By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

The future of anonymous comments

From time to time I’ve considered instituting a real-names policy for Media Nation commenters. Take a look at this exchange and you’ll see why.

I know I would end up with many fewer commenters than I have now. Some folks who use regular pseudonyms add value, and I know there’s a good chance I would lose them.

But, too often, Media Nation — like most other Internet forums — has become a place where people come to say things behind a mask of anonymity that they would never say if they had to attach their names.



Pin the tail on the potential owner


“On the Waterfront”


  1. lkcape

    It's your board, Dan. Somewhere along the line, you will have to take a stand as to what is appropriate and what isn't.As you well know, freedom of speech is not unlimited. And as your research a few months ago showed, there can be liability attached to deliberately and recklessly false information placed in the public domain.At this juncture, some of those commenting are trying to make those very points. Your concurrence with their efforts would go a long way towards establishing that discussion of issues and positions on issues is your choice.'Tis up to you to set the tone and stick to it.

  2. ShelT

    This is fairly tame compared to comments following Herald stories on the Globe/NYT rift. Unfortunately, the cloak of anonymity promotes locker room exchanges that sadly pass for political discourse these days. Still, as a media lawyer/journalist, I support not having to ID oneself on the Internet. You can banish lunkheads from your blog and remove offensive postings, which is preferable. You wouldn't allow a boor to sit in your living room and spew invective, and you don't have to allow trespassing on your blog either.

  3. O'Reilly

    Adam G has experience disabling and later enabling anonymous/pseudonymous posting. I think it cuts down on traffic substantially when you have to register to comment.Even when you disallow anonymous posting, you still get the "dialogue" you seek to diminish, the dialogue that sidetracks threads into one-on-one off topics riffs, just less of it.

  4. Bill H.

    While I think that the petty insults, name-calling, etc., that we occasionally see here is NOTHING compared to what regularly appears on other sites, I'd support a real-names only policy and would continue to contribute. The ad hominem stuff is really tiresome, and that, if it gets out of hand, is liable to cost more participants than a real-names only rule.

  5. Peter Porcupine

    DK – I try to stay on subject, despite being part of the vast right wing conspiracy. But, since my real name IS Peter Porcupine…oh, hell, I'd just have to become Willam Cobbett and be done wtih it…(Dan – you KNOW who the trouble makers are – why not chat with them first?)

  6. David Rogers

    It won't affect my feelings on this blob but real names are the way to go. I have more respect for those willing to stand behind what they have to say. And showing you can take criticism is a honorable trait.

  7. Bill Toscano

    First of all, Dan, one of the reasons you are one of my favorite bloggers is that you respect your readership enough to ask these questions.I think having a consistent "handle" at least.I am on some boards where you can constantly change names, and I hate that.I also dislike anonymous comments with the fiery passion of a thousand burning suns.If you went to real names, I would stay. Oh, wait . . .

  8. Lafcadio Mullarkey

    Recall blog comment hardliner Howard Owens doing this. Because "Honest people, professionals, never post on the Internet under fake names." Check out the real names of his blog members. That's entertainment!Same question as before. How do you check for name "reality"? Easier to just tell mike_b1 to put a sock in it I think.

  9. arthur.kane

    I think you're instinctively leaning toward a real-name policy and I think your instinct is correct.Commenters ought to have the courage to stand up and be counted. This whole pseudononymous thing is a child of the internet. I've never seen a print-media letter-to-the-editor signed with a pseudonym; no editor would print it unless it was accompanied by a persuasive request for anonymity, and then it's the editor's call. I think this falls into the same category as "if you're going to do the crime, be ready to do the time"; a maxim to live by, in my book.

  10. Dan Kennedy

    I just got back from running, and here's where I'm is a crude instrument. If I could have people register with me under their real names, maybe I'd do it. But I can't. I would have to turn on moderation anyway. So that's what I'm inclined to do.There are certain pseudonymous commenters who have been consistent over a long period of time, and even on different blogs, who should not be punished by a real-names policy. Obviously Peter Porcupine comes to mind, but there are others. (Oh, wait, PP. I forgot. That's your real name.)I think Howard Owens makes some very good points about real names. But I also know he's been having trouble rooting out the violators. So I need to think about that, too.I'm going to ponder it some more, but my inclination is to encourage but not require real names; moderate all comments; and enforce certain standards of civility much more rigidly than I have in the past.And mike_b1, sorry, but you're going to have to get a different avatar.

  11. zadig

    The whole idea of posting under a "real name" is mistaken. There's no easy way, short of having a scanned driver's license or passport, to determine the reality of a name.What I think you're really saying is you want a consistent identity for each poster, and a way to block those that are deemed to be trolls. Fair enough.A registration process that involves a confirmation email sent to a real address will slow down most repeat trolls. Periodic repeat confirmation emails can make sure the user stays "real" (i.e., if the email bounces, they're no longer valid).My name has a history going back years. Does that make it real? Or not-real? And does it matter?

  12. lkcape

    Consistent nom de plume is the the best way.But more important is to assure that the spotlight goes quickly and unflinchingly on the bully. That is a responsibility we must all assume.The bully should be given every opportunity to climb off the limb that he is busily sawing off. But if he elects not to, or if the branch falls before he can climb to safety, then the bully earns every bit of the injury that comes with the crash.As the owner of this blog, Dan, you can set the tone, lead by example, and make YOUR ideas of acceptability known to reader, poster, and bully alike.I encourage you to do so.

  13. bostonmediawatch

    I appreciate your intent, but I think you're going to find it's a headache and a time sink, and you're probably going to have a very difficult time deciding what ought to be deleted.As others have said, even the worst stuff here is mild compared to the brainless stuff on the two newspaper sites for example.The Globe has started moderating more heavily, and now they have comments sections where half the posts have been removed. There was an article last week about an alleged rape case, it had the word rape in the headline, but you couldn't use the word rape in a comment. It turns into a joke.In fact, you may have more of a problem if people use real names and get into a pissing contest that gets out of hand.

  14. MeTheSheeple

    I see no reason to require real names … you poopiehead!Seriously, shy of aligning yourself with a credit-card verification system or something to get real names, it's all moot anyway. Consistent aliases seems to have worked well in the past. I've seen some instances in other comment sections in other venues where people were posting under multiple aliases at the same time — not even changing aliases — and that led to problems. I haven't seen anything similar here.Lafcadio, good call on the link to Howard Owens' membership list. Aiee.

  15. Ron Newman

    The problem with pre-moderating all comments is that it really slows down the conversation, and can cause people to keep reposting the same comment when they don't see it appear and don't know why it didn't.

  16. LFNeilson

    We all wonder who the other bloggers are, but not everyone has the courage to link their name to their convictions. I prefer to use my name, and I don't have a problem with anything I post. My background is in editing, and I hack my stuff to pieces before I submit.I enjoy participating in a civil discussion, but I have no use for anyone who resorts to garbage. If you disagree with me, discuss the subject. I needn't be reminded that I'm an idiot, though it may be true.As for your question, Dan, I wouldn't go there. Sanity is fragile and time is limited. What is the benefit for you in requiring ID?zzzzzz

  17. An Astute Observer

    Here's my thoughts…I think that the solution to over the top anonymous comments is for you to be a little bit more heavy handed with moderation. While it seems like it's the nature of the internet to leave hit and run comments, some of it isn't always so malicious, it's just too easy sometimes to type a stream of consciousness commentary without any editor….and then hit 'post'.'You have a lot of people from *inside* the media who stop by here from time to time. A lot of them leave insights and wisdom from the halls of these media outlets.I know many of my colleagues wouldn't feel free to comment negatively on something within their own house, if they knew it was going to get back to the boss. (even if it's true!)I know there is proprietary information from the inside outlets that could make someone sheepish about sharing any part of it. (You know the management considers everything including their cafeteria menu proprietary.)And some of us have non-disclosure agreements or are not allowed to speak outside of approved venues. That said, when comments start getting to personal zingers…then maybe you could simply judiciously use the delete button.You are very good at letting everyone have their say, even those critical of yourself.But occasionally hitting delete when someone or a thread goes over the line will go a long way in establishing "the line".Again, you don't have to do this often….just a time or two will help people think twice. (esp if you leave the "this post was deleted by the moderator" comment up.)$.02The key is not to do so partisan- wise….just civility-wise

  18. Howard Owens

    We use real names on The Batavian and get far more comments than the local newspaper, which allows anonymous comments.As for the idiot: Lafcadio Mullarkey, obviously, I haven't cleaned up the sign up in a while, but there have been no anonymous comments posted.

  19. Brad

    For what it's worth, my name is Brad Deltan…well "Bradford" if you want to get snooty about it but nobody calls me Bradford, just Brad.Still, for some reason when I post a comment it only comes up as "Brad". No "Deltan". Go figure. Near as I can tell, I haven't done anything to not show my last name…?Anyways, one thing to keep in mind, Dan: you can sign up for Blogger using a real-looking name that's totally fake. There's no real way to force people to use their legal name.And in the media business, especially in a small, small town like Boston…people have short fuses and long memories. How many important news stories would never see the light of day if people in the biz had to use their real names…thus ensuring blacklisting.

  20. Bill Toscano

    Just as an aside, operates with the diea that you never have to use you real name, and in fact, people are told to never "out" others and to be careful in their posts so they do not "out" themselves.It is an interesting culture.

  21. deacon99

    anonymity is a shield under whiuch lives the vulnerable.Mike Iwanowicz

  22. lkcape

    Mr. Owens: Reading through your list of members, claims of pruning or no, it is clear that your "real names only" statement is way off the mark.It is also fairly naive to think that anonymous posts have been banished from your blog, from The Batavian, or from anywhere else on the internet.Anyone so interested can easily spoof an e-mail account or ten to cloak his real identity in the time it takes one to type the alphabet a couple of times.And unless you, as site administrator, are willing to go to extraordinary efforts (that may just be illegal in certain venues, there is no way that you can confirm that a poster using one screen name is not also using another simultaneously, alternatively, or sequentially. The best you can get is a solid "it could be".Astute Observer suggests more rigorous moderation. That is a reasonable suggestion and well worth using…in moderation.But another is what is, in fact, what has happened in this instance.We, the participants in these discussions, can call to account those that are being either offensive or abusive or both.Good ideas drive out bad, and robust discussion is the methodology.The goal of the offensive and abusive is attention. So let's give them attention…of a type they neither want nor can long survive.I neither anticipate nor expect an apology for the libelous comment made against me. Little damage has been done to me. The same cannot be said for the one who wrote the comment. His "brand" has been somewhat sullied by his own intemperance.I would suspect that he might quietly disappear into the night, only to take advantage of the anonymity that the internet offers and reinvent himself/reappear with a "real name" with which to continue with his agenda.Time will tell.

  23. HNG

    I wouldn't do it. The nastiness isn't a crisis here–yet.

  24. An Astute Observer

    **Good ideas drive out bad, and robust discussion is the methodology.**Well, that sounds nice, but all it takes is one skunk to ruin the garden party…no matter how impressive the guest list.I've beenon theinternet since the old DOS days when Usenet was our discussion forums. More usenet forums have turned to crap…because a few people didn't know where the line was…and there was no one to stop them.The difference here is there IS a moderator, who can on occaision delete an offensive post.

  25. Robin Edgar

    "anonymity is a shield under which lives the vulnerable." – Mike IwanowiczThat may be so in some cases deacon99 but a good number of obnoxious jerks aka *'s use the cover of anonymity or pseudonymity to post offensive and abusive comments which may include libelous lies about people. My own blog comment policy is to allow anonymous posts at my discretion while encouraging people to post under their real names. My blog is memory hole free so any objectionable comments get transferred to a comment purgatory as it were. My blog comment policy makes it very clear that anonymous commenters who post objectionable comments risk be "outed" by your's truly. There was a significant drop off in comments after I initiated this policy so I am reconsidering it. I may well retain the policy but remove the explicit warning about that policy from the comment submission page.

  26. rozzie02131

    I don't think you'd get half the good comments that you do, if people were required to write them under their real names. Many intelligent observations and opinions would have to be left behind if their owners could be Googled and traced for all time. Some corporate policies have a blanket prohibition against their employees blogging about their business. I'd miss reading them.At the same time, I can't think of anything I hate more about the Internet than the cesspool of anonymous comments that show up regularly on newspaper and other mass media comment sections. I'd like to see the Globe and the Herald demand real names like they do for letters to the editor in the paper. So, real names there, and no real names here? Yes, I'm a hypocrite. And, um, that's not my real name.

  27. Doug Shugarts

    I vote for real names. I think a blog should be no different than town meeting. Stand up, identify yourself, and own your words.

  28. NewsHound

    I don't know how you can effectively enforce a real names policy.Requiring real names, aside from validating authenticity, could distract from those people attempting to make serious contributions and participate in a serious exchange of ideas on the blog. For at least some of us, we want our contributions to be based on their own merits rather than on any particular bias by the revelation of the real person's background whether that be significant or otherwise.Some comments, whether made by a well-known or a nobody, are sometimes best viewed solely in the context of their individual, autonomous merits.There are detractors, sometimes comical, but sterilization is not the real world and as such, that is what we should be attempting to avoid.A little monitoring and cleansing and censorship which we are attempting to avoid in a freedom of speech is not out of line by our trusted Dan Kennedy and his judgment, but the less censorship, and even better, the less need of it, all the better for all of us.Newshound has tried to make significant, meaningful commentary to contribute rather than distract and participates on this blog because there are so many others who appear to do the same.

  29. Dan Kennedy

    I'm amused by the number of people who have said incivility isn't a problem here because it's so much worse in the Globe and Herald comment sections. I'm aiming for a higher standard than that.NewsHound, you ought to consider that there is a great deal of bias attached to the fact that you don't use your real name. Many people simply don't take anonymous comments seriously. The fact you have posted regularly and established a persona helps, but it still doesn't overcome the lack of a real name.Anyway, I've been following this closely, and I've decided to proceed like this:1. I'm going to put together a short list of rules for commenting.2. I will encourage but not require the use of real names.3. The emphasis will be on civility and no personal attacks. The civility rule will apply not just to content, but to other factors, such as the avatars and pseudonyms people choose.4. Taking Ron Newman's advice, I will continue with my policy of not moderating comments before they are posted. However, I plan to be much more pro-active in removing offensive and insulting comments than I've been in the past.What I've got in mind is quite a bit less intrusive than what I was thinking about yesterday. But it's easier to start slowly and ratchet up. I hope this will be sufficient to ensure a civil, conversational tone.

  30. Lafcadio Mullarkey

    re Howard's: As for the idiot: Lafcadio Mullarkey…Thus Howard undermines your premise.

  31. Ari Herzog

    I haven't read all of the comments about this, so I'll suggest two words: blog policy.If you click those words, you can read my blog post on the subject and why I have one, which answers the questions you ask. Shoot me a tweet @ariherzog if you want to chat further about this.

  32. Rick in Duxbury

    Dan will be a great traffic cop here, his patience with differing views is exemplary. That said, I once had a letter to the editor of the Globe published during the last election cycle. Within a week, I was getting late night threatening phone calls and a letter to my home admonishing me about my Neanderthal views. Really smart people can be really scary as well. Be careful how much transparency you wish for.

  33. lkcape

    I always find it interesting as each new generation (wave) of "thinkers" sees the need for rules.Somehow the reinvention of the wheel comes to mind.One of he easiest rules to enforce is to require addressing the post, not the poster. A post may be "idiotic" but the poster is rarely an idiot.Rules need to be clear, concise, understandable and public.More important, they need to be both enforceable AND enforced.Without enforcement, rules are naught but window dressing.

  34. Steve Brown

    Is it possible, through the tools offered by Blogspot, to create a whitelist where regulars(real names or nom de plumes) who play nice and by the rules, automatically have their comments posted? Those who are not regular posters, or who for whatever reason choose to post anonymously would have their posts delayed until approved by you, Dan. You can always add those infrequent or newbie posters to the whitelist once they've established they will abide by the rules of civility.

  35. Dan Kennedy

    Steve: It's a great idea, but is a crude tool with very few options.

  36. Bill Toscano

    Dan: I have to say I disagree with what you said to Newshound.For me, a consistent nick is all that's needed. I know where it's coming from, and I can address issues directly to the person.Again, though, I like the way you listen to your readers and make changes based on what they say.

  37. NewsHound

    Thanks, Bill. I am just very careful what I have on the Internet. There is no way I could, for example, have personal information on Facebook or pictures of friends and family. I know a woman in her 40s who is a lawyer and won't even touch a computer even though there is one in her kitchen for her children to use. Maybe that's going to far.I try to make an honest and usually kind contribution in an attempt to enrich this blog because of my specialized interest and life-long passion, and the overall dignity of the tone set by Dan.But, I know too, this is a lot more than about me, my preferences and reservations.Dan is very much in the public domain. He is, among other skills and expertise, a pioneer exploring and teaching new media. As such, I try to understand, respect and learn from his suggestions, all of which is appreciated, along with comments from people like Bill who come to my defense.

  38. Steve G.

    I've always been a fan of forcing people to use their real name as opposed to just being able to log anonymous comments. I learned in J-school that if you're not confident enough to put your name on it, you shouldn't have wrote or posted it in the first place.Of course, there always should be exceptions, like dealing with anonymous sources with important information. But since this is the Internetz, truly important and private information can find its way to your e-mail as opposed to a blog comment.

  39. O-FISH-L

    Dan, your post and the multiple responses to it, call to mind Ockham's Razor Theory. As wikipedia sums it up, "of several acceptable explanations for a phenomenon, the simplest is preferable.”mike_b1, with his obscene gesture (extended middle finger) as icon, and his repeated libelous comments against conservative posters, was obviously testing the limits. When he went too far, you tossed him, period. To punish the masses due to the actions of one intemperate soul smacks of a groupthink that has no place here. The offending party was removed and it's beyond time to move on without him.To change the rules as mike_b1 is removed means that he "won" and didn't leave this venue empty handed. It would be akin to the unruly drunk who, when ejected from a bar, steals a pint glass under his jacket. The old rules, if taken from the rest of us, would be mike_b1s pint glass souvenir. Don't reward him.

  40. meamoeba

    o-fish, i just need to point out that several times you've called miek_b1's comments libelous. they are not. they are insultng, desultory, infantile and in general bad taste, but they are not libelous. i'll not school you on it but over the years, dan has made a point, and very god illustrations, to define what constitutes libel and mike ain't for anonymity, my name here pretty much exposes my view on it. but rather than any high-minded ideal, i do it because i know everyone in the business and i'm afraid of pissing people off that i may need sometime. and i started with anonymity so changing horses in mid-stream could unveil me and i'd rather not, thanks. i'd likely bail with a real name requirement.but for background, the name comes from a trip to mexico more than a few years back with a buddy, who fancies himself "the most interesting man in the world" whenever we travel but whose results are usually more humorous than intended. he was trying to impress a local chica when he introduced me as "mi amoeba, juan." she looked perplexed; i spit dos equis out my nose.

  41. matteomht

    I'm not sure why there's such an extensive discussion about this:1) Dan has lots of inside media players who offer opinions here anonymously. I'm one of them. If he requires real names, they'll stop commenting. I'm one of them.2) Unless I'm missing something, it will be easy to fake a real name anyway; this new policy would have no real teeth or meaning. Dibs on 'Steve Ainsley,' by the way.3) Dan can block IP addresses for offensive posters, or delete individual entries. At the end of the day, a blog about the media scene isn't going to ban pseudonyms. We all know that. The vast majority of us here respect what Dan is doing, and aren't going to mind him deleting the few nit-wits like that guy with the middle-finger icon. Yes, it's more work for Dan, but hey– nobody said success was easy. Take it as a compliment.

  42. Dan Kennedy

    Fish: I haven't banned mike_b1. I just haven't heard from him in a few days. And he hasn't libeled you, since one of the six elements of libel is that the statement must be made against an identifiable person.

  43. NewsHound

    matteomht – I concur with you and others who have made similar points.I cherish the integrity and dignity of Newshound and choose to protect him the same as Mr. Salinger attempts to protect Holden Caulfield.I suspect that most of those who participate on this site do not know nor have ever heard of me other than as Newshound. The readers of this site are most certainly unidentified the same as many participants and I prefer that Newshound's comments be taken solely on the merits of content rather than any judgments of long past acquaintances, good or bad, friend or foe.In a prior life of print media I was known by other than a pseudonym and never gave it a negative or concerning thought. I cherish those years.I love the Internet, too. But it's a different, new, and still developing media and I'm not as willing to dive and swim in it with the same comfort and disregard as many younger participants but appreciate being able to participate within the terms of my own comfort level.To me, the Internet seems as vastly open as the Wild West. Not being an excellent gunslinger I proceed with due caution.I have read comments to articles, in particular at the Boston Herald and other newspapers and while maybe (or maybe not) enlightening as to public opinion it is a more offensive, coarser, undignified world from what I have been accustomed to most of my life.I am passionate about defending the rights of the J. M. Nears of the world, or at least of the USA, but unlike the historic Mr. Near, I among other things, do not think that reckless newspaper commentary builds the dignity, integrity and respect newspapers require to survive in almost any economy or changing media, nor was it substantially successful for Mr. Near 80 years ago.

  44. mike_b1

    Wow, you go on vacation for a few days and all hell breaks loose!I'm impressed that the rightwing nuts on this board are so incredibly obsessed with me. Much in the way that the Dan Shaughnessy Watch blog that I launched drove the The CHB batty (witness his repeated references to "fanboy bloggers"), getting under the skin of the four conservatives left in the country means I'm doing what I intended. Thanks for the affirmation.Dan has, of course, every right to demand certain levels of civility and tone. I certainly wouldn't mind if he went to a real name required model. I'd ask him to go one step more and require everyone to give him a phone number too. For identification purposes, that's much more verifiable.Like with everything else, I suspect the rightwing nuts are talking big, but when push comes to shove, they'll run scared. Again.

  45. Tim Allik

    I think real names are the way to go myself and should be encouraged, but should probably remain voluntary here.I don't recall ever being offended by anything mike_b1 has posted. I found the recent flame war and middle finger icon a little sophomoric. But hell, I still can't resist laughing at a corny fart joke told by an eight year old, so I'm not really in the position of deciding what's mature and what isn't.I will echo the sentiments of many others here in saying that people inside the local media outlets will clam up if you make them sign their names. And then we will all be less entertained and informed.June 15, 2009 9:40:00 AM EDT

  46. io saturnalia!

    I probably wouldn't feel comfortable commenting under a real-names-only policy, but you never know. In general, I think I've stayed on topic, only occasionally veering off in a humorous aside (though never a personal attack).However, on one post I did refer to Nick Cafardo as a written-out old hack, and I truly regret doing so. He is a fine sportswriter and seems like a decent chap. At the time of my post, I was disappointed in his lack of umbrage at A-Rod's purported tipping of pitches to opposing batters to boost his own stats (while forgetting, somehow, that he was damaging a teammate's stats in the process.) Still, I should have simply said so, rather than attack a fellow journalist. Maxima mea culpa.However, if you believe you need to dispense with anonymity, it's understandable. I'll keep reading, at least.

  47. O-FISH-L

    meamoeba wrote: "o-fish, i just need to point out that several times you've called miek_b1's comments libelous."—Really? Several times? Do tell. Better yet, do point out where I wrote it more than once, ever. Dan and meamoeba, I think you're both talking about the legalese definition of libel. I'm not. Nobody is planning a lawsuit here. What I am referencing is the simple definition, "a written or oral defamatory statement." When someone uses this forum to regularly and maliciously call others child molesters or suggest that they're blogging from inside a penal institution, call it what you will, but it has no place here. I'm glad you're working toward a solution, Dan.

  48. Dan Kennedy

    Fish: Not to be a pain, but even your simple definition of libel leaves out one of the two most important elements — it has to be false and defamatory.

  49. O'Reilly

    Libel is not a synonym for "defamatory." What is your working definition of defamatory?

  50. Dan Kennedy

    O'Reilly: Libelous content is false, defamatory and published (or broadcast) with some degree of fault, with the degree depending on whether the plaintiff is a private or public figure (or public official). There are also some less important refinements, but that's basically it.

  51. O-FISH-L

    Dan, I'll pass your concerns along to Merriam-Webster. libel (noun) – 2 a : a written or oral defamatory statement or representation that conveys an unjustly unfavorable impression.

  52. Dan Kennedy

    Fish: If you find yourself in court, you'll do a lot better with this:libel: An untruthful statement about a person, published in writing or through broadcast media, that injures the person's reputation or standing in the community.

  53. Howard Owens

    I stand by my initial comment. The criticism of it are completely misinformed.

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