Please Step Forward and State Your Name
It was probably a lot easier to be a writer 20 years ago. A questionable or controversial take on a topic might, at best, elicit a few angry letters to the editor that appeared several days after the original piece appeared. By then readers were on to something new and the writer got to have, for the most part, the last word.
Today, thanks to social media, you can react to a story almost immediately and wow, can tempers flare online. For blogs that aren’t moderated (like mine), comments from readers can range from insightful conversation, to nasty and offensive trolling. Because of that, many blogs and news sites have decided to ban anonymous comments, or those written by people who won’t share their full names.
Differing viewpoints are rampant. The San Diego Union Tribune reported in September that they would begin to require that commenters use their real names. Recently, Randy Lovely of the Arizona Republic announced they too would require names to be used on comments, because they felt the incivility had become unconstructive. Farhad Manjoo of Slate blogged about the topic (he passionately believes in the end of anonymity).
I absolutely agree with the thinking from each of them. I sometimes get sick to my stomach when tragedy strikes and I check out the local news online and see unnecessary vile language with no productive purpose except to cause hurt. I roll my eyes when I read, well, just about anything that has zero to do about politics turn into an opportunity for a no-name to go on a racist, hate-filled rant about something completely unrelated.
But for the most part, I disagree that we should eliminate anonymous comments. While the ability to spew online vitriol is a huge draw for anonymous commenters, there are reasons why some people would like to share an opinion, albeit without a name attached. For example, many of the commenters at Gawker are anonymous, yet the site boasts some of the liveliest, most intriguing discussion on the Web – my guess is those participating would simply prefer an employer not know they are spending the work day screwing around on a gossip blog. Or a person’s viewpoint may differ from a client or employer, but they are passionate about a discussion, so by staying anonymous, no one gets hurt. Or, for the sake of privacy issues, maybe safety is a factor.
When I asked the question on Twitter, I had several differing opinions. Michael Brito, SVP, social business planning for Edelman Digital, said anonymous comments should be allowed as long as they add value. Olivier Blanchard, social media author, speaker and blogger said he thinks that anonymity invites a broader range of opinions, as long as the blog’s terms of service are clear. However, Jeff Swystun, chief communications officer at DDB Worldwide said anonymity should never be allowed, equating it to demonstrators who wear masks and stated that people should reveal who they are. Nathan Hughes, VP/Sales Manager with Bandazian & Holden, said it depends on the audience and the purpose of the blog, but he leans towards no (shouldn’t be allowed). Some incredibly savvy people with some different views.
What do you think – is anonymity constructive to the conversation or an open door to inappropriateness? Please let me know what you think in the comments.
Photo credit: hagerstenguy