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

Talking about anonymous blog comments

I’ll be on WBZ-TV (Channel 4) during the 11 p.m. news, talking with Jon Keller about the trouble with anonymous blog comments, and why Media Nation now requires real names.

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  1. I’m sort of sad that you require real names now, though I understand why you’ve done it. Your commenters can get kind of…er…shall we say “committed” to a particular stance from time to time, and there have been times when I wanted to take my own stand without the fear of personal attack. This site is one of the few places online where I’ve used the mask of anonymity as a form of self-protection.

  2. BP Myers

    “there have been times when I wanted to take my own stand without the fear of personal attack”

    Though I understand your sentiment, Jenna, they are just words on a screen.

    One of the benefits of pseudonyms is that we truly do not know each other, or anything about each other, so there can be no “personal” attack (though your position can be attacked, certainly).

    Frankly, real names make it FAR more likely that true “personal” attacks will occur.

    But this is Dan’s sandbox, and if he wishes us to participate in this social experiment, so be it.

  3. L.K. Collins

    When it moves from a war of ideas/words to a war of personalities, the personal attacks are inevitable.

    But attacking one’s thinking and one’s reasoning, even one’s motives, are integral parts of the war of ideas/words.

    Attacking one’s character is not.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @L.K.: I would suggest to you that attacking someone’s motives without basis is not a legitimate part of debate. It’s a technique that leads to mind-reading, which I think is one of the real banes of rational discussion.

  4. Steve Stein

    Dan is looking for better discourse and that’s a laudable goal. Internet discussions have often been a haven for trolls, bullies and abusers and people have been looking for ways to raise the tone for years and years.

    Maybe if Ron Newman is still lurking here, he could talk to this in regard to the usenet group ne.general. Because of an abusive poster, a moderated group ne.general.selected was established to ban postings from and postings about the abusive individual. It worked, but here’s the thing – the problem poster was not anonymous, so this “real name” thing wouldn’t have prevented it.

    Of course, *this* forum is moderated. I have no idea how many comments Dan rejects, but over the years this has ALREADY been an internet destination of good discourse. Kudos.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Steve: The answer is that I reject very few comments. And you’re right, people who use their real names can be just as troublesome as those who don’t. But real names + moderation is a very different situation from what Ron was dealing with.

  5. Peter Porcupine

    DK – I am not going to post as William Cobbett, but I DO understand your qualms.

    The internet has always been a tough room, which is why I began writing as Porcupine 6 years ago.

    For example, any woman on the internet has her ideas assaulted with sexual innuendo within the first 10 comments – and this isn’t ideological. Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin have the same problem, and it applies to lesser lights as well.

    I will continue to read, as I find your ideas intersting (if sometiems misguided) and your expertise unchallanged.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @PP: I approved your comment only so that I may respond, because I had been waiting to hear from you. Let me gently suggest that if a person can write a newspaper column under her real name, and take comments on the Internet version, then she can certainly post here under her real name. Off the top of my head I can’t think of any reason why I should have to have different standards from those of your local daily newspaper.

      That said, I have already wrestled with the question of what to do with you, because you have a well-established persona as Peter Porcupine.

      Should I make an exception for Peter Porcupine? Should I make an exception for someone with a pseudonym that is well known not just here but elsewhere on the Internet? If I would not compel Mark Twain to post as Samuel Clemens, then why should I treat you differently?

      Thoughts from others?

  6. Steve Stein

    Just to correct a possible misimpression – Ron wasn’t the moderator of ne.general.selected (that was/is done by a perl ‘bot designed by John Levine). But Ron was a prolific poster and a general voice of sanity in many usenet fora.

    Dan, let PP be PP! 🙂

    And, for PP, regarding women in internet discussions:

  7. BP Myers

    “Thoughts from others?”

    You’ve already suggested that there are some who, for one reason or another, may feel genuinely constrained from using their real name. I don’t know PP’s circumstances, but it’s your call. Whatever you do, it’s okay by me.

    You should have no qualms of doing it on a case-by-case basis, and I suspect you would most often err on the side requiring real name anyway. Be a slippery-slope otherwise.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @BP: Just to be clear, I am not going to make any exceptions for someone even if he or she feels “genuinely constrained.” With Peter Porcupine, the question is whether I make an exception because of his or her well-established online persona, not so much here but elsewhere. I mean, we’re talking about local Internet celebrity.

  8. Eileen M. Ebanks

    I had stopped adding my comments to all blogs because of the
    overabundance of childish an hateful name-calling one has to plow through to find any reasonable discourse. Reading the comments was a great way to get a good look at various opinions and feel the pulse of the readership.
    Good for you, Dan, for bringing this to light.

  9. BP Myers

    “I mean, we’re talking about local Internet celebrity.”

    Heh. Gonna have to take your word for it, but again, okay by me.

    And speaking of local Internet celebrity, far as I’m concerned, feel free to do the same for the (not really) scion of a local car dealership.

  10. Peter Porcupine

    DK – I really don’t think you SHOULD make an exception.

    You have a clear policy, and a cogent reason. You would be plagued by why not MY case, etc.

    (Interesting side fact – a newspaper which I am well acquainted with has actually taken down its Reader Forum and ended story comments due to unmanageable comments primarily from angry progressives as to why cerain Fascistic editorial columnists are allowed to publish. At least that’s what the online editor claims.)

  11. Al Fiantaca

    Progressives aren’t the only ones to engage in problem comments. Conservatives do a fine job of that, as well.

    PP, since you have posted for years, on several fora, using your PP alias, it would seem that allowing you to continue posting under it to be a reasonable thing to do. OTOH, there are many of us who have posted for several years using consistent, but hardly unique, aliases who might wonder what the difference is between one alias and another, so perhaps allowing it would be a step onto a too slippery slope. I guess you have to ask the reason for the first/last name rule. Is it to encourage posters to self police themselves since many would now see their names and know who they are if they choose to cause problems, or does it give the moderator some other degree of control to enforce proper posting etiquette and encourage a better dialogue, as a result?

  12. L.K. Collins

    No Dan. No exceptions. Especially after your soul searching and agonizing.

    One should not expose himself to being for something beofre he was against it…or vice versa.

    Such is the stuff of hypocrisy.

    • Dan Kennedy

      Peter Porcupine him- or herself told me I should not grant an exemption. And I have decided not to, because it occurs to me that my Mark Twain analogy doesn’t hold. If Peter Porcupine’s real identity were widely known, and PP were simply a pen name, then maybe I would allow it. The difference is that everyone knew Mark Twain’s real name was Samuel Clemens. Many people do not know PP’s identity. I hope PP might consider posting under his or her real identity, since, as I said, he or she does so for a Massachusetts newspaper.

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