Saturday 1 June 2013

The case against blog anonymity

The Liberal Democrats’ official monthly magazine Ad Lib recently invited me to write a short article making the case against anonymity on political blogs.

The magazine has now been published. The original text of the article is reproduced below (although I haven’t yet seen the published version, which Ad Lib’s editors may in their wisdom have altered):
Liberator’s blog ( does not allow anonymous comments, whether pseudonymous or completely anonymous. If you are familiar with political or media blogs, you will understand why. Behind the shield of anonymity, a small but vociferous band of infantile trolls and obsessive bores can ruin it for everyone else.
Comments are frequently obscene (e.g. Guido Fawkes), personally abusive (e.g. Guardian ‘Comment is Free’) or impenetrable banter (e.g. Political Betting). The majority of people find this intimidating and off-putting. They would rather participate in civilised and intelligent debate than a short-tempered, juvenile brawl.
Abusive commenters have certain things in common. They are mostly male. The petulant tone suggests they are mostly young. And they hardly ever use their real, full names, preferring to post anonymously or hide behind a pseudonym.
There are a few people with a genuine reason for anonymity, such as a politically-restricted job. Most anonymous commenters have no such excuse. Their motives are cowardice (because it’s easier to be abusive if your real identity is concealed) or pomposity (because you can acquire unearned status with a bogus authoritative persona).
Would we tolerate anonymous speakers at party conference, their faces hidden behind a mask? Of course not. So why tolerate it online? We need to reject the idea that the internet exists in a moral bubble, beyond the normal rules of human courtesy that apply elsewhere.
Getting rid of anonymity is not a panacea for abuse. But if commenters were obliged to use their real names, they would think twice before being obnoxious.
Whether anonymous comments are allowed is ultimately at the discretion of a blog’s owners. But I would urge owners not to indulge the anonymous. The world of political blogging would be much healthier if participants behaved like grown-ups and used their real identities.
Ad Lib has published another article alongside mine, expressing the opposite point of view. It’s wrong, of course.

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