Friday, March 11, 2011

Slate on Anonymous Comments

Troll, Reveal Thyself

Why we need to get rid of anonymous comments.

Once or twice a week, I get a letter taking me to task for Slate's commenting policy. The reader wants to tell me that I suck, but he doesn't want to log in to Slate's comment system using his credentials for Facebook, Google, Yahoo, or Twitter. Obviously this requirement doesn't bother everyone; hundreds of people happily sign in every week to tell me I suck. Yet I imagine that there are lots more people who are itching to chime in but who are put out by the login process.
One common misperception is that Slate wants your social-networking account in order to steal your private information. In fact, when you comment by typing in your username and password for Facebook or Twitter, those sites are the ones that check your credentials—Slate never sees your login information. If you sign on with your Facebook account, we do see your name and other details you've made available for everyone, but we get nothing more private than that.
If Slate isn't looking to invade your privacy, why are we asking you to log in with your social-networking accounts? Why make it so hard for people to comment—don't we want every reader to participate, even if they're skittish about revealing their names?
I can't speak for my bosses, who might feel differently than I do. But as a writer, my answer is no—I don't want anonymous commenters. Everyone who works online knows that there's a direct correlation between the hurdles a site puts up in front of potential commenters and the number and quality of the comments it receives. The harder a site makes it for someone to post a comment, the fewer comments it gets, and those comments are generally better.

To read the rest, check it out at (In deference to Todd Price's superior judgment on such matters. See his constructive comments below.)


  1. Seriously, Billy? You're a lawyer and a published author, and you think it's cool to steal Slate's intellectual property?

    Very disappointed,
    Todd Price

    (Sorry, couldn't figure out how to link this comment to my Facebook profile).

  2. Not stealing. Disseminating. Or, what's that fancy word, aggregating. For the benefit of a small group of readers interested in media opinions about anonymous online comments who otherwise wouldn't have read this thoughtful article.

    I suspect the author won't mind. I never do.

  3. You're either being disingenuous or intentionally obtuse. How hard would it be to post an except, link to the original, and stay within fair use and respect the author's rights.

    It's the author's property. Why don't you ask him first if he minds?

    I can tell you that personally I've minded very much when people have stolen my work and republished without permission full articles.

    Todd Price

  4. An example of a reasoned exchange in non-anonymous comments? Perhaps. I made the suggested edit to the post. Thanks for your input Todd.

  5. Hey Billy,

    Got busy and didn't see that you changed the post. Thanks for that. As you can tell, it's an issue I care about deeply.

    Carry on (and let's get that cup of coffee soon),

  6. What Mr. Farhad Manjoo fails to understand is that anonymous commentary is an important part of our 1st Amendment culture dating to even before the founding of our great nation. It is an important part of liberty.

    But even more importantly, locally, they are a great source of tips to news organizations regarding ideas for follow up and in battling corruption. What is wrong is deletion and censoring of commentary.

    Your blog makes some excellent points about the horrible, the negative, the excruciatingly disgusting commentary that can come with this right, this power, to self-publish. If the User Agreement is violated and harrassing or racist commentary is posted then the moderator should remove it, but getting rid of ALL anon commentary is a bad idea.

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