Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Anonymous commenting

There's a popular feature in our local newspaper called Sound-Off where people can call in an anonymous comment that will appear in the daily Sound-Off column.  Most callers comment on current news stories or events but the caller can say pretty much anything without responsibility for the truthfulness (or even the saneness) of what they say.  Occasionally, the editorial staff will print a follow-up comment to clarify or correct a misstatement but most of the time, the comments just stand alone and speak for themselves.   Having read the column, I've come to the conclusion that the more absurd the comment, the more likely it is to make it into print.  I've heard numerous people say that it's one of the first things that they read and it sells newspapers.

I have come to believe that there is no integrity in anonymous commenting.
I know that this is a pretty strong statement but before you start to heap coals of fire on my head, let me clarify something.  I believe there is a difference between commenting privately and commenting anonymously.  When I comment on something privately, I attach my name to it but only to receiver of the comment. I believe it's perfectly OK for me to share my comments privately rather than publicly.   It's when I share them publicly but anonymously that I think we get into dangerous territory.  Like you, I've heard numerous defenses of anonymous commenting but am skeptical of most of them:
  • Anonymity allows me the freedom to speak honestly. (If anonymity is required for me to speak honestly, doesn't that call into question the honesty of my public comments?)
  • I'm too shy to attach my name to a comment. (Do I ever speak without concealing my identity?  If I do, then what is implied about what I say when I conceal my identity?)
  • I must remain anonymous so I can protect others.  (The truth is that I'm the only one that's accountable for what I say and invoking the noble "protection of others" defense is a cop-out.)
  • I'm afraid of retaliation. (Retaliation for what  . . . being truthful, having an opinion?)
Attaching my name to what I say tells others that I have integrity.  It doesn't necessarily tell them that my comment is correct or that they will agree with me but it says that I'm willing to own it.  I have far more respect for someone who is willing to own his comment (even if I disagree with them) than I have for someone who hides behind the veil of anonymity.  Anonymity is about protecting me from accountability.  It's a lot like hurling a rock at you from my hiding place. 

What if my anonymous comment is positive and I just want to offer praise or support without drawing attention to myself?  I believe that you and I must own all of our comments, positive or negative.  Even when commenting positively about something, it's important to own what I say.  If, for some reason, I don't think that I can comment publicly or privately without remaining anonymous, then I think I may just need to keep my comments to myself.  


I'd like to hear what you think on this subject so feel free to comment.  By the way, my comments policy is at the bottom of this page.

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