Slate author Farhad Manjoo brings the issue of Anonymous Comments back in a piece entitled “Why we need to get rid of anonymous comments”. I don’t agree with the piece but give him credit for admitting the consequences of his desire…
Advocates for anonymity argue that fuckwaddery is the price we have to pay to ensure people's privacy. Posting your name on the Web can lead to all kinds of unwanted attention—search engines will index you, advertisers can track you, prospective employers will be able to profile you. That's too high a price to pay, you might argue, for the privilege of telling an author that he completely blows.
Well, shouldn't you have to pay that high a price? I'm not calling for constant transparency. If you're engaging in private behavior—watching a movie online, posting a dating profile, gambling, or doing anything else that the whole world shouldn't know about—I support and celebrate your right to anonymity. But posting a comment is a public act. You're responding to an author who made his identity known, and your purpose, in posting the comment, is to inform the world of your point of view. If you want to do something so public, you are naturally ceding some measure of your privacy. If you're not happy with that trade, don't take part—keep your views to yourself.
Essentially the author is saying he knows there are negative consequences but he feels the benefits to society out weigh those. So the question is whether he’s right on that point. In order to determine that I’ve listed the pluses and minuses of such a policy.
Minus: People’s REAL lives are impacted even when their comments are benign
People can be fired for their political views. People have been fired for their sexual orientation (not legally but it costs money to sue and if you’ve just been fired it’s hard to find lawyer money). People in high positions can be fired simply for having benign hobbies that seem unprofessional (I know a CEO who was fired for collecting Comic Books).
Beyond the professional it’s even easier to become ostracized from a group. How many of us have had to choose between two friends because of some silly argument? Once people’s every online comment is posted to their Facebook wall you can expect even more of those rifts to occur.
So there are literally a million ways that a person’s benign online activities could harm their actual life.
Minus: You lose worthwhile comments
From the post…
Sure, this isn't terribly high-minded. I'll concede, too, that forcing people to use their real names might give us more "sterile and neutered" comments, as the blogger Steve Cheney argued last week. And perhaps we'll miss some important comments that could only be posted anonymously. If TechCrunch writes a post wondering about some terrible new Apple policy, for instance, we likely won't see an anonymous comment from a whistle-blower explaining the policy. But I doubt that's a real loss—I don't think raucous comment forums are the first place that whistle-blowers turn to.
So essentially he concedes the point but then immediately backtracks because he realizes the point is valid enough to disprove his whole theory. If we’re losing valuable insights from inside sources than it really isn’t worth it.
Plus: There are fewer nonsense comments
This I’ll concede. Since TechCrunch banned anonymous comments there have been far fewer comments to read. And since most TechCrunch comments tend to be from people who were too lazy to read the previous comments and see their point was already made 50 comments ago that has helped.
Fallacy: Cutting out Anonymity creates a better environment
To quote the post again…
I can't speak for my bosses, who might feel differently than I do. But as a writer, my answer is no—I don't want anonymous commenters. Everyone who works online knows that there's a direct correlation between the hurdles a site puts up in front of potential commenters and the number and quality of the comments it receives. The harder a site makes it for someone to post a comment, the fewer comments it gets, and those comments are generally better.
Cutting out the anonymity gives us a more sterile environment? As I was writing this post the quoted Slate story was #2 on their homepage. The #1 story was on Newt Gingrich. These are some of the Facebook comments on that post…
What a freakin’ creep. – Emily Jane Pucker
“Or an orgy. That's what I call putting the 'c0ck' back in 'caucus'.
If a handsome, charming devil like Clinton can't resist temptation, what hope does an angry potato-body like Gingrich have? Then again have you SEEN the women he was cheating with. Cruella DeVil as played by Joan Rivers!” – alex
“Yes, they're called his second and third wives. At least Clinton had the brains not to marry his bimbos.” – Top Scientist
“He's a twit demagogue who sincerely believes he is sincere, and, not to forget, a serious intellectual. We will remember him as the man who was getting the same treatment at the same time as the president he impeached for same.” – Robert J Crawford
“To summarize, he screwed his mistresses because he loved screwing America so much.
He's a horrible Ewok, this Newt” – Jaysit
And that’s just from the first page of comments! Doesn’t seem very sterile and neutered to me.
Conclusion (or The False Plus: A Blogger’s ego is preserved)
So in the end the positives are mostly a fallacy and the negatives can lead to people losing their jobs, friends, etc… Doesn’t seem like a fair trade to me. So why the sudden push against Anonymity on blogs?
As Allen Stern of CenterNetworks so deftly put it…
The real issue I see is that many bloggers don’t want feedback – there is no freaking way someone commenting on my post can be right. There’s no way my grammar could be crappy – or my research wrong. Imagine if each blogger spent some time looking at their comments and then decided if perhaps I should change how I do research or try a new style. My fear is that a move to Facebook comments will mean more “you are great” and less “here’s why you are wrong” comments.
That really is the issue here. When you look at the pluses and minuses of the situation you realize there’s very little reason to ban anonymous comments unless you simply don’t want to face what they have to say. And contrary to common belief Internet trolls usually speak the truth. They speak it in a way that’s unnecessarily harsh but that doesn’t make it less true.
But that’s the way of the world. Politicians get elected every year by promising things we know they can’t do. But people still vote for them because even in the most important areas of life people don’t want to face hard truths.