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
    Designerfx (profile), 6 Apr 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.

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