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The Sciences

Who Are You?

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorMarch 10, 2011 6:23 PM


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A couple of months ago, I started thinking about a way to deal with anonymous commenters who are regulars at this site. This is mainly because I like to engage in comment threads but I've also become annoyed that many of the people I interact with are unknown to me. It's made me feel increasingly foolish. What would make me feel less foolish is if I at least knew who I was sparring with. So I came up with an idea. More on that in a second. First, here's a perspective on anonymity from Jeff Jarvis that aligns with my own, especially the last sentence of the second graph:

One tactic to cope with the fear of exposure and overexposure is anonymity. Anonymity has its place. It protects the speech of Chinese dissidents, Iranian protestors, and corporate whistleblowers. It allows Wikileaks to expose secrets. It helps people share, for example, medical data and benefit others without having to reveal themselves. It lets people play with new identities. When the game company Blizzard Entertainment tried to bring real identity into the forums around its massive, multi-player games, including World of WarCraft, players revolted, and no wonder: Who wants everyone to know that in your other life, you see yourself as a level 80 back-stabbing night elf rogue who ganks lowbies at the Crossroads? Taking on identities"”pseudonymity"”is the fun of it. But anonymity is often the cloak of cowards. Anonymous trolls"”of the human race, not the WarCraft type"”attack people online, lobbing snark at Julia Allison, spreading rumors and lies about public figures, sabotaging a politician's Wikipedia page, or saying stupid stuff in the comments on my blog. I tell commenters there that I will respect what they have to say more if they have the guts to stand behind their own words with their own names, as I do.

Now I can appreciate and respect the need for anonymity by some commenters, because of job concerns and the like. So I would never want to exclude anonymous commenters from my blog. However, to ameliorate my own frustration, I thought about asking anonymous commenters to reveal themselves to me--if they intended on being a consistent commenter. I looked at it this way: if a source for a story I'm writing about comes to me with information but he or she does not want to be in the story, I still insist on knowing the identity of the person, so I can establish credibility. Of course, comment threads at blogs are a different kettle of fish. And taking this step at my blog would have its complications, since some commenters might not want to reveal themselves at all--even in private, and perhaps wouldn't trust me. So I ended up abandoning the idea. But I'm still curious what folks think about it and I'd also like to hear from anonymous commenters--in the thread--as to why you choose to remain anonymous.

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