Should I still allow anonymous comments?

Here’s something for y’all to discuss….

I’ve felt pretty good about the way things have gone on the blog since instituting the latest civility regime. As you’ll recall, I threw out some bad actors, and just went to a zero-tolerance policy on overt hostility and ad hominem stuff. And according to the feedback I’ve gotten, people really, really like the result. So do I. People feel free to be themselves without being harassed off the site, and that’s a good thing.

But then, a couple of weeks ago after Rotary, I got into a long conversation with Kathryn Fenner and Hal Stevenson, and they both urged me to go the next step and allow only comments from folks who sign their real, full names. (At least, that’s the way I remember it. I know Hal was pushing the idea, and I seem to recall Kathryn supporting the idea. Correct me if I’m wrong.) Kathryn was speaking as a regular contributor; Hal was speaking as a person who won’t comment unless I DO go to such a system.

I’ve seriously considered it. On the one hand, I don’t want to shut out loyal regulars like bud. On the other hand — most of my regulars have (at my persistent urging) gone to using their real, full names. Which I deeply appreciate. Maybe I should put my policy where my appreciation is. Maybe it would bring out some other people and enrich the conversations here. Then again, maybe it would chase away more people than it attracts. But the main question is, is it the right thing to do? The blogosphere is different from Letters to the Editor in the paper. Yet I have in some ways deliberately run counter to the conventions of the blogosphere (such as aggressively differentiating this site from the hyperpartisan ranters that dominate the medium), and I’ve been pleased with the result.

Anyway, I had meant to pose this question at the time, and forgot. My recent exchanges with one Walter, who is one irritating little poke away from being banned, have brought it back to mind for me.

What do y’all think? And I particularly am interested in the thoughts of my regulars, as well as folks who have held back because I DON’T have such a policy.

Let me hear from you. And if you don’t want to say it in front of everybody, my e-mail is

28 thoughts on “Should I still allow anonymous comments?

  1. Walter

    Again with bringing me up in your topic. I intend to respond to every single comment or topic that involves me.

    One question, how do you intend on authenticating these people? Are you going to have a face-to-face meeting and ask for three forms of ID? Are they going to have to become card carrying members of Rotary or the CCBC (Capitol City Breakfast Club). Maybe you’ll invite them over for dinner to discuss whether or not they are blogworthy?

    My opinion, which I’m sure you’ve been waiting for, you’ll end up preaching to the choir and you’ll end up with a bunch of “I totally agree” and “You are correct sir” responses to your articles. It’ll be a big ego boost for you, but boring as hell to read to anyone outside of the flock.


    Richard Cranium

  2. Todd

    One advantage of being old is that I don’t care as much anymore about what people think. So you may have my real name if you want. I know K-9 Fenner well and know she just happens to have been born that way so it’s a no matter to her. However, being in such a small state, there is a tremendous tendency toward retaliation. Jean Toal is the perfect example. She is known to be vicious – ruthless -to those who do not bow appropriately, quickly enough and low enough. Lawyers would be virtually shut out if they had to put down their real names. As the Feds circle, it will get worse. Monitoring entries and just keeping a civility code is my suggestion.

  3. Elliott

    I live in a small SC town. I would be very reluctant to express my opinions, just as I am in many discussions, because of the contrary views of my neighbors. I was born and raised here and voted for Obama. I do not disclose this in all groups because I fear being ridiculed and attacked. This is a legitimate fear. I have heard people say they no longer eat in certain restaurants because the owners are Democrats. These are tough economic times, and I cannot afford to lose customers this way. Mr. Stevenson, obviously, does not need to keep people as customers who disagree with him. I am not in such a fortunate situation.

  4. Wayne B.

    Though I post infrequently, I do enjoy the civility of this blog site. I would hate to see you do anything that might drive off some of the folk that contribute positively to intelligent adult conservations. I do believe however that requiring names will keep out flamers. But how will you be able to determine a name is the name of a real person?

  5. Brad Warthen

    Actually, while Walter is trying to be funny, the fact is that I have in fact taken a commenter to breakfast at Cap City and had him show me picture ID — here’s the picture. That’s the day Doug Ross became a made guy on the blog.

    But I can be as strict about proof as I want to be. (As Kathryn keeps pointing out, it’s my blog. The rules, and their enforcement, are ultimately up to me.) It would sort of depend on whether my suspicion-meter went off. I got it calibrated to a fairly sensitive setting all those years dealing with letters to the editor (and yes, even with our precautions, some people would still try to scam us).

  6. Doug Ross

    All I can say is that I’ve used my real name for years on this blog with zero impact. But then a) I’m probably dismissed as a loony libertarian and b) I don’t hang out in places or with people who read this blog.

    But I’ve never quite understood what opinion I would be afraid to express in public. The only person who might have a beef with me is Brad because our views of the world are polar opposites of each other. But that wouldn’t stop me from having a beer with him…

    The truth (and your real name) shall set you free.

  7. Herb B

    Brad, at times I don’t mind using my full name, those who have been around awhile know it, anyway. But I don’t want to use it consistently, simply because of the search capabilities of the Internet. What one posts on the Internet, sticks around forever. The wrong people can find it.

  8. Steve Gordy

    Brad, I would suggest that you not require contributors to use their full names. However, if a person doesn’t want to give a full name, require a link to a personal web site or other easily checkable personal reference (such as Facebook or LinkedIn).

  9. bud doesn’t have a bunch of rules about full names and ‘ted’ doesn’t lecture everyone ad naseum about it. But if you insist on my full name I’ll gladly provide it. I just won’t post very often.

  10. Kathryn Fenner

    1.I am indeed “outed” so my opinions are readily google-able, for good or ill, and I am somewhat okay with that. I am self-employed and my husband has tenure, so I have fewer qualms. (Does Todd live in my neighborhood or who are you who claim to know me? Give me some clues.)
    2. Those who for good cause shown (determined in Brad’s sole discretion) wish to post under pseudonyms or single names should be allowed to do so only if they have established their identities to Brad to his satisfaction. I suggest that good cause could include fear of employment or small-town repercussions, although the more we permit these incursions on our freedom of civil expressions, the more pernicious they may become. Alternately, the current regime that gives Brad cover if he wishes to block the not-fully named is fine, so long as Brad feels like he can use it when needed.
    3. Those who whine about unfairness need to consider that Brad has put himself on the line big time to provide this forum for us.
    4. The fair comes in October.

  11. Debmcd

    I am a known loud mouth and have to say there are times my blurbs and comments on various sites have been mentioned by others. I am at the age I could care less AND I’m self employed, so no repercussions there ( I hope). I do, however, think a valid email address should be a way for Brad to determine if he person commenting is truly who they say they are.

  12. Frank

    For a number of years the policy for letters to the editor of SC newspapers has been to require documentation of those who commented on the editorial pages.
    With the advent of the blogs, and the lapsing standards of the MSM, I have seen the deleterious aspects of allowing unfettered and anonymous comments to be posted without any semblance of a reality check. Brad, please impartially enforce standards of civility. I have watched as good projects and good people have been destroyed by campaigns of unchecked rumor and inuendo launched by those who benefited most. Requiring people to identify themselves may keep a few people on the sidelines. Allowing unprincipled and narrowly motivated people a license to attack relentlessly and without explanation of motive is harmful to public discourse.

  13. Kathryn Fenner

    I believe I know Debmcd, who should just use her full red-headed name, and Frank–so why do you post under but half a name? You seem like a right decent chap.

  14. Pat

    My two cents: For some people (as already mentioned)full name will be stifling. You dress just fine – bowtie and all. Don’t correct anyone’s spelling, grammar use, typos, etc. unless to clarify meaning and respond. Allow free discourse of ideas, but block vulgarity and snide, personal attacks. Block slander – all is NOT free in love and war. I agree a lot with what Frank said. Keep what’s important important. I enjoy keeping up with South Carolina from your perspective. Thanks for being thoughtful about it.

  15. Chris Oder aka sallizar

    I did a quick Google search on my alias and my real name shows up in the first page of search results… I wasn’t really surprised… If Mossad can’t stay undetected I seriously doubt I can… Put me down as don’t really care cause if someone wants to penetrate your online alias they will…

  16. Brad Warthen

    There’s always that distinct chance that your best-constructed cover will be blown, particularly if connected to the Internet.

    My advice: Keep a couple of escape IDs, complete with passports and cash, in a safe deposit box, a la Bourne identity…

  17. Patrick Cleary

    Long-time reader, first-time blogger.

    I generally agree with Pat. I see no value in personal attacks, slander, or excessive vulgarity. I also want to know where people are coming from: if they have a set affiliation, disclose it. Beyond that, if people blog nice, I really don’t care what their names are.

  18. Libb

    My two cents: This latest “lecture” (as bud aptly describes it) seems like much ado over bowties and nicknames. I tend to side w/ those who have valid reasons for using a moniker (for the record mine is a variation of my real name–I am self-employed and choose not to risk offending any of my clients, especially in this economy). Besides, I’ve noticed on this and other blogs that using a full name does not necessarily preclude someone from being overtly hostile, belittling, etc.

    The power of moderation is the logical solution to incivility. You have the power to block any comment that you deem “crosses the line”. Just use it.

    Your former employer allows anonymous comments on their blogosphere but requires full name and address to register(although I suspect more for marketing reasons than civility). Perhaps this would satisfy your need to know exactly who we are.

    And thanks for the effort you do put into this blog.

  19. Elliott

    I’ll continue to read this blog however the decision goes. I’ll just be very reluctant to contribute. I enjoy intelligent comments, and if using a real name encourages these I may even like the blog more. I now provide you with my email address, and I would be happy to provide you with my real name with the agreement that it won’t be published.
    Kathryn, my husband tells me the same thing. That the more we permit these incursions on our freedom of civil expressions, the more pernicious they may become. But I am a Southern woman, and my whole upbringing goes against this. Once I was in my dentist’s chair and he started telling Clinton jokes. The dental assistant found them hilarious. I often wonder what in my demeanor made him think I would enjoy these. I found another dentist. I guess this reinforces my belief that clients will not do business with someone who offends them politically. In my small town most people with money to spend are Republicans.

  20. bud

    I’ll take the plunge. Probably won’t post as often for reasons that will remain confidential. Most people know me as Bud but my real name is William Bloom. I would actually be more anonymous to friends and family as William.

  21. Herb B

    I guess another thing I’m thinking is that I have often learned on this blog, and at times, changed my mind, or at least modified my stance because of significant input from others. I want to be a learner. Which means that there are comments from me still hanging around that I would want (if I could still remember them or what they were about!) to delete, or at least modify. But once put out there, they stay out there, even if they do not now say what I presently think.

    Just take a look at Brad’s old blog–all the topics are still there.

    I’m not thinking about trying to establish some kind of “cover.” As someone has well pointed out, these are really useless. Whatever the secret police in any particular country wants to know, they will find out. But there is a case to be made for not providing one’s name as a Google search item.

    But I’m fine if you decide for total disclosure of full name; I just will be much more careful about what I post, and I’m not really talking about rants, etc. I try to avoid those, and write respectfully to others, though I know that I have not always achieved that goal. I’m referring to content and opinion about issues that may not be appreciated by some in other places, or might cause trouble for friends who are in those places. Sorry if that doesn’t make sense. I can’t really give examples.

    And I join in with many others in thanking you for the time and energy put into the blog. Being very ignorant in several areas, it is a goldmine for me, especially in matters relating to SC and local politics, and I count it a wealth of information, on the same level (for me personally) as the NY Times and other good sources.


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