Saturday, March 3, 2012
New Comment Settings
I am a huge proponent of free speech, and have long understood that anonymous commenting allowed some the freedom to share unpopular opinions. Anonymous comments haven't really bothered me, nor has it ever bothered me when others disagree with my opinions. The cure for bad speech is not censorship, but MORE speech, I've always believed.
That's why I don't moderate comments (screen them before publishing them), nor do I delete comments (censor them after they've been published). I intend to stick with those policies. Disallowing anonymous comments seems to me a middle ground, less stifling of free speech than moderating or deleting comments.
I have been disturbed by the NUMBER of anonymous comments lately. I did a spot check of the almost-9,000 comments here, and have discovered an enormous growth in the percentage of anonymous comments. In the first 500 comments on the blog, only 6.4% were anonymous. In the middle 500 comments, 20.1% were anonymous. In the last 500 comments, 48.4% were anonymous. That last number was startling to me -- almost half of commenters aren't willing to identify themselves. Wow. Not only do these figures show a growth in anonymous comments, but even more disturbing to me, that's an enormous decline in the number of folks willing to identify themselves.
The anonymous comments have also declined in quality as they have increased in quantity. Commenting anonymously has permitted folks to issue personal insults, not just of me, but also of other commenters. Instead of offering reasoned disagreement, anonymous comments have become simply disagreeable. I believe the nature of the anonymous comments has chilled more speech than it has promoted -- many readers are declining to comment at all for fear of being attacked.
I'm pretty thick-skinned, but I have to tell you, the tenor of discussion in the comments has been depressing lately. I know many would be delighted if I decided blogging wasn't fun anymore and quit. In fact, I believe that is actually the reason for the anonymous nastiness -- trying to stifle speech, not promote it. To make blogging more enjoyable for me, I need a better quality of disagreement (after all, there's little I like better than a good argument!). I'm hoping that by requiring commenters to identify themselves the quantity and quality of comments will improve.
Of course, I know this is an imperfect process. Anyone is free to create a false identity on the internet (for all you know, I'm an 18-year-old Botswanan man with a great imagination!). But I figure this step, of requiring one to establish an identity before commenting here, might deter the kind of drive-by nastiness the comment section has become prone to.
I hope to hear from many more of you, where I can agree or disagree with you by name!