The PG on Anonymous Comments

The headline is a bit misleading, but the Post-Gazette's Mackenzie Carpenter has a good piece on recent legal action involving anonymous comments.  I thought it worth examining.

We are a tiny blip in the Burghosphere.  Not much commenting, but most of it is anonymous.  Our comment feature can be tricky to use so I suspect it is most often just easier than intentional.  I monitor and remove comments that cross the lines of libel (I believe), but it is important that you realize there is no real anonymity in the blogosphere. 

Bloggers have been dropping like flies in Pittsburgh, most citing the consumption of time as too much a burden.  Part of that time is monitoring the comments. 

I've been “fortunate” that the person most often defamed in the comments PghLesbian.com has been me.  😉 A few folks are the subject of criticism that I'm sure they don't appreciate, but my personal belief is that it is no worse than the gossip which pervades most social gatherings.  Criticism is not defamation. 

I've had to take some folks to task for their overzealous, out of line comments, but I've only had one incident when someone made me personally start to feel uncomfortable with their shall we say “intensity” on a topic.  That was resolved with a few email messages. 

Pittsblog 2.0 offers up an interesting analysis of the situation.

Of course, if you're a blogger or message board operator or host of a site that permits comments and contributions, there are a lot of things that you can do to minimize the risk that any of this will rise up to bite you. You can try to enforce a “no anonymous commenting” policy, which is highly imperfect but which sends a message to most people that certain standards of civility apply. You can permit anonymity but screen comments for bad behavior, either before they are posted or after they are posted, or both. (As I noted above, this brings certain risks in terms of liability, but it may also decrease the likelihood that a dispute will come up, or that a dispute will escalate.) You can ensure that your own contributions set a tone that doesn't cross the line in the first place, so that you don't invite tit-for-tat responses. You can do these things in a variety of combinations.

I've tried requiring people to register, but that is cumbersome with my software. I also feel that one goal of this blog is to allow folks who are not out an opportunity to be part of the dialogue. Anonymity is sort of an inherent part of the gay experience, especially in Pittsburgh. Of course, you can register using a fake handle so that's always an option. 

The “setting a tone” perspective is interesting. I've found it intriguing that gay institutions tend to draw the sharpest criticism and the most passionate defenders.  I've also found that people in real life generally assume I “hate” or “don't get along” with the persons connected with those institutions. I usually respond in jest that we are “frenemies”  (cue reference to Gossip Girls or 90210). People tend to equate blogger scrutiny with personal feelings and that's not true.  But that gets us back to the gossip piece. 

The PG piece quotes an actual anonymous blogger, The Angry Drunk Bureaucrat

It is a good piece to read, along with the Pittsblog 2.0 post, especially if you are an anonymous commenter.