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.

Filed Under: anonymous, comments
Companies: washington post


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  1. icon
    Rob Pegoraro (profile), 6 Apr 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

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