Anonymity Rears Its Ugly Head

For some time, several of us in the “blogger community” have discussed the anonymity of posts and comments on blogs like Sonoran Alliance.

The recent posts and especually comments leading up to the Arizona Republican Chairmans race has been a good example of “anonymity rearing its ugly head.”

If you’ve noticed, most of the postings have been simple press releases left open for individuals to make comments on. Needless to say, some of these comments have become pretty ugly and have probably given anyone but Republicans front row seating to watch Republicans engage in a political blood sport.

True, the majority of our writers post anonymous because they fear political repercussions to their livelihood.

But at the same time, writing under a pseudonym provokes a temptation to lose all civility when posting something related to a political opponent/competitor. Even worse, is the temptation to promulgate incorrect or false information.

And then there are the anonymous/pseudonym comments.

For several prominent bloggers here in Arizona, the problem has become that writing behind a pseudonym is ruining the political discourse because it allows a passive aggressive lack of civility to occur. Imagine if you had to face one another in the public arena on a political disagreement? Would your discussion be the same?

Ultimately, I am tangling with how to handle what is posted and commented here on Sonoran Alliance. I cannot spend 24 hours a day policing the comments nor do I want to engage in censorship of free speech. (Besides, I don’t get paid to do this as much as I would!)

One suggestion is that I turn off all comments until I sit down and review them. Anyone who writes for Sonoran Alliance is told that they are required to conduct a thorough fact check before posting anything. It’s very time consuming to fact check each writer’s posts and besides, the commenters usually do this themselves. We could also require any commenter to register with the blog before making a comment. Or, maybe the solution is that bloggers develop their own bloggers code and ask writers/readers to abide by it.

Even with this post, I run the risk of soliciting comments that will bring on the very problems I’ve just brought up. But in doing so, maybe we will find a solution or at least bring back some civility to this discourse.


Comments

  1. 11th Commandment says

    Thank you for trying to tackle this problem.

    Just reading that you are acknowledging that this is a problem is reassuring.

    I look forward to greater debates and a better source of information for us all.

  2. Yes, there are few who will chance political/financial repercussions. I take no kudos for using my correct name, since I am not employed, not interested in running for any position ever and it is unlikely that anyone would find jailing me for my comments a good political move, since I am female and 75. I understand power and worked it out in my career and life, in general, so that I enjoyed sufficient self-power to be remarkably independent.

    So, you have a formidable problem to overcome. You can either have honest opinion or dishonest openness.

  3. Bravo DSW. You (whoever you are) and I have crossed (s)words recently on a related subject of blogger integrity. It even had to do with one of the candidates for Arizona Republican Party chairman. So I’m not some acolyte or setup commenter here to boost your ego.

    I agree with you 100% that much of what passes as lively comment on the web is instead something closer to drive-by assaults from anonymous cowards.

    Don’t we all instinctively place far more credence on the opinions of those who have the courage to put their name behind there words?

    I understand the reasons the contributors to Sonoran Alliance hold to justify their anonymity. That said, I believe the influence and readership of Sonoran Alliance would increase geometrically if you pulled back the veil and revealed your secret identities. After all, this is the arena of political debate not a superhero comic book.

    Back to our main topic…

    I’ve come to believe that whenever I have something to say on a matter of public interest, it’s my duty to let the reader know who is commenting. This is essential especially when being critical. Though not required by our First Amendment, we all deserve the right to face our accusers/detractors in the public square, the web in this instance. I am honor bound to offer that same right to those I criticize. So I make sure I sign my real name and let the consequences happen.

    A perfect example of this personal code was demonstrated just last night when I commented on an Arizona Republic article on the Pullen/James race using my full name:

    http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/local/articles/2009/01/21/20090121gop-chairman0121.html

    You make great points on the value of honesty when engaging in political debate on the web. I hope your concerns and conclusions lead the entire Sonoran Alliance team to take the next logical step by taking personal ownership of your posts… and let the consequences happen.

  4. Bravo. If the new President called for an era of responsibility, being responsible for one’s own words is something that anyone, regardless of their political beliefs, should agree with. This is not Iran, where people have to live in fear for what they say.

  5. screw you DSW!

  6. I rest my case.

  7. Anon,
    that is unnacceptable behaviour. DSW you are right on!
    Nona

  8. Veritas Vincit says

    Being anonymous carries with it responsibility.

    Spin in a political arena is fair play, and of course facts are always welcome. Finally, since we all have one (an opinion) those must be tolerated too. But, as with other things we all have, one must consider others.

    Anonymity allows for excellent discourse without it truly becoming personal.

    Let me explain; review the notes and papers regarding the many meetings of the first or second Continental Congress. Often those meetings got out of control because various members had strong opinions and expressed them directly. As I recall, a difference of opinion between a Federalist proponent of a central bank reached its climax in a duel with a Anti-federalist central bank opponent.

    My point is, a forum such as this allows us to express our thoughts with each other without it becomming personal (unless we desire to become so such as Iris practices)

    But to conclude, such freedom of anonymity also (as with any other freedom) carries with it the responsibility of civility.

  9. Veritas Vincit says

    Oh, and I wouldn’t worry about the Democrats either… their blogs are often much worse than ours. And you should read what they say about us!!

  10. There is nothing wrong with anonymity. Even the authors of the federalist papers used pseudonyms to make sure that ideas were not rejected on account of personality. It is also very possible to build a “brand” out of an anonymous name as long as the ideas associated with that name are good and sound.

    I believe the larger problem we have here is “sock-puppeting.” It would not surprise me at all if much of the random, vitriolic posters are the same three or four people using a different name each time they post pretending to show widespread support for their positions, either way. Banning people who engage in this behavior would probably clean up much of the garbage, and you would not be doing so on a “free speech” issue, but a clear-cut terms-of-use issue. Pick a name and stick with it.

  11. Veritas is right. That Crazyspace site the Dems put up surpasses anything we can do here.

  12. nightcrawler says

    I wholeheartedly agree with a code of civility concept. The beautiful thing about a blog is that ideas come to the surface unfiltered. This makes for a lively discussion about the issues. Don’t let a few bad apples spoil the barrel. If anonymitty is no longer guaranteed, the number of comments will plummet as will the discourse. In the end, this will become an on-line newsletter rather than a meeting place for ideas. My vote is to keep things as they are and get rid of the troublemakers.

  13. Goodyear GOP says

    For those of you without a sense of humor, “Anon” is joking in comment #5.

  14. No one has a “freedom of speech” to desecrate a private forum. So while I understand that policing comments can be a time consuming pain, in one way, it’s separating the wheat from the chaff.

    Sometimes the only way to clean up a bar is to show the bums the door.

  15. One of the things that compelled me begin listening to talk radio was hearing Rush Limbaugh talk about conservatives winning in the arena of ideas. Talk radio is unfortunately not very interactive.
    I believe that this is truly an arena of ideas and has the potential to propel conventional wisdom along to a much stronger and more valid set of assumptions.

  16. Farrell Quinlan says

    Correction: I mistakenly claimed above that DSW and I waged a little battle over a related topic on this blog. But it was between me and STS, not DSW. The initials threw me off. But the rest of what I posted remains. I agree with much of what folks have been saying. Though I greatly prefer full disclosure and the use of real names, I wouldn’t favor the requirement that all commenters use their real names. As consumers of ideas on Sonoran Alliance and other blogs, we should give far greater weight to the views that are on the record, especially those that are “risky” for some reason. Throwing rhetorical bombs anonymously may be fun for the thrower but if lowers the quality and value of the blog. Take a stand for or against something proudly and I’ll respect the blogger far more than otherwise.

  17. Anonymity comes with responsibility, and so does publishing a blog. At some point you’ve got to decide whether or not it’s something you can manage responsibly. If you can’t, you’re simply contributing to the problem through negligence.

    Are you doing more harm than good?

    No judgments here, just something to ask yourself.

    “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.”

  18. Sherlock Homie says

    I refuse to believe that the purpose of one’s anonymity is to preserve one’s mere occupation.

    Just let everyone know the comments are sometimes haphazardly edited, if time permits. There’s a lesson the New media can learn from the Old.

    It’s not your blog, it’s ours.

    Put the pressure of responsibility on the reader, not the writer.

  19. Veritas Vincit says

    Sherlock is right peeps (sorry about the joe back in posting #14), the responsibility is on the readers to self regulate.

    btw; are you the same ‘Joe’ from another topic around here who said “Randy thinks I’m voting for him, but I’m not”?

  20. The problem is not pseudonyms but upbringing and character. There is simply no explanation for a lack of civility – real name or fictitious – except for poor upbringing and character.

    Two sayings to remember: The character of a person is determined by how they act when no one is watching. And, no matter how much you think you are in private, God is always a watching.

  21. Can't Recall My Clever Pseudonym says

    A forum like this is a public forum, not a religious one, so being uncivil in this forum is not “desecration” but can certainly be considered rude. On the other hand, it’s not like a direct insult because we’re free to just skip over the stupid comments and address the useful ones.

    Take Congress, for example. Members are told when they can speak, and they police themselves. Still, some pretty uncivil things are said, leaving aside the actual fisticuffs leading up to the Civil War.

    If self-policing is good enough for them, it’s good enough for us. That being said, I have to draw the line at profanity because there may be youngsters looking over our shoulders or perhaps it would scare off sensitive individuals.

    I have posted here and there, and have had a person ask me who I was so they could track me down to punch me in the nose. I was very tempted to tell them.

  22. Steve Calabrese says

    I am a computer consultant, and one of the oldest discussion sites in that field is “Slashdot”, http://slashdot.org

    They have a model where a team of editors review submissions from users and post those stories that they feel would interest their base. Users can then post comments under their handles, or they can choose to post anonymously (Anonymous Coward, on Slashdot). Other semi-randomly chosen (the more active you are, the more likely the computer will choose you) can moderate the comments of other users by awarding a 1-5 score.

    Frequent posters can get a “karma bonus”, where their posts automatically get a higher score based on the moderation of their previous posts. Users can browse posts with their settings modified so as not to display posts that are scored below a certain threshold. This prevents trolls and flame-wars from taking disrupting discussion – if a lot of people feel a comment is out of line, it will be moderated down so low that most people don’t see it.

    It’s a system that has been developed after nearly a decade of online debates. The software (slashcode) is totally free. It runs on Linux. Perhaps it would be an answer to your problem – people could use their real names, their handles, or post totally anonymously. The only problem with posting anonymously on a slashcode system is that with no Karma bonus a post has to have more people moderate it as interesting to get a high score.

    I would be willing to help you more with learning about slashcode if you wish, although there are better people than me who could help you with a full deployment if you choose to go with it.

    -Steve

Leave a Reply