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Huff Post’s New Commenter Policy and the Perils of Anonymity

My Tuesday article:

At first, it seemed like a good idea. Arianna Huffington announced recently that her hugely successful site, The Huffington Post, would no longer allow anonymous commenters. Before I go any further, I hasten to fully disclose that I’ve been a blogger for Huff Post since 2005, and owe much of my political writing career to the invariably generous opportunity offered to me by Arianna and especially founding editor Roy Sekoff.

That said, the more we learn about how this new policy is going to be handled, the more I doubt whether it’s a very effective move.

It turns out that new commenters will have to verify their identities with internal Huff Post staffers. From there, they’ll be able to use pseudonyms and handles as their public personas. Meanwhile, all existing anonymous commenters will be grandfathered into the new system, and will continue to enjoy their anonymity, if they choose to continue doing so. This will certainly eliminate drive-by trolls who pop into a thread to post something obnoxious, then leave. But the new system will continue to offer public anonymity for commenters and all of the commensurate immunity from accountability.

Because I came from the print world, I’ve always been a fan of the old-school newspaper policy of not publishing any anonymous letters to the editor — in this case, comments. Providing a full name, address and phone number with each letter brought heft and a sense of accountability to the process. Not only that, but it tended to weed out the crackpots. Not always, but often. On the other hand, the internet’s long-held traditional use of pseudonyms, specifically in the arena of news and political analysis, has, I believe, hurt the quality of the discourse.

The entire point of requiring the usage of legitimate full names is to force commenters to be more judicious in what they write and how they comport themselves. It doesn’t eliminate the problem, but it mitigates it… [CONTINUE READING]

  • GrafZeppelin127

    I understand the arguments on both sides. Me personally, I’ve always preferred anonymity only because I’ve needed it; as a teacher, and now as an attorney, it would be injudicious of me to post commentary on the Internet, no matter how temperate, that a counterparty could find and, in any number of inventive ways, “use against” me. Now, I do have materials on the Internet under my own name, viz., my teaching website (which I’ve left in place even though I’m not teaching anymore) and my education blog (which I haven’t really written on since I left teaching and which scrupulously avoids partisan politics). And there is one blog I post on as “Graf Zeppelin” where a few people actually know who I am, only because that blog, which is very topic-centered and the topic is wholly non-political, has actual in-person get-togethers from time to time.

    I think I prefer to use “GrafZeppelin127″ when I write about politics online for the same reason I don’t write about politics or link to political materials on Facebook, and either hide the feeds or de-friend anyone who does. Politics in this day and age has become very personal; people respond viscerally to other people’s political opinions if they so much as hint at a different voting/party preference. Before the age of Facebook I had a good friend who just could not stop emailing me far-right propaganda, no matter how many times or how politely I asked him to take me off his mailing list, and it got to the point where such requests were met with hostility and insults and accusations and bile and hatred, as the content of his emails and links became more and more extreme to the point where discussion and debate were no longer possible. I eventually had to take a somewhat drastic step, and suffice it to say, I have never heard from him since, don’t expect to, and don’t want to.

    This won’t affect me as I’ll be able to continue posting at HuffPo as “GrafZeppelin127″ (even though I keep meaning, and promising, to stay away from there). I doubt this will have much impact on the awfulness that inhabits the comment threads there. But maybe it’s a start.

    • Brutlyhonest

      Same (or at least similar) here. I have to be self-moderate because of my past in the national intelligence system. I don’t intend to ever go back to work, but if I did some of my postings may not endear me to significant portions of my co-workers.

      Of course, it is possible to figure out who “anonymous” posters are if there’s a real desire unless you work to cover your tracks – and I’m pretty sure I haven’t typed anything worth that effort.

      I doubt this will have much impact on the awfulness that inhabits the comment threads there. Concur. I haven’t posted there in years.

      • GrafZeppelin127

        Speaking of which, I give you the single stupidest statement by a purportedly-smart person I think I’ve read in the past month.

        [Context: gay marriage thread, commenter claiming repeatedly that marriage is related to biology, which I argue that it is not; I state, “Marriage is a legal term, not a biological term.”]

        Its both. Just like “woman” is a legal term and a biological one, The biology defines the term and changing the definition does not change the biology.

        The mind reels.

        I can’t link to the whole discussion thread (involving plenty of other participants) because the original comment was deleted. It’s fascinating, to say the least.

        • Brutlyhonest

          You can’t have a rational discussion with irrational people. What they “believe” trumps everything. Try to present actual information? Doesn’t matter because they don’t believe your sources (usually because they’re librul).

          • GrafZeppelin127

            Try though I might. I really do it more for the benefit of the reader than the counterparty. And also to some degree for my own benefit, viz., reasoning it out so I know I’m not wrong, or crazy, or both.

        • Bob Rutledge

          It’s fascinating, to say the least.

          Not sure “fascinating” is the adjective I’d choose. ;)

          • GrafZeppelin127

            Decide for yourself:

            Link 1

            Link 2

            Link 3

          • Bob Rutledge

            I’m be amazed to find out that any of those people can manage to navigate their [subsidized] HoverRound down the drive to the mailbox to collect their [socialized] pension checks without falling off and/or running over the dog twice.