The newspaper in my old college town announced this week that they are shutting down their anonymous comments section. I saw almost universal praise for this decision in my social media feed. I thought about posting a reply via social media, but the more I thought about it, the more my thoughts on the subject expanded. Here’s what I ended up with.
Anonymous commentary should absolutely be allowed.
In our overly politically correct society, anonymous commentary is the only way to have an honest discussion, where people are free to share what they are thinking, without worrying about how it may impact their job status or relationships with their friends and family (sadly, this is a real problem).
When a media organization blocks comments or asks for real names, we all lose. This kind of policy wrestles power away from the average citizen and concentrates it with a few people inside the media organization. Journalists make mistakes and editorialists have agendas. Comment sections allow readers to call them out on it.
Yes, there may be a few trolls posting hostile comments. Freedom of speech is messy. Sometimes feelings get hurt. Sometimes falsehoods are posted. It may at times be distasteful. But I prefer an excess of commentary to no commentary at all.
Also, consider the following: Who decides which comments are trollish? Where do we draw the line? What makes anyone of us an authority on what kind of comments are acceptable or not?
Anonymous commentary forces us to evaluate the substance of each comment on its own merits. This is very important in hot button discussions such as race, gender, orientation, politics, etc. By being aware of a comment author’s identity, it is very likely that we will bring our own biases when reading their thoughts. Anonymous comments prevent this from happening.
Finally, anonymous commentary shows us exactly what people are really like. It washes away any illusions we might have that humans have evolved into sophisticated and civil beings. We haven’t. It’s a nasty world out there, unpleasant as that is to read. Want to check the pulse of your city? Head to the comments section.
You’re welcome to leave a comment (anonymously!) if you feel differently. That’s one of the reasons I installed disqus on this blog.