Santa Barbara Politics, Media & Culture

Monday, February 04, 2008

Shall we end anonymous comments?

At the end of every year, I reflect on the months past and plan for the coming year. Many of us do this around our goals for family, work and anything else we are truly committed to in life. I did the same.

On the commitment I call BlogaBarbara, I have spent the last month considering something that has ironically also come up both in emails to me and in comments sprinkled through my various posts throughout the month.

What would happen if in order to comment on a post, a reader had to either use their Blogger ID or at the very least make a "nom de blog" which they would use whenever they posted a comment? This would allow people to continue protecting their identity if they chose but also allow them to create an online sense of self.

Commenters like Don Jose de la Guerra y Noriega, Timekeeper, First District Streetfighter and the like do this and it creates a more linear sense of who they are and what they are saying over time.

We don't get this sense of who our community is when we see a drive-by anonymous comment that disses a public office holder, a prior commenter or the subject of the post without much thought at all. If you had to be more responsible for what you wrote by simply taking on a pseudonym -- would you participate? Perhaps the real question is, would you value your participation more?

There are a lot of issues past the above in making such a change.

  • How do I educate BlogaBarbara readers about this change?
  • Do I need to not only change the guidelines but put a disclaimer underneath the link to the guidelines and at the end of every post for quite some time until everyone gets it?
  • Will I need to indiscriminately not publish any comment from an anonymous that doesn't at least take on a nom de blog?
  • How does one educate new readers as to this requirement?
  • How do I teach all y'all how to do that?

I welcome your thoughts as I feel strongly that the nature of conversation on the blog needs to be elevated if BlogaBarbara is to grow and change with each of us as the years go by. I am committed to us as a community dedicated to people with different opinions able to speak their mind and still, perhaps more than occasionally, find common ground. I hope your commitment is the same.




Anonymous Shoreline Shark said...

Hi Sara,

I think it would be a good idea. Besides making conversations easier to follow, I think it might also cut down on the occasional baseless personal attacks and idiocy.

Having people create accounts would allow them to establish a reputation (for better or worse) while still preserving anonymity. Even though it's just a reputation for an anonymous handle on a blog, it might lead people to be a bit more civil and thoughtful than they otherwise would be.

Further, I suspect those who post juvenile attacks won't have the patience to take the extra step of creating an account before hyperventilating all over our screens.

2/05/2008 12:29 AM  
Anonymous Shoreline Shark said...

I just thought of another advantage of requiring an account -- it would stop "sockpuppetry", where one person posts multiple times and pretends to be different people in order to make everyone think there is overwhelming support for his/her position.

2/05/2008 12:35 AM  
Blogger Sara De la Guerra said...

Thanks Shoreline Shark! You obviously realize how easy it is to say "Si Se Puedes" as a "nickname" on, we can.

Technically speaking, there are ways around the system I propose but I think it is a way to take it up a notch and make online citizenry a concept we take more seriously.

Who else is in?

2/05/2008 12:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, Sara, please do this. I will obviously need to get a new "name" since I cannot remember the password to my old one (below), but with a name -- any name -- will come, I think, a stronger sense of responsibility for the words that the poster uses.

What I miss in the attacks I see here is the sense that someone is trying to say something worthwhile. I enjoy reading a good argument with which I disagree. There's always the poissibility I can learn something. And who knows -- I may even be persuaded to another point of view, something nasty attacks can never accomplish.


2/05/2008 5:47 AM  
Anonymous Don Jose de la Guerra y Noriega said...

Hi Niece!

One of the first comments I ever made on this blog was about the virtues of having a nickname or pseudonym.

You made me aware that there was always the menace of Wendy's lawyerly minions and it was important to protect identities.

So far I haven't received any summons, although today Travis is bellyaching about the Plaza again.

Having an identity on the blog is extremely important because it allows all of us to get to know one another. After a few weeks, one knows who's taking, and some of what they think.

This is called civic discourse. And a blog is a little like a Plaza and it's meant to be where a community's civic conversation can take place.

Sara provides the subject which is always the blog owners perogative.

Someone who just jumps in as 'anonymous' is creating a random event. (Although personally, I feel the 'anonymous' characters here are getting a bit of shape and form despite their anonymity.) But there just are too many anonymous postings to focus on the issues of the day. The comments are just drive by hits. It is quite certain that some 'anonymous' individuals just want to destroy Sara's community Plaza.

So Sara, I think you have a very good improvement in mind, and I wish you well in your effort to have everyone step up to the plate and take a fictitious identity (or even a real identity if you have some daring do). What could possibly be the reason not to?

2/05/2008 6:10 AM  
Anonymous Hiram Johnson said...

Sara, if it brings back your interest in this blog, go for it! Seems to me you've lost the jones for this place.

Totally understandable... the pay ain't great. Sad to say, though, I visit your joint way less often than I used to.

If your interest is refreshed by pen names, go for it. But you know, the only enforcement would be you deleting non-nom'd entries yourself. More time for you, dear!

2/05/2008 6:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think you should do it and bring at least a small amount of accountability to what people write. It works pretty well at the Independent and at EdHat. I usually just click the anonymous button because it's fast...

2/05/2008 6:37 AM  
Anonymous Auntie Mame said...

Dispense with the rules.

For much too long now we've had to consider comments those control freaks who have registered their indignation criticizing spelling, grammar and anonymity for sometime now. What's in a name anyway when you can create any number of nom-de-blog... it should be optional. It's not the name but the opinion that matters. I suggest unclench your rear, be free, wild, creative and consider returning to your roots and run naked on the beach for at least a tiny little moment. Then ask yourself why do you want so much control.

2/05/2008 6:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Who cares who said it, as long as it's interesting?

2/05/2008 7:06 AM  
Anonymous Fred & Lamont Sanford said...

We think it's a good idea.

Aside from any altruistic goal that may be achieved it will help to seperate one idiot from another in what is now a vast sea of anonymity.

We've always been open to criticism of our own idiocy. Not!

much love,
Fred and Lamont

2/05/2008 7:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I post as anonymous because it it easy if i had to pick a name i most likly would not post. I find the time link for identification fine.... but hey it's your blog.

2/05/2008 7:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would rather see SDLG exercise a heavier hand in editing out posts that offer little substance and a lot of incoherent vitriol than I would like to see the often valuable "anonymous".

You would lose something eliminating this feature because the collective posts under a single name can often reveal the posters public identity. Regardless.

I am far more interested in content, and the ability to freely express that content. I am less interested in name-calling, overly cute but mean-spirited and offwidely topic attack posts.

I vote against losing anonymous, but just like the NP is Wendy's paper and we read what she wants us to read, I respect SDLG to also put his/her blue line/ red pencil on posts and make the final decision as to inclusion or not. SDLG has earned alot of trust here.

Content; not personality makes this the strongest forum. And SDLG rules content.

2/05/2008 7:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A question, Sara ...

Would having a log-in make it easier for a litigant such as Wendy McCaw learn the identity of a blogger? She's been known to sue to do just that.

2/05/2008 7:52 AM  
Anonymous Don Jose de la Guerra y Noriega said...

Auntie Mame: It's not about control but a civic discourse. People aren't able to get to know each other over long run in such an environment as you propose. At least it doesn't interest me to imagine everyone on the beach naked saying whatever.

Come to think of it, I never heard of Auntie Mame before. Can I be sure you're trying to be constructive or are you just destructive?

Why do you want Sara running naked on the beach...and re: your comment "unclench your rear"...Freud said anal retentiveness is the beginning of civilization.

So far: One sincere "Anonymous for change" and
one "anonymous" who resembles Auntie Mame.

2/05/2008 8:32 AM  
Anonymous Pierhead said...

Sara -

What if you could prioritize a thread by putting the nom-de-blog posts (and nom-de-blog reponses) first followed by any anonymous entries?

I don't know if that is possible with a blog format but it would help sort out the wheat from the chaff. And might encourage those who submit anonymous posts to consider adopting an on-line identity.

2/05/2008 8:43 AM  
Anonymous Sue De Nim said...

I agree with abolishing anonymous names. There are other blogs in which you must have a name to post & I agree that this elevates the conversations & makes them more civil. I've lost interest in this site because of so many anonymous posters who tend towards firing off a blast of words with anonymous rancor rather than making a well thought out argument.

2/05/2008 8:47 AM  
Blogger Greg Knowles said...

I would certainly vote for getting rid of anonymous comments. I am probably the type that goes overboard on these things, since I don't even like the idea of anonymous bloggers. Thanks for asking.

2/05/2008 9:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not using my blogger name here because it's my actual name, which I'd best not use here. But I'd gladly set up a new one (which does involve creating a new e-mail address) if you go through with your proposed change. I'm for it.
I've seen blogs make this change, and they do get a reduction in number of comments. But the discourse becomes more meaningful, and more civil, even as people continue to have strong contrary opinions to state.

And the sock-puppetry. On threads related to the News-Press, you typically get 100-plus comments. Seemingly different anonymous posters use the same rhetoric about socialist reporters trashing private property rights, and the other side responds multiple times in kind, in what's essentially a war of appearances rather than an actual debate. Who appears to have the most support for their side?
Besides, I miss Nelville Flynn.
(True, the more determined of them, or perhaps the best-paid, will just spend a morning creating 25 psuedonyms.)

2/05/2008 10:04 AM  
Anonymous random nickname said...

People won't change. 95% of the anonymous crowd will simply start using random nicknames to keep themselves anonymous.

2/05/2008 10:30 AM  
Anonymous The Barron said...

I agree - consistent names of some sort are needed.

2/05/2008 10:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No, please don't require a name/psuedonym. What's important or at least interesting is what is said not by whom it is said.

Named posts get predictable. Predictability means boredom and lack of reading.

As for the Independent, compare how many comments there are there or at edhat with how many here!

2/05/2008 11:10 AM  
Blogger Bill Carson said...

I'm in. Of course, I always have been.

2/05/2008 11:50 AM  
Anonymous lower Westie said...

It's a great idea.

2/05/2008 2:11 PM  
Blogger Brotools said...

Yes!!! End Anonymous comments.

And Vote Obama today people. Seriously.

2/05/2008 2:59 PM  
Anonymous raemini said...

Do it.

2/05/2008 3:18 PM  
Blogger rae said...

Do it!

2/05/2008 3:58 PM  
Anonymous Fatboy Steeplechase said...

Go for it Sara. After all the asinine commentary regarding Chelsea Clinton's visit I think anonymity should be dispensed with.

2/05/2008 5:56 PM  
Anonymous Robert C. Meltzer said...

Ah, but many postings on some local blogs are not only not interesting, but abusive, insulting, uncivil, and generally not in support of rational discourse- and of course those postings are usually from someone who hides behind the name 'anonymous'.

Blogs are a wonderful forum for CIVIL discourse (something that is a rare find in our polarized society) and 'dispensing with the rules' as Auntie Mame suggested, simply leads to chaos.

I personally think that one should use their real name in blogs, believing that if one makes a public statement of opinion, then one should have the courage be identified with that opinion, i.e. take responsibility for their comments/actions while realizing, of course, that if they are ill-behaved, uninformed, abusive, or insulting, then the world will know their identity. However, realizing that not everyone would be comfortable with that scenario, and not wanting to eliminate the good that blogs can do, the idea of a blogname would at least allow one to reply to a specific posting. So I tend to agree with those above who point out that - a blogname make discourse more understandable and would tend to cut down on the garbage...

2/05/2008 6:21 PM  
Anonymous SBCitizen said...

I'm in support of using an alias for blogabarbara, it definitely helps keep the comment threads more organized. And if the extra work is too much for an individual who has been posting the same message multiple times, I think that would be a good thing.

2/05/2008 8:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

SdlG wrote:
* How do I educate BlogaBarbara readers about this change?

Put a notice at the top. The easiest for you would be to require only registered users, that is, those with blogger accounts. Otherwise, if you're not accepting anonymous comments, you'll have to trash all those.

* Do I need to not only change the guidelines but put a disclaimer underneath the link to the guidelines and at the end of every post for quite some time until everyone gets it?

I think people will get it very soon once their post does not get posted - and there are no anonymous comments.

* Will I need to indiscriminately not publish any comment from an anonymous that doesn't at least take on a nom de blog?

Yes. Seems to me you can't keep one "anonymous" and trash the others.

* How does one educate new readers as to this requirement?

It should be posted at the top of the page, preferably a line under "SB Politics, Media & Culture". And also in the guidelines.

* How do I teach all y'all how to do that?

It ain't that big a deal. Those who want to participate with registered blogger names will do so. If you don't want to be that restrictive and do want to put in the time to trash anonymous comments, then people will soon figure it out. ...I suspect there will be considerably less participation, but that's part of the purpose, isn't it....

2/05/2008 8:06 PM  
Anonymous eight santa barbara said...

10:04am has the insight of insights.

I've seen the same thing on blogs and message boards of all types and covering all topics. As soon as a name is required, real or fake, the number of posts and comments drop, but people with viewpoints completely opposite (if that's possible) can discuss their ideas without worrying about name calling and childish attacks.

People, I suppose, seem to 1) be more thoughtful and careful with their words and approach, and 2) you don't get folks with a pseudonym occasionally commenting anonymously so that they can say something mean-spirited (basically, the multi-headed monsters go away).

Besides, I hate referring to a time-stamp. I prefer names in my public conversations, not something like 'black shirt' or 'curly hair' or 'woman' (that last one sometimes with an exclamation mark... kidding). Even fake names here would make conversations more possible.

Im all for it, Sara.

2/05/2008 8:26 PM  
Blogger johnsanroque said...

For what it's worth, I've stopped writing much to Blogabarbara because what interests me is the exchange of ideas. Lately, that part of Blogabarbara has decreased a great deal. Most anonymous bloggers are not too interested in debating anything. They're responsible for the majority of the name-calling and unsupported accusations. Lots of blogs are just ranting; Blogabarbara was focused enough to offer an opportunity to discuss local topics by interested parties. More and more it's become anonymous ranting, often with multiple consecutive rants clearly written by the same person under the name "anonymous".

Whatever system you choose can be undermined by someone who wants to go to the effort of creating multiple aliases, but probably requiring a log-in would discourage a lot of multiple comments by the same people.

It's too bad that you have to consider these changes, but it's also clear that regular commenters would support them. Whether I or any other individual contributes or not isn't important, but I've chosen to stop posting for exactly the reason you've brought up.

2/05/2008 9:43 PM  
Anonymous Garry Owen said...


Go for it. Trying to keep track of which anonymous said what when is tiresome (though it doesn't take much skill to recognise the authors of some "bleetings" and rants).

Totally agree it will enhance your blog; easier to follow a thread, respond directly, create a bloganality for Blogabarbara! (hey...almost a bumper sticker there; okay, not) It's still anonymous, but with an edge. Sign me up Sara.

2/05/2008 9:52 PM  
Anonymous Al Bonowitz said...

I rarely post, but when I do, I do it with the courage of my convictions.

I understand why some don't want to use their names, but that's not for me. If I'm uncomfortable attaching my name to something, I don't post.

Do it, Sara.

And Wendy: Bring it on, honey. See you on March 7.

2/05/2008 10:11 PM  
Anonymous Garry Owen said...

Sigh. Serious Sigh. Anonymous 8:05: see what you made me do? Tap all these nasty keys to get back to you. You had me going there...reasoned responses to SDLG's; good solutions, too. But I don't agree less participation is any part of Sara's goal. Won't get stale either; it should get more lively with a little personal investment.(certainly will if we take to the local beaches all nakey in SB's Running of the Blogs). As far as notification of the change; repeat it a for a week or two so the occasional visitor catches it before pulling the plug.

2/05/2008 10:45 PM  
Anonymous Auntie Mame said...

Tio Don Jose,

My intent is to be constructive. Your questioning is my intent also. It is important for you to get what I am saying and to also develop an opinion about it. Again my point is that the proposed requirements is for the uptight over-controlling and perhaps even the vengeful. Your Freudian reference to retentiveness may also prove to be the end of civilization. Good conservatives, such as yourself knows that too much regulation inhibits creativity. Many have complained about the content of this blog. What is most concerning to me is that the close minded want to pick up there ball, go home and never play again. The only way to play is with unnecessary rules. That is how you get narrow-minded minds. Again be free, dance in the street, paint a pretty picture in the mindseye and sing!

2/06/2008 9:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mike Pinto says...

Anything that would make it easier for the man to suppress free speech I would oppose.

2/07/2008 1:07 PM  
Anonymous Wend Bar said...

We would love it; makes subpeonas easier to track.

2/07/2008 9:00 PM  
Anonymous Shoreline Shark said...

>>"Named posts get predictable. Predictability means boredom and lack of reading."

What if all the posts are named "Anonymous"?

2/11/2008 9:37 AM  
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