Great Debate: Should anonymous comments be banned?

angry_computer_guyOn yesterday’s “Today Show” the regular panel of professionals tackled a question that hits home for me.

The question: “Should anonymous comments on websites and blogs be banned?”

This is something we used to debate in the newsroom, when I worked at the now-defunct Honolulu Advertiser. We had just launched the ability for readers to post comments on stories online — and we realized very quickly how bold and brazen people were when they didn’t have to attach their real names to their comments.

In many cases, the comments weren’t fair. They were just mean and malicious and they really had no business being published. And yet there they were, unedited and unfiltered, and attached to real news stories that were held to a higher standard.

Frustrating.

At the same time, isn’t it the allure of the Internet to remain anonymous, to speak your mind without any fear or worry?

Here’s my take on this: If you’re going to say it, own it. Period.

I realize there are privacy issues. Like a woman who wants to share her experience being raped but doesn’t want to reveal her identity. I get that. But that’s an exception.

So I’m tossing it out there: Do you think anonymous comments should be banned?

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11 Responses to “Great Debate: Should anonymous comments be banned?”

  1. zzzzzz March 6, 2013 at 9:46 am #

    I don’t think it makes sense to ask that question in blanket form. Each website and blog should develop its own policy that makes sense for its own situation.

  2. EdW March 6, 2013 at 10:20 am #

    I feel that anonymous statements should not be allowed, as I hate reading the claptrap.

  3. Annoddah Dave March 6, 2013 at 10:21 am #

    CAT: Anonymity should not be banned. Rather, they should be moderated. Rants and malicious comments have no place in journalism of a serious and/or light-hearted nature. Those types are so many with all the Bills, Rushs, and Howards of the world.

  4. eddyo March 6, 2013 at 10:48 am #

    Good Morning Cat,

    Interesting topic. I am neither an attorney nor a journalist, but an ordinary citizen with an opinion. Saying or writing mean-spirited comments are “regretably” covered by freedom of speech, however when the comments stray into slander the person communicating these ideas can be held financially liable (i.e., can be sued). As a journalist, you have the moral & professional responsibility to protect your sources, but commentators are not covered. If these people think they are anonymous because there on-line, they need to think twice.

    I have seen many comments that I wonder if the commentators would make in person or even sign their name in a letter.

    You previously covered the topic of whether people are ruder, I must opine that on-line–Yes.

  5. FreeRangeNan March 6, 2013 at 11:30 am #

    It is easy to use a made-up name and dummy email. I’m not sure how well prohibiting anonymous comments works to discourage trolls but if it helps then I’m for it.

    It may be more useful to moderate comments. Unfortunately, this does mean taking time to look over comments and make a decision on each one, which can get out of hand for a popular blog.

    A separate issue is machine-generated spam. Requiring input of a random character string is a bit irritating but (in my opinion) not as irritating as wading through the garbage in order to read thoughtful comments from real people.

  6. David Jackson March 6, 2013 at 1:12 pm #

    I understand anonymous.. there are a lot of haters out there. Some of these clowns are violent. I post on a few sites and on occasion get some vicious dialog directed at me. It is a part of it unfortunately. Can’t imagine being a reporter or full time blogger. Or both :)

    People can get a little crazy with this stuff. Wish the topic was the topic and not the people.

  7. rayboyjr March 7, 2013 at 7:27 am #

    Hey Cat … I think “anonymous” must be defined first … because frankly, almost all of us are anonymous … I can’t attach a name or face to almost all of the people who post here on your blog … I can’t usually figure out if the names that look like real names are in fact real names … how do we confirm anything on the internet??? … sadly, we usually just believe it’s true …

    … I use rayboyjr as my user name, but that really is the extent of what is revealed about me … is Ray even my real name??? … and do I speak the truth all the time??? … half of the time??? …

    … I love and hate anonymity of the internet … yes I love that I can hide behind it in most circumstances … but I hate the fact that I don’t know if I can believe what’s being said by anonymous names … and I absolutely hate all of the crap being spewed because we don’t have to stand up and be recognized …

  8. Menehune March 7, 2013 at 7:40 am #

    Anonymous comments should not be banned. There are many instances in which such comments exposes hard truths and truly get the discussion going. There are times when we all have found ourselves wanting to state or jot something but held back because our names would be associated with said statement. After all, it is an overly politically correct society in which we live.

    All of the above being said though, there should be no place for inappropriate, malicious or off-topic comments.

    Many sites and even blogs have a setup wherein a comment remains in pending status until a ‘moderator’ reviews. Moderator will refuse posting of any comments (anonymous or otherwise) if comment is deemed inappropriate, malicious, or off topic. Sure, this involves filtering; however, it is a mere filtering of comments that detract rather than add to a conversation. Having such a setup in place allows all (including anonymous posters) to participate in a discussion less the detracting garbage.

  9. Lusus Naturae March 7, 2013 at 6:58 pm #

    Like many, I make posts under a pseudonym. There are various reasons for this, some personal and some professional. That said, I fear that many people take advantage of the ability to be anonymous to berate, belittle, and be obnoxious… As demonstrated in the following graphic from Penny Arcade (NSFW; cussin’)

    http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2004/03/19

  10. bumper March 7, 2013 at 8:21 pm #

    I’m not sure how that would help. There’s still a sense of anonymity to being “Joe Smith” or “Mary Jones” online, assuming you could even verify those as real identities in the first place. Online communication is just not the same as face-to-face encounters, and many of us feel braver or more outspoken, for better and worse, on this impersonal, worldwide platform.

    At the end of the day, commenters are not journalists or bloggers. They don’t make money or build a profession off their writing; the same standards for personal accountability and credibility cannot apply to both. I agree that comment moderation is the best bet, however, administrators must moderate carefully — allowing both consenting as well as dissenting views, although not tolerating personal attacks, profanity, or lewd content.

    One could also just disable the comment feature, though that certainly wouldn’t be popular with many readers. In my mind, intelligent consumers of media know how to differentiate between legitimate and ridiculous comments. Moderate for good taste, but trust your readers to wade through the rest with sound judgment.

  11. Pomai April 7, 2013 at 12:43 pm #

    Which is why Yelp requires their “Elite” members to provide a REAL photo of themselves as their avatar. It’s interesting what algorithms Yelp uses to detect avatar photo uploads. For the company I work for, we didn’t have anyone (as in human) that we wanted to use as our avatar to represent the company on Yelp. So we tried uploading one of our cartoon character mascots, and it returned that it wasn’t qualified to be our avatar. Seriously! LOL!

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