Should commenters be forced to use their real names?

A short debate appeared in yesterday’s Observer, over whether newspaper site commenters should be allowed to remain anonymous or not.

(It’s particularly timely given historian Orlando Figes’ Amazon review confessions, and also – as I’ve just posted – the Telegraph writer Cristina Odone’s outrage over internet pests’ challenging her facts)

Journalist and academic Aleks Krotoski argues for the right to anonymity (an extract):

The anti-anonymity brigade assumes that the cloak of the keyboard brings out the very worst in people because there’s no accountability in an identity vacuum. This belief, however, is purely anecdotal and is completely empirically unfounded. Really, what happens online is just the opposite: research shows that people are more willing to be open and honest and to help one another than to try to break down the virtual social order.

The Observer’s Rachel Cooke, meanwhile, argues for unmasking the users (an extract):

As for cowardice, yes, of course anonymous posters are cowards. It’s pathetic. The honourable thing to do is to put your name to bad reviews and all the other stuff, and if this makes your social life awkward – as it sometimes does for me – the upside is that, in future, you will think rather harder before you begin typing.

Full post at this link…

8 thoughts on “ Should commenters be forced to use their real names?

  1. Matt Flaherty

    Freedom of speech of course allows anonymity. Anonymity allows people to speak up without fear of personal retaliation. It may be honourable to reveal one’s true identity. That is a personal choice. I always do. Truly abusive comments can be reported and removed. What is a real identity on the internet? Anybody can just make one up.

  2. Pete Jenkins

    Lack of accountability demeans any annonymous contribution.
    verification of what is said is an important part of reporting and by implication also upon comments made.
    The most ludicrous, and vindictive comments can be made when there is this cloak of annonimity available. If what is said is to be taken seriously then proper attribution is vital.

  3. Matt Flaherty

    To Pete Jenkins: And of course, you then have the option of not taking an anonymous comment seriously. That is your choice. The point is that you have no way of knowing whether a person is using a true identity or not. I could call myself Tabitha Gnillort and you’d have no idea. All you need to get a registration is an email address. In fact I would suggest that disallowing anonymous comment encourages trolling using alter egos.

  4. Matt Flaherty

    You have a point when you say: “The most ludicrous, and vindictive comments can be made when there is this cloak of annonimity available”. I don’t agree though on this point: “Lack of accountability demeans any annonymous contribution.” It really depends on the substance of the contribution. Nor do I agree that “If what is said is to be taken seriously then proper attribution is vital.” Again, it depends on the content/context.

  5. Pete Jenkins

    Lack of atribution immediately casts doubt upon the comment however sound it mighht turn out to be.

    Annonimity suggests deception, why else choose to be anonymous?

    Using pseudonyms are in my opinion no better.

    If I have something to say then I put my name to it, it is a courtesy to the reader.

  6. Russell Cavanagh

    And how can this be checked? Who is going to chase up the emails supplied or even compare them with the given names? Don’t think there’s mileage for either side in this debate, certainly not in practical terms. However, site editors are always free to moderate. Would, however, be interesting to know how much glove-puppeting (self-generated comments) goes on.

  7. Matt Flaherty

    “Annonimity suggests deception, why else choose to be anonymous?”
    Perhaps timidity? Look, we could argue back and forth on this for days. As an enabler to free speech, anonymity is valid and important. If a forum owner wishes to implement a policy restricting anonymity then that is their prerogative. It won’t make any difference though, so I can’t really see the point.

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