Wednesday, January 16, 2013

No one needs to know your name on a blog

Someone (It doesn't matter who. Which is part of the point I make below.) has published a long piece on blogging, commenting and being anonymous. You can find it with Google, if you wish. 

In the piece, he explains why people may legitimately or illegitimately wish to remain anonymous and discusses the effect this has on the virtual conversations we enjoy on forums like this one. Some of what he says is right; some of it is wrong. For instance....

He's right that allowing anonymous comments invites all sorts of nonsense. I see it every day. He's also right that it brings out the worst in some people; however, many of this blog's most educated and reliably thoughtful commenters are also anonymous. Perhaps the opportunity to remain anonymous brings out the best in them?

Moreover, he exaggerates the effect that allowing anonymous comments has on dialog. I see that every day, too. Despite the handful of jerks, we've had hundreds if not thousands of great conversations here even though most of us are using pen names. I think anonymity makes that possible, too.

He's also mistaken if he thinks anonymous comments have any credibility. They don't. No one takes an anonymous comment seriously unless it makes solid points, in which cases its the argument, not the speaker's reputation that carries the day, which is how it should be. 

The best solution (surprise) is the one employed on my blog. I don't allow any personal attacks on real people (unless the details are common knowledge, having been published elsewhere) nor do I permit profanity. People using their real name are afforded some extra protections, and you are never allowed to reveal personal information about anyone under any circumstances.

Truth is, I'd like it better if everyone used pseudonyms.  It seems to me that the only reason to use your real name on an Internet forum is to advance your vanity or to permit your arguments to rest on your reputation rather than your ideas. Without the burden of your identity, you're free to say what you really think.To speak your mind. To make vigorous arguments. Yes, sometimes the result is rudeness, but we're all grownups here. Moreover, if you're anonymous yourself the slings and arrows don't hurt nearly as much. Best of all, with the safeguards mentioned above in place, none of it can follow you into the real world where it might do some real harm. 

Why is DovBear anonymous? Because when I started everyone was anonymous. No one knew who wrote Hirhurim, for example, and the other popular bloggers were also anonymous. It was very rare to see a real name behind a blog. That changed, over time, but it was too late for me. By then I had already established an online identity that, for various reasons, I wanted to keep separate from my real identity. I understand this costs me credibility, but I don't care. Not having credibility means I have to work harder, and it makes the blog better. Moreover, anyone who wants my name wants it for a bad reason or needs to know my name before he can decide if what I've written has any merit (in other words, he's a dope.) So if my anonymity keeps people with unfriendly motives and inferior brains away from the blog, so much the better.


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