Doug Feaver, the former executive editor of the Washington Post, has a great column up about comments and the value of allowing them to not only be anonymous but unmoderated (other than by fellow commenters). This is a case I have tried — and continue to try — to make at the Globe and Mail, where I am the communities editor.

When I first took the job (and since) one of the first things people said was that our comments were unrelentingly bad and that we should require people to use their real names. I try to point out that while we are working on a number of ways to improve the tone of our comments, it’s virtually impossible to actually guarantee that someone has provided their real name, unless we ask them for their driver’s licence or credit card or SIN number, in which case we would dramatically reduce the number of people who would be willing to comment (I think in many cases what people want are real-*sounding* names, as opposed to obvious pseudonyms).

But in addition to that, I think the anonymity issue is largely a red herring, and that in fact there are many virtues to offering it, some of which I tried to outline in this post. Here’s a great excerpt from the Feaver piece:

I believe that it is useful to be reminded bluntly that the dark forces are out there and that it is too easy to forget that truth by imposing rules that obscure it. As Oscar Wilde wrote in a different context, “Man is least in himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.”

About the author

Mathew 2414 posts

I'm a Toronto-based former senior writer with Gigaom and my favorite things to write about are social technology, media and the evolution of online behavior

13 Responses to “Anonymity in reader comments has value”
  1. Twitter Comment


    @yelvington: I liked that Doug Feaver quote so much I turned it into a blog post :-) [link to post]

    – Posted using Chat Catcher

  2. Twitter Comment


    Liked “Anonymity in reader comments has value” [link to post]

    – Posted using Chat Catcher

  3. “…our comments were unrelentingly bad…” As judged by who??!!

    That's the way chaps – cling to those outmoded ideals – and you'll forever remain the Dowager of Front Street – irrelevant to anyone under 50 and anyone who lives outside the comforting confines of Lawrence Park and Leaside. I don't envy your job Mathew.

  4. You might find this interesting.

  5. Twitter Comment


    “Man is least in himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.” ~ Oscar Wilde [link to post]

    – Posted using Chat Catcher

  6. What's in a name? It's not that valuable if we talk about comment posters. BUt if for loan purposes and the like, it's but natural to seek the truth. As long as the comment is good and worthy, why make a big fuss of names?

  7. TVO doesn’t allow anonymous comments. Should we? http://tinyurl.com/ce6vqa

  8. Matthew, I'm going to tweet this post and try to get as many people in Korea to read it as possible. Did you know that everyone in Korea who posts comments or uploads content to user generated sites must provide their real name? Real name verification, which Koreans do by entering their real name + social security number, is why Google disabled the upload feature in the Korean version of YouTube. http://digg.com/u120HD

    http://twitter.com/davidyhlee

    • That's fascinating, David — I'd be very interested to read their comments, anonymous or otherwise :-)

      • Real name verification is pushing Korean internet users to finally try websites outside of Korea. From the Korea Times: http://bit.ly/G0StG

        I'm new to Korea — I lived in Toronto, until this past October. It's a bit of a shock to see that the internet, which is very global in nature, is very different in Korea. To Koreans, the internet = naver.com. Oh, and please don't get me started on the mobile industry here… gov't regulations designed to protect domestic giants like Samsung and LG have made both of them weak when it comes to smartphones.

  9. Having fun with video comments

  10. Anonymity in reader comments has value http://bit.ly/sZ9Nb

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