Thursday, January 27, 2011

Value of Anonymous Comments?

Here is a link to my comment policy. I think it is straightforward and clear. And appropriate. My blog, my rules. If you want a place to comment anonymously, there are plenty out there including another local blog, NewCastleNOW. I will stipulate up front that I have seen some very insightful and well thought out anonymous comments and some really stupid signed ones. That to me is not the issue.

"Patty", who has sent anonymous comments to this blog several times has suggested that I should allow anonymous comments. Her reasoning was,
"In today’s world of the world wide web , internet, and internet searches, anything published goes immediately viral. Post my name to a comment and someone does a Google search and my name appears. Comments are often altered or taken out of context. Those with dissenting views are capable of profiling the writer or worse ostracizing them in the community. What does it matter if I post my name, make up a name (which I could have done), or post anonymously? Is this about sharing ideas and opinions? If so, why should my comment and opinion be invalidated because I choose to protect my identity from all that could go wrong in the world on the internet?..."

"Tim", another commenter who wishes to remain anonymous wrote, "
I didn’t realize you did a background check and bio search. Tim is a nickname and I don’t actually live in New Castle - I lived there years ago. The beauty of the internet is that it connects and links us all regardless of current location. You either encourage dialogue and free flow of ideas or you do not. If I gave you my full name and the nearby town I live in would that make my comments any more or less meaningful? Must I currently reside or is it ok that I once lived there and still have an interest as I have friends living there? I have been very cautious about participating in the many social networks out there for the very reason you just demonstrated> I don’t want people Googling me and getting in my business. It concerns me that people post on Facebook, Twitter, 123people and their picture, address, phone number and personal information is there for the world to see. Your effort to seek me out validates my concern. As I said, you either encourage dialogue and idea sharing or you don’t. It should not matter if I post my full name or that my profile is blocked. I made a few points and asked you a few questions about this give back you all seem to be celebrating. Does withholding my full name make my comments any less relevant? Hey – it’s your blog – do what you want. Most allow comments to be posted by anyone with initials, made up name, or anonymously..

(I agree with Tim that if you do not want to be Googled, you should definitely not comment or use your real name. It was one of the most disturbing things to me when I first volunteered for the Board of Ed. I was very uncomfortable with how unprivate it made me. So don't comment here or anywhere else that requires a real name. I also do not understand why if you have a question or comment but wish to remain anonymous you don't just send me an email from an anonymous email address. I have said I would engage those.)

A friend pointed me to this article by Jeffrey Weiss which I think has a very good take on the issue.

Here is an article in the New York Times addressing the issue. More and more sites are not allowing anonymous comments. One reason to allow anonymous comments is to drive traffic to your site. While I post to be informative and hope someone reads it, I do not do it for any ad money or to drive traffic to my site. I have no ads.

I would like to engage the community in a discussion regarding anonymous comments. Please feel free to give your thoughts on anonymous internet posting when discussing specific items in a community such as ours. I usually do not post anonymous comments here, but I will for the purposes of this discussion although I reserve the right to moderate comments if they are off topic. Other local blogs such as NewCastleNOW or The Patch will post virtually any comment. They seem to thrive on anonymous comments. I have spoken with many people who will not read those blogs and/or not participate in their comments because they are anonymous and allow personal attacks.

I happen to believe that I should stand behind any comment I make. I do not see why I should be concerned about other people finding it on the internet. If I believe in what I say, I have no issue with anyone reading it. I do admit that I make mistakes and change my mind. I have written things I later would not write. I am human.

Using your real name is a method of creating built in accountability. You are unlikely to write something under your name that you would not want associated with your name. I call it the NY Post hurdle. I try not to say anything or do anything in public that I would not want on the cover of the NY Post. (Jeffrey Weiss' article used "Would you post this comment if your mother knew you were posting it?") Accountability and responsibility for your own words and actions. Simple concept.

While I agree that an idea is an idea regardless of who signs it, I also think that the source of the comment is relevant. In addition, anonymous posting leads to personal attacks and unnecessary vitriol. I am not sure how or why I would be ostracized in the community if what I say is honest and true. Not sure I care what others think if what I am saying is honest and true.

Finally, commenting is not a right on someone else's blog. If you are truly worried about "all that can go wrong on the internet" and don't want to post yet want to say something, send me a private email. I pledge confidentiality if you request it. But either way I want to hear from you.


1 comment:

Jeffrey Weiss said...

Thank you for the link to my piece! Too many people confuse the First Amendment protection against government censorship with a "right" to say what they want wherever they want. I don't dismiss a need for privacy, but there are plenty of places in these Internets where one can weigh in w/o identifying. Good for you for setting rules for your own corner of cyberspace.

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