Anonymous Commenters: Cowards Or Contributors?

from the often-surprisingly-lucid-for-a-bunch-of-drunks dept

We’ve had a few discussions here at Techdirt about anonymous commenters, coming down firmly on the side of the anonymous. Tim Geigner’s response to Anil Dash’s “If Your Website’s Full of Assholes, It’s Your Fault” turned the tables on the tired trope that anonymity breeds assholishness by stating that if your comment thread is awesome, it’s your commenters’ “fault.” Many other pieces have been written by Mike Masnick, taking on various articles and editorials that claim that anonymity is ruining civil discourse, destroying the internet and (presumably) humanity as we know it in the process. Even in my post comparing trolls to town drunks, I took care to point out that not every anonymous commenter is a loudmouthed troll.

Via Above the Law’s daily Non Sequiturs roundup comes a post at What About Paris? (a client-focused legal blog) reiterating site owner JD Hull’s arguments against allowing anonymous commenters, namely that most commenters haven’t earned the protection that anonymity affords them, using a photo of some French Resistance members to illustrate his point:

The revered French Resistance in action 70 years ago. Today, certainly, these heroes might need to comment and blog anonymously. However, lawyers, shoe store managers, Tulane grad students, accountants, and other country club Charlies haven’t earned that privilege.

Hull goes further, equating anonymous commenting with less-than-desirable human traits including (as Techdirt’s default anoymous option nods at) cowardice:

Absent compelling reasons, nameless blogosphere participants, in our view, are rarely worth anyone’s time, thought, or respect–even when they think and say brilliant things… They are second-class citizens. They say third-rate things. Certainly, they have no incentive to exceed below-average…

It doesn’t take much thought or courage to lob one in there when you don’t sign your name. Our new digital culture permits a certain accepted wimpiness to masquerade as needed “privacy” and personal “style”. But it’s a ruse. Most of us can do better than that. Don’t buy into nameless blogging and commenting (or participation through pseudonyms) unless it’s deserved.

While the wording is harsh, some basic truths underlie Hull’s arguments. Anonymity means never being able to take credit for brilliance or be assigned guilt for any written atrocities. As you can clearly see in the weekly funny/insightful comment wrapups, AC’s gather a ton of votes in both categories, demonstrating that not every anonymous commenter is using anonymity as a cloaking device for misanthropic behavior. As much as we would love to know who’s behind these comments, stripping away the “anonymous coward” option would most likely result in a severe dropoff of overall comment quality.

On the other hand, anonymity is very often used as a layer of protection for those whose comments are the very reason that so many websites have turned to less anonymous options, like Facebook comments or required registration. Without the cover of anonymity, would anyone log in to post something like this recent irredeemable piece of malevolence?

Using the AC option to make statements like this is exactly what Hull is referring to when he uses the word “cowardice.” The anonymity afforded to commenters by Masnick’s refusal to censor the comment threads in any way (by requiring registration or using a third-party comment system) allows them to operate without fear of reprisal. Making crass statements or baseless personal attacks doesn’t require courage or even forethought. All it requires is a keyboard and the will to sink to the lowest level possible.

Back to Hull:

As Walter Lippmann once reminded us, “cowardice” is a strong word, and you don’t throw it around. We dislike using it. It implies a certain moral superiority of the user (which the writers of this blog would never claim, and do not wish to achieve). It generally furthers no discussions, and justifiably puts people on the defensive. But that word, unfortunately, may fit here.

Hull references Above the Law, which is now looking to rid itself of anonymous commenters:

Check out the anonymous haters, nameless “experts” and scores of prissy pundits and lemmings who won’t sign their real name to their rants and indictments. (We don’t know how much David Lat is paying editor Elie Mystal these days, but it’s not enough. Mystal is a mensch, soldier, hero and lightning rod who is often himself targeted for abuse.)

When people speak out against anonymous commenting, it’s because of instances like these. And it’s never a few outliers that cause the problem. It’s wave after wave of anonymous commenters, all playing internet heckler, usually with nothing more interesting to contribute than random insults and f-bombs in the general direction of the writer and other readers.

It hurts the chances of other anonymous commenters to be taken seriously, especially when these non-trolling commenters offer up dissenting opinions. The tragedy is that the ACs who traffic in ad hominem attacks and drive-by insults could care less if they damage the collective reputation of anonymous commenters.

The good news is that Techdirt’s comment threads are routinely full of awesome commenters, many of whom have taken it upon themselves to preemptively “troll” many of the posts, taking the words right out the mouths of would-be attackers. Hilariously, these ACs are taking offense at being “pre-trolled,” going so far as to suggest that Mike himself is deploying an army of commenters to discredit the “real” ACs by (presumably) stating their own “arguments” before they’ve had a chance to.

(Pro tip: don’t want to be confused for a “fake” AC? Pick a name and stick with it. Value your anonymity? Well, either everyone gets an equal chance to be anonymous or no one does. Which do you prefer?)

While I can certainly appreciate the frustration of Hull and Mystal, trying to do away with anonymous commenting usually results in losing a lot of the good along with the bad, and the determined trolls will always be able to find a way to use your new comment system against you.

Anonymity on the web is still very much a good thing, especially considering how many entities, from Facebook to Google to various governments, are looking to take it away. I’d still rather wade through a ton of personal attacks than require registration for something as universal as expressing an opinion.

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Comments on “Anonymous Commenters: Cowards Or Contributors?”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Discretion is the better part of valor, yes?

After all, nobody can ad hominem you if you’re an AC. Wait, i lie. People can /try/ to ad hominem you, but it just makes them look like complete idiots, because they don’t know anything about you.

If the point is to focus on the words themselves, then half the time being anonymous is a good way to go.

art guerrilla (profile) says:

Re: Re:

1. the importance of allowing anonymous commentary can not be overstated…
2. having said that, i have no problem if there is an online ‘anonymous’ screen name/identifier that (presumably) resolves to one particular person, but still essentially unknown (unless self-revealed)…
3. *NOT* that this potential scenario applies to this site specifically (although it could): but just what the flying freaking fuck is ‘our’ gummint doing buying multi-identity avatar s/w to ‘infiltrate’ and propagandize various online sites, comment threads, fora, etc ? ? ?
i remember back in the day (like a couple years ago), that sort of ‘self-propaganda’ bullshit was illegal; now that we assassinate us citizens extra-legally, i guess mere propaganda is a relief…
do you think they have that shit to pick up chicks on facebook ? ? ? (that’s just a perk…)
no, my paranoid conclusion is that The They may very well be the major abusers of the anonymous commenting system, in order to drive others to demanding ‘full disclosure’ (except for gummint botz?), censorship, and various thoughtkrimes…
isn’t that the stated agenda of fascists like ass unstein ? ? ?
art guerrilla
aka ann archy

Anonymous Coward says:

I wouldn’t be surprised if you compared the user/pass combinations on popular sites and saw a strong correlation. People have an online identity. They use the same username across as many sites as possible. In most cases it’s probably the same password. As a user, I have no way of knowing if a site properly secures and encrypts password information. For all I know the password could be stored plaintext. In which case a single compromised database can expose all users to identity theft across many sites. It’s therefore safer to be anonymous.

Plus, I don’t want to deal with the inevitable forgotten passwords or unwanted emails that registration brings.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

To be honest that is not really a problem since virtuall every major browser out there has a password manager with varying degrees of usefulness, some are good 90% of the time, some not that much.

Also you can use to register, but it is a hassle.

I think there is a addon for firefox that automagically logs you in, in any website they have passwords for.

Yep there is.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

To be honest that is not really a problem since virtuall every major browser out there has a password manager with varying degrees of usefulness, some are good 90% of the time, some not that much.

Also you can use to register, but it is a hassle.

I think there is a addon for firefox that automagically logs you in, in any website they have passwords for.

Yep there is.

The problem for me is privacy and security, most of the time, websites want script enabled and that is just asking to be pwoned, by viruses and snops.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

When you store your password it is highly susceptible to offline dictionary attacks.

If the database is compromised and the password is not salted. A little salt makes a dictionary attack impractical. If an attacker gets your computer and just wants to compromise that one password it might be possible even with salting, I’m not sure. OTOH if your computer is lost you should immediately start changing your sensitive passwords anyway. If you need really strong security, you’ll want two factor and then you don’t have to worry about any kind of brute forcing.

I’m hoping the major password managers such as Lastpass use password salting, but I know for example the built-in Firefox password manager is not really secure at all.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

We are talking commenting not banking, you don’t need security just need to pass the damn login screen.

You don’t even need to give your real data which can be a problem, the rule of thumb is never ever to hand over real info on yourself to no one that you don’t know personally, if you fallow that it doesn’t matter if a password is lost or not, it will not directly affect you, you just create another account and keep doing it, security is only important if you have a fear of somebody hijacking your identity, which is not a problem with an account that can have no real impact on your life.

Andrew F (profile) says:

Re: Re:

To the extent that you’re worried about forgetting your passwords or passwords stored in plain text, you can ameliorate this by using LastPass, 1Password, KeePass, or some other password manager that generates, encrypts, and stores random passwords for each of your websites.

As the Gawker and Sony hacks show, it’s good policy to do this even if you don’t value anonymity.

Atkray (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Easy way to remember passwords to forums, blogs etc….
password = (word you always use, I use password) (followed by a number you remember say birth year of grandson) (then the site name)

so in this example my passwords would be:

Techdirt = password2006TD
Salt Lake Tribune = password2006trib
random blog = password2006RB

This works pretty good and you can camelcase if you want to mix it up. I don’t use these strategies for sites that I use my personal information or credit cards etc…

Anonymous Coward says:

The lack of having to register in this day and age of government nosiness is one of the reasons I come back to comment. I participate at no social site the require registering just to comment.

For better or worse, that is one of the reason I no longer visit TorrentFreak. I have no desire to be counted, measured, to see what value my visit provides in the terms of where I’ve been. Nor do I see any value in terms of service that give everything to the site without any give back whatever. The site itself isn’t that way but Discus? I’ll pass and continue to pass, not to mention the loss of someone who not only read the articles there but also tried to give comments that might be beyond the troll style comments.

There have been times here when I think to myself that a little moderation might be called for. In the end I come away with the idea that the allowance of those that disagree to disagree is what provides the forum with fodder for community discussion.

One thing is certain. Those trolls would not be here were the site not hitting close to home with some of the concerned corporations. They are here a little too frequent to be by accident. It always appears to be the visits are inspired by paychecks. It explains more often than not the willing blindness.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Funny Torrentfreak was one site that I used to go, nowadays after they changed it, I can’t even read the comments so I don’t go there often anymore, I use them like I use CNN on the RSS feed just to keep an eye on things, my news generally comes from search engines even though they are not for that purpose, I scan the RSS feeds find out about something and search the hell out of it and in the process I usually find another thing unrelated.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Not happening I’m afraid, unless the browser is in a sandbox, inside a virtual machine, that I can pipe through a proxy anonymizer service, which at the moment is a bit cumbersome to keep starting and restarting.

Specially for a third party discussion system, that holds more than half the market share making it a prime target, for those devilish gremlins that roam around.


The Disqus comment widget is written in JavaScript and is powered by a back end primarily written in Django.

Privacy, security or Torrentfreak(or Boing Boing, or CNN) choose two.

Anonymous Coward says:

Sorry but the world is full of assholes. Even the nicest of people in real life… are assholes. Everyday in life we have filters we have to abide by to participate in a “civilized” society, and be accepted. The internet lets you shed those filters and say what you really feel. Some days I feel shitty and have a F the world attitude, and my comments reflect that. On the other hand I may feel great and helpful, and my comments on those days reflect that as well.

Sometimes you read a comment, and just like thay guy/girl you see(in a bar, walking down the street, etc, etc) and within seconds decide you dont like them… for no good reason. Or in the case of some trolling AC’s, a great reason.LOL You dont have to be nice, or civil.

Wouldnt it be nice if you could do that in real life? None of the bullshit putting on a fake smile. You could just avoid ech other. But in some cases it would just not be accepted.

It called human nature.

For the most part, here on TD, and other social networks, I have had meaningful conversations, read truly insightful/thought provoking comments, and even made a few friends.

But ya know… sometimes… it just feels so god damn good to smack down some uninformed tool spouting bullshit like they know something.

Lastly, this post is a perfect example of how posting anonymous is an amazing thing because if I was logged in under my usual username, I NEVER would have admitted this to you. Have a great weekend PPL…. and FUCK YOU!!!!! LOL.

Fentex says:

Absent compelling reasons, nameless blogosphere participants, in our view, are rarely worth anyone’s time, thought, or respect–even when they think and say brilliant things… They are second-class citizens. They say third-rate things.

One notices an internal contradiction within that paragraph;
“even when they think and say brilliant things,” “They say third-rate things.”

It all comes down to whether you’re interested in the discussion or authority.

What is true and reasoned remains so regardless of who writes it.

Anonymous Coward says:

I didn’t read the whole article, it was long. …and I’m guessing it was a lot of regurgitated and reiterated stuff.

The reason I usually post anonymously is because you have to sign in. I’ve registered a number of different emails with this site, which ones I can’t really remember.

Anyway, I would gladly post non-anonymously if posts were linked to either a Google ID or Facebook ID (which would cover about 99% of site users). I’m always signed into Google and sometimes signed into Facebook.

Rikuo (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Or you could just make an account here and tick the box that says “Keep me signed in”. Plus…as a regular here, even though I obviously didn’t write the article, I can’t help but feel a little offended that you actually admit you didn’t bother reading the article? You guess it was a lot of regurgitated and reiterated stuff? You guess…then proceed to comment on it.
What you wrote up, means you can be taken less seriously. You’re going to comment on an article you didn’t bother reading in its entirety, meaning your comments have less relevancy.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

TORButton automatically disables cookies, how are you going to stay logged in if it doesn’t allow cookies?

At some point one has to decide what is more important privacy or commenting, I value privacy above anything else in the interwebz.

That is why I even use other locations to have discussions, where anonymous are welcome, people just change venues, it is easier.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re:

So what your saying is I am a 1%er?
Because I refuse to have FB and Google learned from Dante about putting people into circles.

So because you have a long list of emails and won’t spend the whole 5 minutes to figure out which ones you’ve used to make accounts here you want the whole system changed.
You remind me of those people who were calling for the blood of every antisec hacker who released usernames and passwords who were pissed because they had to change ALL of their passwords now because they use the same one everywhere.

Even when I forget to login, I still have the cookie stored for the AC version of my name. I want to contribute and I want to set myself apart from the standard AC. I took the name of a common insult I was seeing used, and I made it my own. I have just over 700 posts, 6 leads I submitted picked up and I did a weekly pick article.
I’m still just an AC, but I took 3 minutes to sign up with an email address I used just to get spammed and clicked store for my username and password.
You can’t be bothered to read the article, and you need FaceBook to manage your logins… you might have something to add here but right now I am having problems thinking you do.

Pseudonymous Cowheard says:

On the topic of a metric butt-load of idiots

Should I post citations of registered users on excellent sites that bring down the tone and intelligence of a discussion and ruin it for everyone?

I plead to frickin’ lazy & to infrequent a poster to bother registering at every site I read regularly. If you don’t like crap in your endless streams of informational crap, pressure the site to moderate, or HTFU, grow up, and deal with the a metric butt-load of idiots that exist on the internerds.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Because if we force people to say things with their own names, everything will be perfectly ok.

This is the main point of the Anonymous people are ruining the world for use brigade.

Because we make them unable to freely speak their minds, they never express their true feelings because there are to many downsides to being openly honest nowdays.
Had a great time at a party and got drunk, well don’t put that on Facebook your future employer (or current) might fire you for being an alcoholic.

Yes there are those who will take the cloak and run off writing in their own poop on the walls, but then there are people who can share more because they feel “safer”.

Maybe if you tried to stop sanitizing the whole world so your never offended, and learned to handle seeing those naughty things and moving past them you’d be a better user of the internet. Changing yourself seems to be a better deal than trying to change the world to suit your tastes.

But yeah what do I know, I’m an AC poster child.

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: Everyone Should Be Forced To Use Their Real Names

The comparison in quality between commenters using real names and those who don?t is like night and day. Make everyone use their real names, I say, and the ROI on your site will literally shoot through the sky. The roof?s the limit.

Well, it certainly would make your job easier. If everyone here was using their real names, it would make it easier for you to target your lawsuits at those who advocate “freetardiness” or whatever (of course, you are still going to have to narrow down which “Mike Smith” made a comment, but you get the picture.

I like the Anonymity, even though many here try to use that Anonymity to derail thoughtful discussions and troll. For the bad, there certainly is a lot of good too. In other words, some of my best friends are anonymous cowards.

AC says:

Re: Everyone Should Be Forced To Use Their Real Names

Sounds like something Korea and China would love. In fact, Blizzard was going to force everyone to use their real names on the WoW forum via Real ID, but there was a major backlash.

Using real names does not remove trolls, but instead opens people up to being trolled irl (eg the boy who killed himself ‘over an ipod’ — his family was harrassed by assholes irl as they had revealed their real names), being stalked (this has happened to me), or worse (as in the cases where an internet citizen might snap and hunt down and kill their rival, like the fellow who plotted to kill someone over a game of Counter-Strike). And, of course, as other people have pointed out, any potential employer Googling your name and finding you posting several times a day to a WOW forum will likely change their opinion of you for the worse.

On a side note, I notice you use a screenname and not your real name….

Anonymous Coward says:

The very good thing about anonymity is that people show themselves, somebody said and I believe someone already post this quote here that “If you want someone to tell the truth give him a mask”, well, the true insides of people are not neat and beautiful, we all have our own problems, we all screw up, we all have our preferred conspiracy theories that we believe are true or wish it were true, we all get angry and lash out, if people don’t want to deal with those things that is fine, you don’t want to know what people really think don’t allow anonymity, but if you depend on not getting a surprise reaction by people you cannot afford not to allow anonymous, they are the thermometer of things.

We all know copyright will turn ugly, because we all know what anonymous copyright defenders do in here, and God knows I respond in kind.

Anonymous can’t use status to claim legitimacy, every anonymous have to prove itself each time, you can use past glories to easy you way in future discussions, that bias is gone when you are anonymous you have to put one foot after the other for each foot of the path you chose, one can’t come and say “I’m better than you”, “or I am this and that” you need to show it or nobody believes you, I come to think that is just wonderful, even with all the uggliness, with time people just learn to filter out the bad and concentrate on the good, we all can have discussions inside discussions, we just start ignoring the irrelevant things we think don’t matter and start making choices good or bad about what we should or not respond to.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

There are a number of databases that are easily linked to on the internet.

Indeed this is fair, fair easier than for other forms of discussion where those involved may have to wander over to a library or the internet itself to check facts.

Your suggestion that you can somehow take any discussion, no matter where it occurs, as being 100% factual without evidence is ridiculous.

Anonymous Coward says:

When I comment, I’m not looking to show “courage,” just share a thought I found interesting.

I’m not going to bother setting up user accounts to do that. Especially as it always seems to involve playing with email activations and other such pointless hoop-jumping.

If I know I can’t contribute should I feel like it, I’m not going to be interested in reading other people’s comments either.

All in all, I’m probably also going to be less interested in the original article and the site in general.

Anonymous Coward says:

If the point of discussion is to come to fact-based conclusions, then it stands to reason we should focus on the facts and arguments, not extraneous nonsense like what background a person has. Anonymous has no background, so it gets this for free, whereas everyone else relies on the (in your dreams) good nature of other participants to stay focused.

If you want to see this in action, find a friend’s blog and start commenting anonymously. Let your friend know who you are (sign with a strange alias or something), or if your friend knows you well, she might even recognize the way you write, which is fine. After a month or so, ask your friend which of her friends have asked who the anonymous chap is. Several will have done so, surely. And why? Not cuz they wanna take you out to lunch. No, they’re looking for an angle so that in the future they can make character attacks instead of doing real discussion work. I hate that shit.

Also, who would make an account just to post a comment? What a huge waste of time. There’s a reason OpenID was invented, and site operators who ignore it do so at their own peril.

Anonymous Coward says:

First, having to register and maintain all those user/pass is annoying. The cookie tracking factor is also a downfall. Single sign-on systems are just putting too much trust in one authority. Many of those have been said already.

I think another aspect of the anonymous comment is that web conversation is very different from [normal] conversation. Everything on the web is basically there for good. If you are venting, simply just providing an intermediate comment while you are forming your opinion on a topic, or even if your viewpoint changes, your non-anonymous comments will be there to attack you with if such a situation arises. Let’s face it, even a ‘trolling’ comment is normal human behavior. Many people will behave or say things that contradict their internal beliefs in many situations. This is not new to the internet.

Ventural says:

Anonymity is the foundation of our entire political process & government — the SECRET BALLOT in all elections.

If anonymity is so bad … why is it mandatory when citizens submit their most important decisions/choices to the community
{voting} ??

There must be some very good things about anonymity for it to have become the universal standard for official election voting.

Anonono whatever says:

Re: Re:

I work for a firm with a management team that keeps blurring the line between employees’ private lives and corporate lives. We frequently get reminded how we need to be guarded in what we say in social settings, we cannot attend trade meetings without approval from corporate lawyers, we frequently receive political instructions on how we ought to vote, and of course, our internet usage is closely monitored. You can call me paranoid, but I’d like to be able to express an opinion without worrying if one day at work I’ll be tapped on the shoulder and sent packing, without a clear reason, and left to wonder if I perhaps “went over the line” on some social site.

I’d also like to remain employable for the future, so I’d just as soon not have to worry about whether a strong opinion expressed on a public forum will come back to haunt me.

Anonymity allows frankness to flourish. It also allows dickishness, but having to proclaim a “name” doesn’t prevent that, while it dulls the conversation. In one forum I’ve participated in, the conversations went from sharp and lively, to banal and boring as participants felt cowed into expressing only polite niceties.

Andrew F (profile) says:


Isn’t pseudonymity sort of a nice middle ground? People tend to value the credibility they build up behind a pseudonym. Even if I didn’t know that Dark Helemet’s real name was Tim Geigner, I’m more likely to read a Dark Helmet comment than one by an AC, largely since he’s built up so much credibility over time on Techdirt. Likewise, I wouldn’t immediately someone who goes by the real name of “John Smith” as more credible than an AC.

The Identicon Avatars used on Techdirt are actually a form of pseudonymity. And they work well. They’ve substantially improved the quality of the commenting here at Techdirt — not because they discourage trolls but because they allow me to distinguish a troll-ish AC from other non-troll-ish ACs.

There are good reasons for not requiring registration to comment, but if trolls are a problem, a pseduonym-based reputation system seems like a good way to valance the value of keeping one’s real identity secret with filtering out the trolls.

Spaceman Spiff (profile) says:

There are times

There are times when I absolutely feel that I must post anonymously, when there is a possibility that my opinion may result in harassment or have negative impacts on my job/career/life. People DO hold your opinions, no matter how honestly and sincerely held or harmless to society, against you. Example: I think nation states are anachronistic and should be abolished in favor of a single world nation, where each of our present nations would be much like the individual states are in the USA. IE, they can have their own laws as long as they don’t conflict with those of the nation, and people are free to move and work wherever they want without restrictions, etc, etc. Some people, and government agencies, may consider that opinion as seditious, and in some countries could result in my spending excessive time in durance vile, or even my execution. The PROHIBITION of truly anonymous posting is, in my opinion, a fundamental violation of my right to free speech, and can, as stated, place me in real jeopardy of my life.

So, my final words are – All Hail Anonymous! More power to them, and may they REMAIN Anonymous!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: There are times

“I think nation states are anachronistic and should be abolished in favor of a single world nation”

A New World Order? Interesting.

Look everybody, Bush Sr. has an account on TD.
Think you have no say in gov now? Wait until we get roped into the North American Union.

Cant happen here? That’s what europeans thought too.

F says:

I fully support anonymous commenting and for good reasons!
– First of all, I visit lots of news sites and I don’t have time to create accounts on every one of them to share insightful comments. I comment because I care about some issues and I try to get people to think from different perspectives.

– Anonymity protects us from abuse of authority. We do live in an age where the government and the police abuse their authority every day and get away with it. Of course it’s a bit extreme to think I could be arrested for criticizing a politician but it’s more of a principle to me. Posting with my real name can not make me safer.

– There’s also a matter of the information you give away when you comment from a registered profile. A single comment may not say much about you, but on websites where it’s possible to see a list of all of a user’s comments, it’s easy to gather lots of personally identifying info. I’ve managed to ‘track’ people that way (find their real name, address, place of work, find their profiles on other websites, etc.), in my experience it’s easy to do. People just don’t realize how much they expose themselves to the whole world.
So thanks a lot, but when I comment I want to share opinions, not publish a personal diary for the whole world to see.

– As for anonymity allowing people to be assholes: we need to stop caring about assholes and their opinions. I don’t want to give up my anonymity just because some people give credit to the posts of insulting jerks. People who would prefer to regulate and control the internet just because they can’t avoid being hurt when somebody calls them an idiot do not deserve to be on the internet.
I thought adults would know we’re not entitled to be appreciated by anyone. If somebody doesn’t like you, learn that you won’t get the whole world to love you. If they say it to your face, learn not to care.
Being sensitive about insults that internet jerks are hurling at you is just immature.

Adam Wasserman (profile) says:

What is anonymous?

As one to the very few *truely* non-anonymous posters I would like to point out that the vast majority of commenters on this site are anonymous.

In fact I have marginally more sympathy for the Anonymous Cowards who I can generously imagine are simply taking the path of least resistance. Less so the people who take the time to register and then supply a made up name, deliberately obfuscating their identity.

Not only have I provided my name, but my profile contains enough information to verify who I am, where I live, and that I am who I say I am. I have been posting on the Internet since before there was a web (Usenet days), and I have always used my full name. It has caused me some grief at times, but I learned in high school to never say anything if I was not willing to live with the repercussions of saying it.

From my perspective almost *all* commenters on Techdirt are anonymous, making this discussion a nit picking exercise abut what *kind* of anonymity is best.

Keith says:

Re: What is anonymous?

The point in providing a name, is the ability to see the persons past comments, his track record if you will. It is telling that most of the shills that post here don’t provide one, least they be held accountable for their own contradictory position and the FUD they post in every article. Notice how on sites they need to post a name in, they vanish or change nicks after getting ‘outed’.

Adam Wasserman (profile) says:

Re: Re: What is anonymous?

I have frequently had opinions that I either hesitated to post or did not post at all for a variety of reasons ranging from a desire to remain civil to a fear of repercussions from the growing police state.

And I choose not to post these latter opinions anonymously because I feel that if I lack the courage of my convictions then why should anyone take me seriously?

As far as my inability to spell truely correctly, it is a chronic condition, an affliction really, and has plagued me for as long as I can remember. The shame, although intense, has become such a constant spectre in my life that I have become inured to the taunts of those more fortunate than I.

Finally @Keith, I understand the point you make re: providing a pseudo. You seem to assume some sort of technology that would make it impossible for someone to ever open more than one account and provide more than one pseudo.

Did you understand the point I was making (and confirming in my admission of self-censorship)?

Contributing Coward says:

To post or not to post, that is the question...

To the troll who posed this question: Life is tough enough without adding one’s identify to yet another list for the Goon Squad’s use come the krystal nacht of, in the increasingly likelyevent that the Thought Police du jour are not pleased with one’s comments, attitudes, or thoughts. It is all pretty much moot anyhow considering all the hidden spy tricks/agreements built in to most systems, not to mention all the other undisclosed surveillance devices. Jeeze. Now the “authorities” are beta testing software to identify future thinkers of unapproved thoughts and unauthorized deeds.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: To post or not to post, that is the question...

How that’s just ridiculous. Just because the NSA snoops on everything doesn’t mean that *everyone* has access to that data. Even if the NSA could unmask my identity, most TLAs and corporations can’t, and that does a hell of a lot of good. So no, it’s not moot. (And a system for identifying thought crimes doesn’t work if it has no data to play with, now does it? As such, the obvious counter to an online thought crime identifier is simple anonymity. Incidentally, the obvious counter to a physical thought crime identifier is vandalism.)

NullOp says:


We all have free speech in America. At least sort of. A lot of people feel they can say anything on the net and it’s no problem. They forget and/or ignore the laws governing free speech, namely those of libel. Anonymous comments can be a good thing but, generally, I feel it best to “sign your work.” Although I must admit, this sometimes brings down the wrath of some of the self righteous types. It’s like a discussion that goes wrong because one party thinks there’re right because they yell louder. Bottom line: if you’re gonna say it, stand up for it and sign it.

Jz (profile) says:

My name is Anonymous

And if I had to register, if I had to use a name, it would be the work of moments to be a named anonymous troll.

This cut would be deeper; once you accept the proviso that there should be no anonymity on teh w.w.web then you provisionally accept passports.

If you accept passports then it won’t be long before you have to swipe your little barcoded tab to post an opinion.

We have IP addresses (your (apparently insufficient??) passport to the internet) already, if something I said is illegal you can find who I (probably) am.

This is a case of those who are in a tenuous position of conceptual power trying to make themselves harder to mock and a landgrab by those who are in power to remove dissent.

Sometimes I think that if America modelled itself on China it might be a bit more honest.

Nicholas Alexander (profile) says:

The purpose of identity

Great article, shame about the comments. The reason we have identity is so that we can attribute and remember who to thank for our new information. Well that is copyright – really. Being able to say who is the author of something, and it seems many find that attribution – even when the content is provided freely as in a blog comment – that attribution is somehow illogical for the internet.

I have no objection to comments from ACs – or even random nonsense from people who claim a right to be anonymous when on the internet – a medium which is designed to basically identify everything as being from a certain location. Fool yourselves all you like, I really do not think anyone is collecting your acerbic attacks or asinine invective anyway.

The only reason Governments have to identify you is to collect evidence of one sort or another.

If you want attribution for what you write then you must expect anonymous comments online or you are being stupid, precious and should probably set about publishing using more conventional methods where you can not read any abusive annotations in the margins.

ACs should also respect those who use their own names who seek to defeat the reign of tyranny by identity. Being forced to login can limit spam posts, true. But identity should be optional.

It would be far better to have a universal declaration that laws should respect the absolute right of the individual to hold different opinions. And for citizens to be accurately aware of how much or little privacy their Government genuinely affords them. Unless of course there is a state of war (as there is in the U.S.A).

Notwithstanding that when an AC degrades the writer of a post with varying degrees of hatred, then they should perhaps realise that they are simply being cowards and are not really that anonymous.

Think “they” can not get to your IP if you are behind a proxy? Some believe any sales line. Think again.

ACs have a very valid purpose and I respect this site for using it in a very constructive manner.

Nicholas Alexander (profile) says:

Re: Re: The purpose of identity

Did not say attribution is the purpose of copyright, but it is the effect of it. Whether someone profits from their own work or not seems to be a function of declared identity. Copyright is an out of date and rather voluntary system that is more often abused than respected.

Authorship is perhaps more like a human right whereas copyright is a law that simply can be shown to have failed to get the approval of all participants on this medium.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: The purpose of identity

Did not say attribution is the purpose of copyright, but it is the effect of it.

No it isn’t. I don’t get to reproduce your copyrighted work by properly attributing your authorship. And if I can use it under fair use principles, I don’t have to credit who owns the copyright. Copyright doesn’t ensure attribution, it prevents copying and distribution, and thus prevents any attribution that might have gone with it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: The purpose of identity

Think “they” can not get to your IP if you are behind a proxy? Some believe any sales line. Think again.

Well, this issue is drifting off topic, but you are wrong.
There are plenty of VPNs that offer genuine anonymity: ones that simply don’t keep any IP matching data.

True, most VPNs will try to give the impression that this is the case with them even if it’s not true, but a little research will quickly find you a genuine one.

Anonymous Coward says:

Guns don't kill people, people kill people

So how is commenting any different? If a person is a troll, they’re a troll, regardless of their name or their log in credentials.

This is exactly the same as banning all guns because they kill people, or banning fast cars because they kill people, or banning skydiving because people die.

People kill people. People post shit posts. That’s the way it goes. The oldies will have you believe that because everything was heavily censored before (eg, letters to the editor in your local newspaper), the world was perfect and everyone held hands singing songs by the campfire. Not true. There were just as many idiots back then, the only difference now is that the internet is accessible and the idiots are now drunk with power, but with proper policy and time, they’ll thin out. They always do. And yes, techdirt has proper policy.

Butcherer79 (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I would say the majority are not assholes, at least up to the point in time that the AC moniker is applied, which I think is what some of the original article is saying.
It is, however, easier to dismiss an AC’s comment (in my opinion), if it differs from your own, because you don’t have a history of comments with this AC (are they always posting argumentitive statements just to get a reaction, or is this a one off where this is what they really believe as opposed to what they think will annoy/get a reaction)

Butcherer79 (profile) says:

I think there’s at least four levels of anonymity here at techdirt:
Those who register and post under their full name
Those who register and post under a pseudonym (like me)
Those who don’t register a profile but still post under the same pseudonym (like our very own ‘I’m not a member of this community, honest’ O_O_T_B)
Those who post under the Anonymous Coward pseudynom.

There are also different levels to the first two, whether you link your profile to a page about you or not, for example.
The middle two are very similar, with the exception that you can’t see in one place what non-registered users have posted, you still know it’s the same person (most of the time)
The last isn’t even truly anonymous, as the avatar stays the same (at least on the same thread, for the user (I presume it’s a IP related thing) so at least in the one thread you can see which anonymous’ are the same.

The levels of anonymity could go towards how you post, what you post under the same name either polishes or tarnishes your pseudonym’s appearance to others, anonymous coward posts do niether and post’s under your real name can polish/tarnish your ‘actual’ reputation (dependant on who see’s it.

Anonymous Coward says:

I post anonymously because it’s easier. I don’t need to type as much. It takes less time (less cost), there is less effort (its easier), and I really don’t care what anyone thinks of my comments (content). Wow, I guess I’m a pirate of TechDirt comments – I want it free and easy, but unfortunately I am also a content provider. If you read my post you owe me a nickel, there I feel better now.

But wait.. I’m anonymous you wont know where to send your nickel.

I give up

buckwally says:

Anonymous but not by choice

I often comment anonymously, not by choice, but of necessity. My employment does not afford me the privilige of leaving attributable opinions, especially in computer science areas, without prior approval of my companies legal department, a process that is anything but timely. The default, minimum billable hours answer for my company is “No” and arguing about it is not a career enhancing manuver.
Anonymous comments allow professionals like me to give away content (or correct erroneous data) that no mere blog or independant site could possibly afford.

bbox231 says:

Identity and anonymity

I’ve argue this a gazillion times. Those who are interested in thought, will focus on ideas and actions and words. Those who have some other priority will focus on personal traits (nazi, asshole, etc.) Last time I checked, your name was about as personal as it gets. Why are you SOO interested in the WHO is speaking question over the WHAT is being said?????

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