lengthy sign-up isn’t worth it.

And there are some things that can’t be said without anonymity, that aren’t just jerk comments.

I’ve even seen sites where I could not post a bug report without logging in. I’m all for helping, but I’m not a paid tester, so I don’t want to have to jump through hoops to do it.

known coward says:

I am just too lazy to sign in,

it is too much work for me.

That said, I only post under known coward, to have the sense of some constancy, but i get the idea of true anonymity, which our founding fathers supported. They also supported rum running, and other terrorist acts against the british, so they were just a bunch of outlaw ruffians anyway.

Now as a Federal prosecutor those kind of remarks could be career limiting. But as an anony mouse. I would be safe from the hackles of Ed Meeese limiting my career to cleaning pornographic statues.

Besides any idiot can post as known coward, not just this one

Anonymous Coward says:

What's up with TAM

TAM got kicked off because he spoke his mind and didn’t back down. Mike didn’t like his material mainly because trying to reason with him took from Mike’s job of creating new articles.

So Mike took the easy way out, labeled him as a “jerk” or “troll” and a gift of the ban from Mike.

DNY (profile) says:

anonymity and pseudonymity

I see no real distinction between the two and will mostly comment on the latter.

There have been many times when anonymity, or pseudonymity, has been a clear social good. The Federalist Papers were written under pseudonyms. St. Raphael of Brooklyn (the first Orthodox bishop consecrated in America) wrote under a pseudonym when criticizing the Greek dominance of the Patriarchate of Antioch. Authors for a variety of reasons have used noms de plume, as spies and guerilla leaders use noms de guerre.

Attacking anonymity and pseudonymity only seems to serve the interests of those who would threaten writers for what they write. It is far better to allow freedom loving people to hide behind a nom de plume (even using a blank space as such) than force them to adopt noms de guerre.

cobolhacker (user link) says:

Cowardly

This is sort of @DNY, but also anyone else who cares.

Anonymity has its place, particularly in countries with bullshit laws, but how true is that in the Western World these days? For the most part Anonymous Cowards are just that – cowards. So often are they people who want to say mean or hurtful things and don’t want others to know. You only need to read /. for a day to figure that out.

I personally stand by everything I write and never post anonymously. If you aren’t willing to stand by what you say, even if unpopular, what does that say about your character? I pretty certain guys like Washington and Lincoln never wrote a word without taking responsibility for it.

I suppose that sounds rich coming from a guy who writes under a pen name, but you need only to go to my site to learn my real one (shameless promotion, oh noes).

britxardo (user link) says:

Anonymous comments

Way to go; in the long run I think anonymous comments add value and anyway we’re all getting quite good at quickly skipping whatever we feel it’s a troll at first sight.
In my case I just hate creating accounts on every site I visit, although I read Techdirt every single day.
Anyway I agree with some of the comments pointing out that volume does matter and sometimes unpopular measures might be required in.
Keep it up!

Fuck me (user link) says:

fuck me

Way to go; in the long run I think anonymous comments add value and anyway we’re all getting quite good at quickly skipping whatever we feel it’s a troll at first sight.
In my case I just hate creating accounts on every site I visit, although I read Techdirt every single day.
Anyway I agree with some of the comments pointing out that volume does matter and sometimes unpopular measures might be required in.
Keep it up!

Imran14826 (user link) says:

UK TV

There are lots of times where a person may have something of value to post, that would not be posted if they had to sign in.

As some others have mentioned: Often too lazy to sign in.

Other times, I go to a site I have not been to before, and would like to comment, but a lengthy sign-up isn’t worth it.

And there are some things that can’t be said without anonymity, that aren’t just jerk comments.

I’ve even seen sites where I could not post a bug report without logging in. I’m all for helping, but I’m not a paid tester, so I don’t want to have to jump through hoops to do it.

imran14826
http://www.livetv.pk

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