Anonymous Blogging Isn’t Inherently Incivil

The proposals for blogging ethics are covered in the New York Times Monday, and I found the bits about anonymity in blogging most interesting.

Chief among the recommendations is that bloggers consider banning anonymous comments left by visitors to their pages and be able to delete threatening or libelous comments without facing cries of censorship.

Mr. O’Reilly and Mr. Wales talk about creating several sets of guidelines for conduct and seals of approval represented by logos. For example, anonymous writing might be acceptable in one set; in another, it would be discouraged.

Count me in the camp that finds anonymous writing acceptable. Obviously, I blog anonymously (or more accurately, pseudonymously) on this page, and sometimes I comment under the same nom-de-blog at other sites. I don’t hesitate to voice my disagreement with others, but I always try to do so respectfully. I would never engage in the elaborate nastiness described in the rest of the NYT article that others do and that has served as a catalyst for the blogging standards.

Certainly anonymity can be abused as a shield for doing things that people would be ashamed to do in their own names. But at the same time, there are plenty of anonymous bloggers who don’t use their real names for benign reasons. Many say that they don’t want their workplaces finding out they blog (especially during work hours!). Others, like me, have their own reasons for not wanting a Google search to reveal my views on the political controversies of the day. By allowing people to participate in the blogosphere as “Dimmy Karras” or some other fictional name, we give more people the opportunity to express themselves in this medium who might otherwise shy away from it.

Also, who would really know the difference if I blogged as “John Smith” and pretended like that was my real name? And why would renegades of the internet ever agree to play nice according to some code of ethical conduct? The people who play by these rules will be the ones who are already civil to begin with.

Disturbing as some of the behavior discussed in the rest of the NYT article is, the bloggers have it in their own power to control things. If you don’t want people to be able to say mean things about your family, don’t write about your family and post pictures of them on your public blog.  Define your comment policy in advance and delete inappropriate ones. These problems are sufficiently within the power of individuals to control that I don’t believe a code is necessary.


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