Washington Post Ombud: Anonymous Comments Have Their Place

from the including-on-the-wapo-site dept

With some newspaper folks claiming that anonymous comments are evil and somehow bad for America, it's nice to see someone from the business step up and defend the value of anonymous commenters. The Washington Post's ombudsman, Andrew Alexander recently wrote a good defense of anonymous commenters. The first half details all the bad that comes along with anonymous commenters -- the vile and nasty comments -- but then points out that an outright ban is the wrong response:
For every noxious comment, many more are astute and stimulating. Anonymity provides necessary protection for serious commenters whose jobs or personal circumstances preclude identifying themselves. And even belligerent anonymous comments often reflect genuine passion that should be heard.
He also points out that allowing anonymous commenters has helped to build up a much larger community at the WaPo site, where those users tend to be more loyal and spend more time, even if it's not known who they are specifically. But I think the point highlighted above is key. We all can remember the awful anonymous comments, because those stick out in our memory. But that creates this anecdotal belief that anonymous comments are awful. Yet, as I look through the anonymous comments that we get at Techdirt every day, the vast majority of them are quality comments. Yes, there are some terrible ones, which may be more memorable, but we have anonymous commenters who provide tremendous value -- and it would be a shame to cut them off, just because of a few troublemakers.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 6th, 2010 @ 7:39am

    at least they respect anonymous.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 6th, 2010 @ 7:41am

    Obligatory belligerent anonymous comment made with passion.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 6th, 2010 @ 7:45am

    The thing is that the government should do absolutely nothing to restrict anonymous comments, it should be each and every individual blog and outlet that does.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 6th, 2010 @ 7:56am

    If I weren't allowed to comment anonymously I wouldn't have stuck around here for so long. I enjoy having the ability to instantly comment on things that I have just read.

    And besides, isn't the important part of a comment the actual comment and not so much the actual commentator making the comment?

    The substance of the spoken and not the speaker?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 6th, 2010 @ 8:09am

    I only post where I can post anonymously.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
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    Designerfx (profile), Apr 6th, 2010 @ 8:10am

    put this in the "Whoops" category?

    First, washingtonpost does have a point. I think that's why most smart websites allow anonymous posting, although some don't know how to deal with the good and bad. Some IP log to prevent spam, some simply moderate the comments, and plenty of variance that sadly, isn't 100% anonymous. Depending on popularity moderation might not be realistic.

    Meanwhile, you have to log in to comment on the article talking about allowing anonymous comments. Not on techdirt, but on washingtonpost's *entire website.*

    "You must be signed in to washingtonpost.com to comment. Please sign in."

    way to go washingtonpost. left hand, meet right hand.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 6th, 2010 @ 8:37am

    for TAM

    And even belligerent anonymous comments often reflect genuine passion that should be heard.

    you TAM you fucking bagwinding goat fucker

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
    icon
    Rob Pegoraro (profile), Apr 6th, 2010 @ 8:57am

    Context from a Postie who appreciates anonymous comments

    Don't take this post to be any sort of statement by management; they're not paying me nearly enough to take on that role. That said, I'll make two points:

    1) Yes, you have to register to comment. We had a massive spam problem until we adopted that. And even requiring a login hasn't ended comment spam... because you can lie when you set up an account. We have no way of checking that, the same way that TechDirt can't prove that it's really Rob Pegoraro, the Post tech columnist, writing this comment. (It is. Honest!)

    2) Some of my favorite commenters don't post under their real names--"wiredog," "54Stratocaster," "tbva," for instance. Something like half of my comments come from people who don't use their real names, and on some blogs (Nationals Journal comes to mind) it's more than half. Yet we have great conversations there.

    The same is not true on some of our political blogs. Not even close. Why that happens would be fascinating subject for a sociological dissertation. Meanwhile, I myself have no problem with anonymous user input and wouldn't want any new commenting system to close off that option.

    - RP

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
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    jjmsan (profile), Apr 6th, 2010 @ 9:00am

    Post Comments

    Actually his ratio was way off for every interesting comment there are 7 that are simply name calling. When I read the article my thought was "Wow, what a great coverup for not monitoring your comments"

     

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  10.  
    identicon
    Freedom, Apr 6th, 2010 @ 9:12am

    Anonymous...

    When you can't post anonymously then you have to filter your comments to ensure they won't come back to bite you.

    The same reason I don't put political stickers on my car. Because, yes, there is that small sense/worry that I'll piss off someone and be hassled (say IRS Audit, someone with DB access looking up name and address and selling it or subscribing me to Green Peace or something and so on).

    The Internet is also a fairly permanent archive. The last thing I want is my comments to come back in bite me in a job interview and so on.

    In short, by posting anonymously it gives the ability to express a non-filtered view. Sometimes those views are nasty, but they are honest and real (there is some analogy to online porn, but I'm having a hard time coming up with it!).

    Freedom

    As for the spam postings, Mike's methods appear to work fairly well - might be something to look into ???

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
    identicon
    TSO, Apr 6th, 2010 @ 9:29am

    I wouldn't use Techdirt if I couldn't comment anonymously. I use this name to make comments that could otherwise make me fired if discovered.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
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    Designerfx (profile), Apr 6th, 2010 @ 10:01am

    Re: Context from a Postie who appreciates anonymous comments

    okay, registering to comment does not equal anonymous. You dodged this issue entirely, bt the second sentence.

    Just because you can fake your name doesn't mean that from registration to posting, you can be anonymous. You can't. The IP address is tracked through that and can be easily fetched. Techdirt actually does allow posting without requiring registration, and slashdot as well. So no, washingtonpost is a step behind here.

    There are significantly better ways to handle the spam. Watch for what links are being provided - example: if there is an inline link and the actual link description are different, you could have this flag a post for review. Captchas, while not a perfect solution, can help mitigate some spam as well. Just don't be stupid - don't do captchas that are "verify the word" as those are easily defeated, and the harder those are the harder it is for legitimate posters to pass the captcha. Do picture + verbal confirmation at a minimum. Moderation is another method - let users moderate comments. Of course the method that you do this matters too.

    What does all this prove? That you don't support anonymity in the true sense of what it means. You support it in a false sense, calling it anonymous when it's not.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
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    Designerfx (profile), Apr 6th, 2010 @ 10:04am

    Re: Context from a Postie who appreciates anonymous comments

    PS: your own answer shows that registration isn't fixing spam, so why even bother?

    That's like DRM all over again. It's like "well, DRM hasn't slowed piracy, but why put a stop to it?"

    it's quite ignorant, and has nothing to do with the quality of your blogs or the type of posts, or your opinion. All of this fails to call to notice that you don't allow anonymous comments.

    anonymous in terms of the internet means - you can post without being required to have some login or password to do so.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
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    Cabal (profile), Apr 6th, 2010 @ 10:32am

    I don't work for free...

    I gotta say, I hung out here for at least a year before I published my first anonymous comment. I then posted perhaps another dozen over the next year. I recently registed, and now have a profile, but it was only because you made it worth my while... (and tickled my vanity, by allowing me to see all of my anonymous posting tied to my email address --).

    There were a number of places I used to comment, which have eliminated anonymous commenting. I don't comment there. And frankly, I don't visit them as much anymore... because it offends me to give that business something (my comments, which have a debatable value) and be charged for it.

    Ah, but registration is free you say? Ah, but it takes me time to complete the form. And, it provides my information to the business, a resource which is often exploited for economic gain. Instead, I don't comment... because I'm not paying you so that I can add value to your product. Eff off.

    So, thanks Techdirt. I dig you guys. It seems like every time I turn around, you're doing something to make this place a little friendlier, a little better, and darnit, it seems like you like me, you really like me.

    I however will keep asking: can we get a thumb up/thumb down and a user configurable option to set thresholds for hiding strong down comments?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
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    Mike Masnick (profile), Apr 6th, 2010 @ 10:37am

    Re: Context from a Postie who appreciates anonymous comments

    Yes, you have to register to comment. We had a massive spam problem until we adopted that.

    Interesting. We've gone in a different direction. We have comment spam filters which catch most spam (tens of thousands per day) just based on some basic heuristics. But we still allow totally anonymous commenting.

    We've found that it's better to simply provide extra tools to those who do register... so for the registered users they can do more things that anonymous commenters can't do.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
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    SPL (profile), Apr 6th, 2010 @ 4:49pm

    You spelled his name wrong in the article: "Anderw Alexander" (unless his name really is Anderw).

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
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    Mike Masnick (profile), Apr 6th, 2010 @ 5:04pm

    Re:

    You spelled his name wrong in the article: "Anderw Alexander" (unless his name really is Anderw).


    Oops. It is not. Fixed... sorry.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 6th, 2010 @ 5:30pm

    Re: Context from a Postie who appreciates anonymous comments

    1) Yes, you have to register to comment. We had a massive spam problem until we adopted that. And even requiring a login hasn't ended comment spam... because you can lie when you set up an account.

    Why don't you use a system like Techdirt uses? Seriously, why not? You don't see much spam here, do you?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 6th, 2010 @ 5:39pm

    I have often wanted to comment on sites when I feel I have an unique viewpoint to offer but declined to do so because the site required registration to comment. Most of these are sites where I don't feel an immediate need to become a core member of the community, and it's too much work to bother registering an account for a single comment and maybe have to recall the password six months later when I have one more comment. Then there's the mental effort to decide whether it's worth it or not to register, and the decision defaults to not. It's the same psychological factors that make micropayments problematic. As a result, these sites lose out on my opinion and on potentially bringing me into their core community. Thanks for allowing anonymous comments.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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  41.  
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  42.  
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    L. Spears, Nov 2nd, 2011 @ 8:46pm

    Obama's unemployed... he may be next.

    Dear Mr. President,

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    A key group in the unemployed/under employed in America is the young people with professional degrees (i.e. teachers). Also, a huge expense in the educational budget is teacher salaries. Today many baby boomers in the field of education qualify for retirement. A 30+ year veteran teacher earns many times what a younger teacher does. In fact, some of those post retirement age teachers earn as much a two and a half time what teachers with five years experience do. However, arrogant, self centered, burnt out, baby boomer educators have held on to those positions long after they had planned to. Reason: unions are guaranteeing them huge bonuses for staying on as union dues are based off their pay. We do not have a shortage of high quality teachers in America. What we have is a shortage of high quality teachers EMPLOYED.

    The "old guard" teachers know how to teach and they know the material as well. They just don't really want to be teaching day in and day out any longer. The poor performance in public education should be your fist clue; a wakeup call that they are "over it." Younger teachers have a better grasp of current teaching strategies and they have a strong desire to teach. Not something you truly find in a majority of the older teachers. This is not the 1970s any longer. Let those older teachers retire and enjoy their remaining years; they have EARNED it. Large portions of the “Occupy Wall Street” crowd are frustrated because they have no jobs. NO JOBS! Despite doing everything right. They did well in school. They worked hard to get into a quality college. They worked to get good grades. They took on LARGE debt to pay for school. However, once they graduated they found NO JOB!! No job is available because the older teachers refuse to retire after they are eligible. This is a breach of the social contract that exists between baby boomers and everyone else; get an education and a job will be available when you graduate. Outstanding student loans are the highest in US history; surpassing credit card debt.

    Many other careers are under similar situations; fire fighters and law enforcement to name a few. Keeping these retirement age employees on another year of two may have seemed like a viable program to someone at sometime, but it does not work in practice. Now, I understand that unions are a huge supporter of Democrats; yours as well. But whose side are you, congress, and the senate on? The American citizens or the union bosses...

    Older employees are much less likely to buy a new home, car, couch, dining room table, television, appliances, computers, new fashions, and many other items than young people entering the work force. Young people are just starting out. Younger employees WILL buy those items. Many of the younger people that have recently graduated are now living back at home with their mom and dad. Those same young people are waiting for their post school lives to start. Instead they sit in limbo; waiting. Remember, it was the young people that made the difference in your election, not the union bosses.

    Do you remember when you told "Joe the Plummer" you were just trying to "Spread the Wealth"?? You should, you got beat up enough over that remark. People voted you into office because you said that. You have had nearly three years to deliver on your promises and you have failed most of the Americans that voted you into office. I'm here to tell you it is now time to put up or shut up. So which is it??

    I urge you to support the American people by encouraging baby boomers to retire, unions to stop paying those big perks to keep high salary people beyond their retirement age, and ask state legislatures to support this as well. America and the rest of the world will be much better for your efforts in this matter.

    Sincerely,

    An American

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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