Sunday, 25 April 2010

Should internet commentators use their real names?

I've just noticed The Guardian is running a piece on this here.

Personally I'm with the writer who says this:
Why should people be allowed to post anonymously? I'm damned if I know. I've always found it sinister. In the Agatha Christie novels I loved as a child, the anonymous letter was a standard trope for evil in an otherwise ordered and safe community. Those who advocate web anonymity seem able only to marshall the most feeble of arguments in its favour.
A while ago I used to post comments anonymously - and I could see the point in it if there were a serious discussion going on where it might be appropriate to try out radical ideas you didn't want everyone quoting as 'your' view, or where you wanted people to read the remark carefully rather than judge by the contributor (so avoiding the ad hominem reaction).

But the fact is, the only general 'value' in anonymity seems to be that it can mask people's identity whilst they're being rude.

I've tried various ways to get people to comply with this (see the note in italics) and I still can't understand why, especially on a Christian blog, people want to be able to post comments but not own up to them - but there you go.

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  1. I have been through periods of being anonymous and non-anonymous online. When I was anonymous, I did so for two reasons.

    1) I was a teacher, and knew that my pupils would often google stuff about me and use it in whatever way they could to try to embarrass me. I kept enough online under my own name to get conversations going about Jesus, but moved a lot of the rest to an anonymous blog.

    2) I have relatives who are fairly well-known in certain circles, and I'd rather they weren't embarrassed or implicated by anything that I say.

    I post fairly often on an anonymous Christian discussion board, which works, but only because the admins do have access to everyone's names.

    My experience of anonymous blog comments (other than those by me) is almost uniformly negative.

    John Allister, Cheshire

  2. I prefer to keep a thin level of anonymity (it is easy to find out who I am, but you have to make the effort), simply to avoid anyone who googles my real name from being presented with a list of everything I have ever commented on etc.

  3. I find anonymous comments irritating.

    Pseudonymous comments, on the other hand, don't bother me at all, and I have posted both pseudonymously and using my real name.

    But the fact is, the only general 'value' in anonymity seems to be that it can mask people's identity whilst they're being rude.

    I don't agree. Mr. Allister gives a couple of reasons that I think are legitimate. A lot of people also post anonymously or pseudonymously for professional reasons. Any anyway, some anonymous and pseudonymous comments are a lot more polite than some that are posted by people of known identity.

  4. Regarding anonymity: consider Abraham’s conversation with anonymous persons or the two anonymous disciple’s conversation with an anonymous person on the road to Emmaus. Perhaps there is a model in there somewhere for both a blogger and a commenter.

    Of course there is also the petition, in Psalms, for a guard over one’s lips which can be contrasted with a petition to open one’s lips that one may praise God. That may be a model too . . . which, obviously, I’m not modeling at the moment; oh dear, someone may call me out as a hypocrite.

    Good luck to you and may God bless you.

  5. I agree that too many anonymous posters use their anonymity as a cloak merely for abuse. Nearly all atheist posters do this, for instance. But in our increasingly bigoted society, anonymity is essential. How else will we disagree with the edicts of political correctness without risking our livelihoods or even being imprisoned?