November 19, 2007

On Anonymity, Civility and Responsibility in blogs

Two different sources have turned my thoughts back to how best to handle comments and the role of anonymity in blogging and commenting. The Ethical Blogger posted More on Anonymity pointing out that while banning anonymous comments has become a major point in rules of procedure and unaccountable blogs have been a source of libel and worse, there is another side to anonymous blogging.
One of the biggest areas of debate so far has been about the utility of anonymous postings. I originally called for general transparency in the blogosphere here and mused on the counter intuitive credibility an anonymous blogger can have in oppressive environments, such as in China. We also had a touching comment from a teacher in the New York school system who was sanctioned for writing an op-ed, using a professional email address.
While the OBX is the China, there are consequences to comments, consequences that restrain the exercise of free speech. Kevin at Was a Dog put it very well a while ago.
I think this is why most of the most innovative bloggers are young or disguise their actual identities. There's not a technology gap, there's just a life gap that's a fact and its defined in chronological years and it's just math and nobody can do anything about it. Someone 46 can probably do much greater damage to their future quality of life by pissing a bunch of people off in a blog than someone who is 26.
So what to do. Obviously I don't blog anonymously so I am accountable for what I write. I have restricted comments to Google members only so that there is a bit more accountability.
The second article was a piece in the New York Times about the problems they have encountered as they opened their editorial and news sections to online comments. Needless to say they have drawn their fair share of beyond the pale comments. They monitor and censor comments using a fairly straightforward policy.
A particularly hot topic on a blog can generate more than 500 comments — 500, that is, that meet guidelines requiring that a comment be coherent, on point, not obscene or abusive, and not a personal attack. Though editors have mixed feelings about it, The Times has so far bowed to Web custom by allowing readers to use screen names, as long as they don’t claim to be Thomas Paine, Condi Rice or a famous porn star.
That seems to make sense even if it is subjective. The debate continues about how our society is best served by this unique tool. I will continue to monitor comments based on a policy similar to the Times. I am also going to open this blog to posts from anyone, including anonymous posts that meet the test. We will see what happens.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home