Wednesday, 4 March 2009

On the evils of internet anonymity

Do you send anonymous letters? Do you make anonymous phone calls to people? Do you leave abusive messages on their answerphone? Is your name Russell Brand or Jonathan Ross?

I hope the answer to all these questions is no. And I trust you would disapprove of anyone who did this.

Now let me phrase it differently. Do you post anonymous, or pseudonymous, comments on blogs? Have any of these comments ever been abusive, either of the blogger or of someone else?

Now let me ask a final question. What is the difference between you and the anonymous letter writer or telephone-caller?

One of the great sadnesses of the internet is that early on a slightly 'nerdy' culture of using nicknames - Gandalf, the Spamster or whatever - has become a very pernicious practice of people simply concealing their identity in ways which, if they were applied to other media, might result in legal action if the person were caught.

To be on the receiving end of anonymous abuse is always unpleasant. Abuse is one thing, anonymity is another, because there is a sense of vulnerability. It reminds me, personally, of the one time I was burgled. It wasn't the loss of a few bits and pieces that bothered me, it was the loss of security. Someone had violated my space, and I had no way of knowing who it was or how to prevent them simply coming back and doing it again.

Do the anonymous commenters realize this? And if theyt do, why do they it?

Let us call a spade. Abuse is evil. Anonymous abuse is even more so.

Think on.

When posting your comments please give a full name and location. Comments without this information may not be posted.


  1. When you put up a blog, you're doing the cyber equivalent of standing on the street corner shouting out what you believe. You shouldn't expect every passer-by to identify herself when she makes a comment on what you're saying. Stop being such a baby. Grow up.

  2. Dear Anonymous

    I wonder what you'd think of someone doing to you by phone what you're doing here by e-mail. BTW I will give you my phone number if you really want to talk to me. Otherwise, brother, you need to repent.

  3. Didn't Samuel Clemens use the pen name "Mark Twain?"

    Bloggers with active sites learn to be respectful in their comments. When they are abusive on someone else's blog, they get paid back in the form of abusive comments on their own blog.

    I have given you my identity via e-mail in the past, and as a follower of your blog, I would like to think you are reassured by that information, but as I told another blogger, "How do you know that is really me?"

    Rock Hill, SC U.S.A.

  4. Well, UP, as you say, "Mark Twain" was (finally) known to be Samuel Clemens.

    And of course, I cannot know if a "John Smith, Anytown" is real or not, but that is different from a deliberate 'Anonymous'.

    Added to that, an e-mail address means I can write back to you, should I so wish!

  5. Michael Roberts4 March 2009 at 21:27

    I think anonymous should grow up.

    Whether I like what John Richardson says or not, he is not afraid of his identity.

    One thing I cannot stand are those anonymous users who use their knowledge of someone who uses their real name to abuse them. I could give many examples

    Perhaps pseudonyms should be banned

  6. I want to take this opportunity to thank you for posting your lectures and sermons. Good audio is a great thing, and Iam grateful to be able to download and listen to your material.

    I hope that more of your colleagues will do the same, and not charge money for their works. I have always thought it an odd practice for ministers and theologians to charge money for their talks. I realize they need to make a living, but spreading the truth of God is what the ministry is all about.

    I certainly doubt that Richard Dawkins or an atheist would charge money to indoctrinate people with their beliefs. Those fools (by Wisdom's standards) are grateful ANYBODY will even listen to their drivel.

    At the Gospel Coalition, Donald A Carson has taken the bold step of posting over 200 lectures and sermons that he previously was charging money for, and other speakers are doing the same all over. Dick Lucas & David Jackman have been doing it too for a long time and I am forever grateful.

    I apologize for getting off topic. I agree with what you said and I am sure 90% of the rest of your readers agree. There will always be those few though who display their true evil selfish colors. After all, man is not good hearted by nature, we all know that. I kind of feel that we are fortunate that more people dont do those things. Human nature tells me that more would, if not for the Holy Spirit convicting people.

    Again, I thank you for your postings of audio. I had been searching for more of your material ever since I downloaded your castle lectures.
    I collect great reformed audio, and have over 300 gigabytes of material from over 400 great speakers including yourself. I also want to say that I am super-impressed by the anglicans. So many anglicans have awesome audio sermons and lectures, I am floored by many of their lectures. There is no group of christians as evangelical and true to God's word as the anglicans are.

    God's Blessings and grace to you,
    James Paul S.
    Pittsburgh Pa

  7. James, thanks for the comments - especially about Anglicans generally. Sometimes we forget how lucky we are.

    I remember a student from Europe telling me a few years ago how amazed and impressed he was by the number of churches in London preaching the Bible. I was amazed anyone would be so impressed - but then he pointed out to me how bad things were elsewhere, and I realized we really are blessed.

  8. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  9. Dear John,

    Please delete my last comment- I'm signed in on my work account, and meant to send it on my personal one. Don't want to besmirch Theology Network with my cynical humour!


    Dan Hames

  10. Dear Dan

    I can't help observing the irony of a comment on anonymity having to be deleted because it might tarnish the good name of the linked organization ...!

    Much easier just to say who we are - but taking your earlier point seriously, of course there are circumstances where anonymity is irrelevant, or even necessary. Most newspapers will publish a (non-libellous) letter without the name and address of the sender, if that is appropriate. That is, I'm sure you'll agree, quite different from the typical "You don't know who I am, but ..." approach of the concealed identity.

    I doubt we really disagree on this.

  11. Hi John,

    Yes it was ironic! Except that my intention really was to post the comment on my personal account. It's more an issue of me speaking personally and not for TN, than an issue of anonymity.

    For readers, my joke was about the book of Hebrews being anonymous!

    And yes, I think we agree really. Abuse and bullying is far differnet than artistic or diplomatic subtlety!

  12. There are internet conventions. One of these is that blogs accept anonymous comments and that bloggers have to take the rough with the smooth because they have put themselves out there. You're trying to ignore these conventions and then you whine when people want to use them. This is the same attitude you show in church matters. There are traditions and conventions in the Church of Enlgand which you arrogantly want to throw out, because they don't suit you.
    You put comments on this blog which, if you expressed them in a bar-parlour, would win a round of applause for the first person who punched you in the mouth. Don't pose as a victim here.

  13. Dear Anonymous

    I'm glad you're still following this. You wrote, "There are internet conventions. One of these is that blogs accept anonymous comments and that bloggers have to take the rough with the smooth because they have put themselves out there."

    But these are two separate conventions, and whilst I accept the latter (taking the rough with the smooth), I reject the former (accepting anonymous comments) because I think it encourages the kind of attitude which does no good to the writer or the recipient.

    I am not, therefore, ignoring these conventions. I am recognizing one of them and rejecting it.

    The question of how I regard the Church of England's conventions is, of course, entirely different, insofar as it has nothing to do with anonymity. On the contrary, I hope I make myself quite clear.

    As to violence against my person, well perhaps some people would applaud it, and some would like to perpetrate it. I hope you would not fall into either category.

    As to who is the victim, I would ask, who is dishing out the abuse here, and who is on the receiving end?

    I am praying for you, and for myself not to dislike you.

  14. PS to Anonymous, I have a couple of questions:

    Why do you read this blog if it makes you so angry? Why not give it up - at least for Lent - which would presumably make you less angry?

  15. There are internet conventions. One of these is that blogs accept anonymous comments

    Anonymous, that is just not true. The internet convention is that the owner of the blog or the website or the forum sets the rules of engagement. Some people are happy to allow all and sundry to engage under whatever name (or none) they choose; others prefer to set different restrictions.

  16. Sorry, got carried away and pressed Post before I'd added my name and location.

    Ros Clarke

  17. As someone whose reputation has recently been besmirched on a Christian blog by an anonymous (and apparently Christian) commenter - who was allowed space to do this by the host of the blog until I protested in the strongest terms -I am WELL over anonymous commenting. No moral high ground there, in my opinion.
    Michael Jensen, Sydney

  18. I vote for turning off anonymous comments... it's easy enough to register.

  19. Hi Dave

    The trouble is, people can register in ways that are effectively (and deliberately) anonymous.

    What we need is a culture identical to that which prevails in the local press. If you write to the local papers round here, you are expected to provide a name and address, as much out of courtesy as anything else. You do not expect to get published if you simply send in abuse, and certainly not if you don't put your name on it.

    This is not just a matter of legality but of common decency. Would that blogging were the same!