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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  1. icon
    DNY (profile), 23 Mar 2010 @ 11:43am

    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.

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