Rostra Should Not Require Real Identities

Bradley J. Fikes Bradley J. Fikes 1 Comment


This is a reply to Richard Rider’s post, urging SD Rostra to consider requiring commenters to use their real names. Some people have legitimate reasons not to use their real names, and have worthwhile information. We lose if they don’t comment.

I suggest Rostra, if it does anything, simply require pseudonymous commenters to choose one nym and stick with it. And when commenters get out of line, a Rostra administrator should tell them so, and threaten sanctions to the recalcitrant. There are other options, which I discuss later in this article.

Rider mentioned the North County Times (my employer), which now requires real names on comments, as an example. I respectfully disagree with the NCT’s decision, for the reasons I gave above. I think requiring real names will reduce the amount of comments and discussion, as people migrate elsewhere to debate issues.

In a larger sense, the newspaper industry has nothing to offer blogs about how to deal with online comments. Newspapers are pitifully uninformed on this issue, as evidenced by the hand-wringing pontifications that continue to be published by newspapers pompously bemoaning the incivility of nameless commenters. These articles carry the same startled, indignant tone, as if this were a new issue.

Big Media Secret: Newspapers (with a few exceptions) don’t even like having comments. It’s something they feel they have to do to show how Net-savvy they are, but it’s a hassle to them. This Internet malarky is not part of their core journalistic mission. (Few industries are as resistant to change and innovation as the newspaper industry). And most reporters don’t like the rabble’s malodorous rantings attached to their brilliant articles. Nasty people on the Internet! Film at 11!

Friends, Rostrafarians, countrymen, forget newspapers and look at what your fellow bloggers do.

Bloggers have been dealing with objectionable comments for years, and have developed many ways of dealing with them, including ingenious technical replies such as disemvoweling or hiding them, or ciphering them with ROT-13.  And contrary to newspapers, having comments is an integral part of most blogs. It’s not a distraction, it’s part of their core mission.

I point to Patterico, a popular conservative blog with a dash of libertarianism, as an example. Patterico encourages commenters to use one ‘nym, and will call out sockpuppeters from time to time. And his loyal cadre of commenters and co-bloggers are alert for any signs of sockpuppetry and will chastise the offender.

Patterico is not free of smears or hit-and-run attacks, but his policy and the support of his readers, reduces its effect. The result is a blog with very robust debate and discussion, along with a lot of worthwhile information from knowledgeable readers. That two-way exchange is what the comments section is supposed to provide.


(DISCLAIMER: This is my opinion, and not necessarily that of my employer, the North County Times).


Comments 1

  1. Bradley-agreed. Well said. I would only add that the idea of an anti-pseudonym czar on SD Rostra kinda freaks me out.

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