Sunday, April 03, 2011

What's The Problem With Anonymous Commenting?

Update 4/4/11: I received this Direct Message on Twitter today. I'm happy to post this update and let my readers know that Tim Burke did not make the statement that they will no longer allow anonymous commenting. It was apparently a fake "Tim Burke" who left that comment. 

It's unfortunate but not uncommon to read racist postings in the comment sections of articles on the Palm Beach Post. I've often struggled with wondering if these types of comments should be stopped or if allowing this type of "expression" might actually be healthy. If, for example, no comments are allowed at all, then there's no opportunity for discussion (good and bad).

If you delete "undesirable" comments, you are left with an unmanageable workflow; what constitutes and who gets to decide what is inappropriate?

Another option is apparently what Tim Burke, Executive Editor of the Palm Beach Post, has decided to institute. The Palm Beach Post will no longer allow anonymous commenting. I'm guessing folks will need to register an account using a verifiable email address.

My concern here is his statement that "anonymous speech is of a lesser quality." I realize not every anonymous comment will have the same Earth-shattering impact as say, Deep Throat, but I do think there is a place for people who have valid information to share and have good reason to want to conceal their identities.

Will requiring people to register accounts really yield the results Tim is seeking? Will people really self-moderate? Or will they quickly figure out how easy it is to create email addresses for this purpose?

What about the possibility that many people, anonymous or not, may simply stop commenting for not wanting to jump the extra hurdle of having to register?

I think this is something we all struggle with as educators who blog and may want to bring the blogging experience into our schools and classrooms. Is there value in anonymous commenting?

What are your thoughts?


Wm Chamberlain said...

I never comment anonymously, but I have decided not to leave a comment because of the need to register. Registering won't solve the problem either, people won't use their real names if they want to grief others. I really don't see any other way to create a positive environment for commenting without human moderation.

Tony Baldasaro said...

Lee, I think we need to do a better job teaching kids that there can be cowardice in anonymity, and that there is a power and conviction associated with attaching their name to their statements. I think also we have an obligation to teach students how to comment appropriately and constructively, not only to push the conversation, but also to better develop their digital footprint. In fact, I think helping kids develop their digital footprints, thus their voice, is one of the most integral parts of what education needs to be. If we allow them to comment anonymously, they can't develop that voice.

IMC Guy said...

I think it's a lot easier for people to comment off the cuff if they don't have to say their name. For some, it's a place to vent or just get others riled up. I'm not sure this is a good thing. I would like to see at least a user name involved so others could follow up and continue a discussion or reflect on a comment someone makes.

I do think the inappropriate comments will continue, even if people have to create some sort of account. They will figure out a way to work around the system, they always do.

Anonymous :)

Michael Walker said...

Lee, Is there a bit of irony, that in order to comment on this post, I have to choose an identity?! I think social media provides a great opportunity for discourse, but I agree with William, Tony and Chad that a) registering won't solve problems b)it is incumbent upon us to teach responsible commenting and positive footprints for our students.
I think there is a difference in tone when comments are truly anonymous, but I've seen debate get ugly on Facebook when people know each other.
Ultimately, I think requiring a log in will keep some from throwing bombs, but not all. Thanks for the conversation!

Sara said...

Helping kids realize the need to take responsibility for their words, spoken or written, has always seemed an integral part of our jobs.
As Tony points out, it's not only about the power and conviction of your words, but about the integrity & intent with which they are spoken. If students are fostering habits of discussing, questioning, extending and challenging one another in the perceived comfort of anonymity, what hope is there that they will ever develop the skills or habits necessary to engage others in full disclosure?

Rob Letcher said...

I think the transparency with which requiring "signing" our posts online leads to better posts, better discourse and better behavior. It encourages folks to learn how to intelligently debate their ideas as opposed to blindly toss out ignorant responses. IMHO, transparency breeds honesty.

Bailey Abston said...

I am a student in Dr. Strange's EDM 310 class at the university of South Alabama. We are required to leave our names and emails on all of our comments so the persons blog we are posting on can give us feedback. This is a good rule.