June 28, 2003

Posting Comments Anonymously

In the past 24 hours I've received emails from three different people who note that they don't want/don't dare to post their comments on my blog. Now, if you'd rather email me than post a comment, that's great. However, if you do want to participate in a discussion with other readers here, but are concerned to not reveal your identity, please note that comments are set up so that readers may post anonymously (or, obviously, under a pseudonym.) You needn't enter an email address or a website/URL: just enter a name, ignore the other fields and press "Post." I should add that when you post a comment, your IP address is recorded where I can look it up (though without knowing who you are -- perhaps I could find this out if I were very clever, but rest assured I'm not that clever), so that if someone came on spewing, say, neo-Nazi bile, I could ban that IP address.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at June 28, 2003 10:47 PM

Without betraying confidences, can you give the rest of us a hint what is making people feel unwelcome?

I don't think that's the goal of any of your regular commenters. Certainly not mine.

Posted by: Dorothea Salo at June 28, 2003 10:58 PM

I don't think it's a question of feeling unwelcome. I think it's a matter of feeling uncomfortable/unsafe revealing personal information (name, email, etc) at a website. This is particularly the case for grad students and people looking for academic work (as Thomas Benton warns in another entry, for academic job candidates, google is the new blacklist).

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at June 28, 2003 11:26 PM

This is real scary. It is as if the one of the most negative aspects of stereotypical small-town life (fear of being blackballed if you are "different") has become universalized. Not sure how typical this fear is, but it may be an unpleasant and unexpected aspect of the "global village."

Posted by: David Foster at June 28, 2003 11:31 PM

"Small-town life universalized" is a good description. People now google prospective dates, not to mention prospective employees. Well, I mean, hands up if you haven't ever googled someone (whether to find some specific bit of information or just out of idle curiosity)?

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at June 29, 2003 12:22 AM

I have a few more tips on anonymous posting, from friends who've been in situations where it's desirable.

1. Check your spelling and grammar. This is particularly important if you're prone to idiosyncracies, whether they're relatively common or not. If you really want to go whole hog on this, run your post through a grammar checker like the one in Microsoft Word, and take most of its advice. This will inevitably strip some flavor out of your posts, since grammar checkers know precious little about style, but it will give you something that's reasonably clear and coherent and fairly generic.

2. Check over your posts for gender cues. This is particularly important if you're a woman who has something to gripe about. I've seen enough female friends make the experiment of posting in precisely their usual style but with androgynous handles to know that a complaint that comes from someone with a masculine-sounding or gender-unobvious handle will get more slack and significantly fewer accusations of bitchiness and such. Depressing as hell, as far as I'm concerned, but it's a fact of net life to this day and you may as well exploit it for your own advantage, or at least avoid an obstacle since you're posting anonymously anyhow.

3. If you're writing about personal experience of an unusual sort, then you're set. If you want to discuss your personal experience as part of a general trend, it helps to have some pointers for other accounts of the same thing. Since there are limits to how far you'll want to go in laying out your own details, draw on others' to provide some context.

4. Keep in mind that many (though by no means all) of the net's most pernicious cranks use anonymity to dodge irresponsibility, and folks who look like they're sailing under blank flags inevitably face some skepticism. Write as calmly as you can, and when you get passionate, still keep from boiling altogether over. Don't give folks easy hooks to pull on as rationales for dismissing the substance of your observations.

And that's about it.

Posted by: Bruce Baugh at June 29, 2003 07:41 PM

Alas, banning an ip address is unlikely to help. Most ip addresses are dynamically assigned at login to one's isp (via a protocol called dhcp, if anyone cares) and only last for one signon. There are exceptions, but the only way to identify them from the receiving end is to get multiple messages from the same person/ip address combination.
One can identify and block the entire range of addresses used by a particular isp, but that seems a little draconian.

Posted by: jlg at July 2, 2003 03:34 PM