A Comment on Anonymous Comments

My post last week has generated quite a lot of traffic among which is a larger-than-usual crop of abusive comments. Here’s just one example, a response to a comment of mine describing people posting such comments anonymously as `cowardly’.

 

Charming. I hope I don’t have to point out that the allegation therein is completely false and defamatory. Fortunately the WordPress software blocked it, along with several more of similar ilk. I don’t see why I should allow stuff like this to be published on my blog, especially if it’s anonymous, so I deleted them all. I thought I’d take this opportunity to remind readers of what it says on the front page of this blog:

Feel free to comment on any of the posts on this blog but comments may be moderated; anonymous comments and any considered by me to be abusive will not be accepted. I do not necessarily endorse, support, sanction, encourage, verify or agree with the opinions or statements of any information or other content in the comments on this site and do not in any way guarantee their accuracy or reliability.

I don’t mind people posting contrary views as long as they’re not abusive, but if you use a fake email address and/or a fake name then your comment will be blocked. If you’ve got something to say then at least have the courage to identify yourself!

When I first started blogging, almost a decade ago, I decided to have an open comment policy so that anyone and everyone could comment without any form of intervention. That turned out to be a disaster because of the number of automatically generated  SPAM comments that clogged up the boxes. I therefore switched on a SPAM filter so it could veto obvious garbage, but otherwise kept an open policy. The alternatives offered by WordPress include one that requires all comments to be from people registered at the site (which I thought would probably be a deterrent to people only wanting to comment on the odd post). Another option is to maintain a blacklist which treats all messages from persons on the list as SPAM. It’s also possible to block all comments entirely, of course, but I enjoy reading most of them so I think it would be a shame to do that just because of a few breaches of netiquette.

All went fairly well and I only had to ban a couple of individuals for abuse. I did for a time receive a stream of crudely abusive comments (of a personal nature) from various anonymous sources. These were mostly depressingly puerile and they didn’t affect me much but I did find it very disconcerting to think that there are people sitting out there with nothing better to do.

Since WordPress notifies me every time a  comment is posted, it is quite easy to remove this junk but I found it very tiresome (when there were several per day) and eventually decided to change my policy and automatically block comments from all anonymous sources. Since this requires a manual check into whether the identity information given with the comment is bona fide, comments from people who haven’t commented on this blog before may take a little while to get approved.

There are still comments on here which may appear to a reader anonymous (or with a pseudonym) on here, but these are from people who have identified themselves to me with a proper email address or who the software has identified through their IP address or information revealed by their web browser (which is probably more than you think…). I’m happy for people to comment without requiring they release their name to the world, and will do my best to ensure their confidentiality, but I’m not happy to publish comments from people whose identity I don’t know.

If you’re interested, as of today, 28,781 comments have been published on this blog. The number rejected as SPAM or abuse is 1,802,214. That means that fewer than 1 in 60 are accepted. I simply don’t have time to go through all the flagged comments individually, so I usually just delete them all.

Am I denying freedom of speech by rejecting anonymous comments? I don’t think so. If you want freedom of speech that much, you can write your own blog (anonymous or otherwise). And if every sight of this blog makes you want to write abusive comments, perhaps you should exercise your freedom not to read it.

I’d be interested to know from any fellow bloggers if they have the same problems with abusive comments. If not, perhaps I should start taking it personally!

More generally, I will not accept anonymous comments on the subject of the anonymity of comments, but any other contributions are welcome via the box.

Unless you’re banned.

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10 Responses to “A Comment on Anonymous Comments”

  1. ddpenguinz Says:

    Striking how often those accusations of cowardice come from people who themselves lack the courage to share their own identity. But that 1:60 acceptance rate is quite something! Tougher even than a MRC grant funding panel.

  2. I really am a WordPress dinosaur. That ‘ddpenguinz’ comment was from me – didn’t notice the weird login.

  3. Philip Moriarty Says:

    Hi, Peter.

    When I had a blog, I had an entirely open commenting policy. That was very foolish of me. Even more foolishly, I wasted an inordinate amount of time arguing in the comments section with individuals who who were more than happy to cravenly fire out abuse from behind anonymous cover.

    If you’ve got something to say then at least have the courage to identify yourself!

    If what an individual has to say makes a positive contribution to a discussion/debate then I don’t have a problem with anonymity. There are valid reasons in some cases for an individual to be anonymous. But, as you say, if someone is going to fire out abuse then they really should have the courage of their convictions and stand behind their words. What’s particularly amusing is that the most craven are generally those who whine incessantly about “snowflakes” not being able to take abuse online.

    You are certainly not alone in having to face abusive comments. There’s an army of faceless, hypersensitive cowards out there who continually bang on about freedom of speech without understanding the concept.

    What worries me is that universities encourage academics to engage online without taking into account just how much bile and vitriol their employees potentially could attract. This needs to change.

    I had a jolly cathartic rant for the LSE Impact blog last year about online engagement: http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2017/05/02/rules-of-engagement-seven-lessons-from-communicating-above-and-below-the-line/

    Philip

    • telescoper Says:

      Yes, comments like the one above don’t really get to me personally. I just find them a bit pathetic. I also wonder what sort of person engages in behaviour like that.

      I dread to think what persistent online abuse does to people who are less inured to it. A (female) colleague of mine once showed me some of the online comments she had received. There were many more than I get and far worse. There are some very sick people out there.

      • I rather suspect there’s plenty of overlap between those who write abusive messages to one person, and those who write them to another.

        Heartening in some ways, as it probably means it’s easy to overestimate how many people are out there willing to write such nasty things.

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