The End of Anonymous Online Comments?

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My Cat Knows Better My Cat Knows Better's picture
The End of Anonymous Online Comments?

Recently I have noticed a few articles in various sources discussing the end of anonymous online commenting in some media outlets. I am certain we have all seen the sort of comment online that is the equivalent of shouting fire in a crowded theatre. I also sometimes find myself drawn to the comments sectiions of the daily newspapers only to find myself leaving nearly as quickly when I read the predictable commentary from other readers, some hate filled, some merely uninformed, many that are just plain nuts. So is this a challenge to free speech and the right to open discussion, or a legal issue that needs to have boundaries and regulation?

Google "anonymous online comments" for other articles.

Sean in Ottawa

I think this may have more to do with accountability than freedom of speech.

If everyone wrote what they thought over their own name and we preserved the right to say what we beleive then what would be the problem?

Perhaps by being associated with the words we use more people would be more thoughtful about what they say.

I am interested to know what others think and I am not completely decided here but I tend to think this might be a good idea.

Sean in Ottawa

Perhaps there should be a registration of those who are compromised through employment. Perhaps you should be forced to register and make a case for anonymity before being allowed it. If this is granted sparingly and visible then that might be a reasonable compromise. I would not want to prevent someone who has reason to fear speaking out doing so but for most of the public this does not apply.

Catchfire Catchfire's picture

Two points: one, as Cueball should shortly be around to point out, posting under your real name is a privilege. Those marginalized by society, targeted by police (legally or not) or anybody who simply works in an environment where one's radical politics would be a liability, don't share that privilege.

Two: I don't think anyone posts "anonymously" on babble. Just because they don't use their real name, doesn't mean their handle doesn't confer some sort of identity whom we get to know as a community. This is not to say that babblers act the same way here as they do in real life, but there are other, social-based ways to keep people civil and connected to each other.

It's an interesting assertion by the MSM that using one's real name would a) "clean up" the discourse and b) that the hate-filled, angry rhetoric would stop if people used their real names. Neither assertion is proven, of course, nor do they have much supporting evidence.


Most of the public are in jobs were in this day and age they better not criticize anything their bosses hold dear.  How long will a dissident in any corporation last?  

As well, I can imagine in the future when every single word someone has ever posted on line becomes the fodder for an enterprising reporter to twist into a scandal.  Seems like that is the only discourse that would be available. i.e.  We don't want to hear about your plans for change now that you are a successful 40 year woman we want you to explain your comments on Facebook that you made about an emotionally charged issue when you were 20.  Nope too much opportunity for vilification of dissenters and change agents.  Its not like our MSM will treat people from the left of the political spectrum with the deference they will pay to the corporate candidates.

Snert Snert's picture

 I am certain we have all seen the sort of comment online that is the equivalent of shouting fire in a crowded theatre.


I'm not sure I have, given that the danger of yelling "Fire" in a crowded theatre is that someone may get trampled in the ensuing rush. Someone making a callous remark anonymously doesn't seem to me to have that same component of tangible harm, for the most part.


Personally, I've seen a great many online comments, anonymous and otherwise, and it really seems to me that when they're offensive, that's basically it -- they're offensive. Mean spirited, insulting, etc., but not much more than that. It also seems to me that when some media outlets disable comments (eg: the Globe) it has less to do with legalities or other formal reasons, and more to do with them knowing that people are going to be mean-spirited (eg: comments are likely to be disabled following a story about someone leaving their baby in the car while they go drinking... is there some privacy or confidentiality concern there?? Or do they just pretty much know that most commenters are going to be big meanies about it?)


I'd be much more worried about some person taking exception to some 'yell in the theater' getting a (registered) long gun and shooting me. Losing anonymity online would chill free speech.

My Cat Knows Better My Cat Knows Better's picture

I am still torn as to whether or not I agree with the abolition of anonymity, given that the number of tasteless, hate filled, rascist or otherwise objectionalble content that is posted. It seems to me that such commentary may grant licence to some who would otherwise think before taking a lunatic fringe position. If someone sees a lot of objectionable content, they may decide that this is agreeable to the majority and must be okay, sort of like the Tea Party mindset. If enough crap is spewed into enough places, society's standards become watered down and the cesspit becomes the norm. On the other hand....

My Cat Knows Better My Cat Knows Better's picture

lombar wrote:

I'd be much more worried about some person taking exception to some 'yell in the theater' getting a (registered) long gun and shooting me. Losing anonymity online would chill free speech.

Isn't there some sort of responsibility that goes with "free speech". At any rate, what seems at issue here is that the courts will decide this issue since a number of suits for lible and hate speech have been filed. I suspect that the level for freedom and irresponsibility on the net will have a shortened future.


Five years ago, in addition to posting at my own blog, I was a member of a group that posted at the now defunct Blogs Canada E-Group. For a short period of time, Norman Spector joined us. It wasn't long before I began to think of him in my own mind as Lord Spector. And it wasn't long after that when Lord Spector, in his infinite wisdom, announced that he thought it appropriate that continued membership in the group should be contingent on a willingness to "sign" all posts with our real names. The owner of the site nearly bought into it too, until I convinced him it was unwise and unnecessary. I published a post at my own house at the time in defence of pseudonymous blogging. I've just reread it and other than a couple of typos and insufficient snark in the title, I don't see a lot I would change: [url=]The people's medium[/url]. I'm out in some places. If you know where to look you can find out my real name. But I would still defend pseudonymous blogging, commenting or whatever.

laine lowe laine lowe's picture

Great blog entry, pogge.

I think the fact that pseudonyms are a norm on the Internet have contributed to its vibrancy. The more views exchanged, the better, even if you often have to put up with trollish opinions and often outright abuse. I think its up to the owners/operators of websites to set the tone and moderate as they see fit but to ask people to remove the cloak of anonymity is a step way to far and would effectively stifle vibrant discussion in most places.

Imagine if we didn't have secret ballots, participation in elections would plummet. Participation in online discussions would similarly suffer.

Maysie Maysie's picture

Interesting discussion.

For the most part, I previously thought about internet racism as being fueled by anonymity. Take a look at the comments sections of news sites. Even when there is a little blip that reads something like Blah blah blah we value freedom of speech and reasoned discourse blah blah blah no racist or sexist or any other kind of ist will be tolerated. And then directly following that is usually a bunch of -ist comments.

Sometimes it's because free speech is privileged above preventing racist harm. But sometimes it's because the racism isn't even recognized.

But then came the popularity of social media sites like myspace and Facebook and twitter. Which blows my "anonymity" theory right out of the water.

Resist racism has a great piece about internet racism, anonymity and non-anonymity.


Lachine Scot

Interesting thread.

However, I don't know if we're seeing the end of anonymity. 

Remember when there were some high profile cases against individual Napster and file-sharing users?  It didn't mark the end of file sharing, but happened at the same time as a huge increase in file sharing.  Just a thought..

bagkitty bagkitty's picture

I want to quote something that Jane Rule published in the Body Politic back in 1979:

...No hate mail I've ever received has been signed. Apparently self-righteousness needs anonymity. But from those who had real reason to protect themselves, the letters have invariably been signed. They have been a support for me without which it would sometimes have been nearly impossible to go on writing.

Of course she was referring to a different form of communication, and one that was directed towards a single recipient - the dynamics were quite different from a general discussion conducted before a potentially unlimited audience - but her underlying point is, I think, still valid.


I can see how banning anonymous comments on forums could develop
into a contest of how to be anonymous without appearing to be

Some sites will not let you register if your email address is one
of the 'throwaway' types such as, or is one of the
spam-killer sites such as

But there are other email addresses which are completely
anonymous and are on no one's blacklist as far as I know: so
anonymous that not even the operator of the email site knows to
whom an address belongs.

There aren't many of them, and they could be blocked once enough
people use them to register at forums, and the forum owner finds
them obnoxious; but it is easy to create more.

The anonymity service, Tor, allows someone to log on to a website
and post comments without it being possible to trace the comments
to his computer, since the comments are relayed through 3 Tor
'nodes', randomly chosen by the software, as well as being
encrypted during the trip.

A site could identify the comment as coming from a Tor site and
block such comments, but, again, more could be created.

If a forum site wanted to get tougher, it could sue the owners of
the Tor sites that were relaying the offending comments; or it
could sue the owner of the site hosting the anonymous email

I am not sure how effective that would be, however, since such
sites are considered to be public utilities of a sort: just as you
can not sue the telephone company because someone made a
threatening call to you from a public phone booth, my understanding
is that owners of such sites can not be sued for the comments of
their users.

Snert Snert's picture

my understanding is that owners of such sites can not be sued for the comments of their users.


That can depend. Years ago, when "online services" like AOL and such were still popular, one of them (Prodigy, I think) had a policy of censoring its discussion boards with regard to sexual words and discussions.


At one point a user filed a defamation suit, naming another user and Prodigy itself. Prodigy's lawyers tried to claim "common carrier" status, similar to the telephone example you gave. But the judge presiding said "wait a second... you censor your discussion forums, don't you? Well, if you can monitor them for certain words, you can also monitor them for libel".


So an online service that's a true common carrier should be free and clear, but an online service that moderates for (say) coarse language can be expected to moderate for illegal speech as well.

Catchfire Catchfire's picture

Have online comment sections become 'a joke'?

In the early days of the Internet, there was hope that the unprecedented tool for global communication would lead to thoughtful sharing and discussion on its most popular sites.

A decade and a half later, the very idea is laughable, says Gawker Media founder Nick Denton.

"It didn't happen," said Denton, whose properties include the blogs Gawker, Jezebel, Gizmodo, io9 and Lifehacker. "It's a promise that has so not happened that people don't even have that ambition anymore.

"The idea of capturing the intelligence of the readership -- that's a joke."

"I don't like going into the comments. ... For every two comments that are interesting -- even if they're critical, you want to engage with them -- there will be eight that are off-topic or just toxic," he said.

And as sites get more popular, it's harder to control the comments, which inevitably get nastier.

When it comes to improving open discussion threads, Denton seemed quicker to shoot down ideas that others are trying than to provide proposals of his own.

Having editors and reporters engage their readers in the comments? "The writer of the piece has to move on to the next piece. They don't have time to moderate all those comments."

Require readers to post using their real names? "My own view is that anonymity is at the heart of the Internet."

Give other commenters more power to "up-vote" or "down-vote" posts? "We don't really believe in the democratic process of decision-making when it comes to discussion," Denton said.

For example, he said, Jezebel has made lots of hay off of sexual harassment accusations against American Apparel Chief Executive Officer Dov Charney. Denton said he'd love to see Charney come into the comments section to defend himself.

"If you put it to a vote, 90% would vote to ban him. They hate that guy," Denton said. "If Dov Charney went into the Jezebel comments, he'd be torn limb from limb; his limbs aren't all that would be torn off."

The answer? Denton said his sites are planning to post some stories that allow only a hand-picked, pre-approved group of people to comment on them. That, he said, would make the comment section an extension of the story and allow people, like Charney in the above example, to have their say without fear of being piled onto by others.


Catchfire wrote:
It's an interesting assertion by the MSM that using one's real name would a) "clean up" the discourse and b) that the hate-filled, angry rhetoric would stop if people used their real names. Neither assertion is proven, of course, nor do they have much supporting evidence.

I agree. There are them who want to make things like Facebook, which is a CIA-FBI-CSIS hangout and opportunity for companies to dig up dirt on their employees and then fire them. And it just makes for cleaner, more illuminating forums for defamation and smear jobs same as usual but with semi well-known people doing it instead of the rabble at large.


There is a discussion going on right now about this, on Charlie Angus's Facebook page.  (Radiorahim is telling me about it, and participating in the discussion there.)  It's one of those times when I kind of wish I still had a Facebook account.

Charlie (who is AMAZING on internet freedom issues) seems to be leaning towards getting rid of online anonymity. 

Fidel is so right in the post above this one.  So many websites now are moving to "verification" of commenters by making them use their Facebook accounts or other "real name" social media accounts in order to post comments, and not allowing anonymous comments.  I find it really troubling that left-wing folks who should understand better than most why marginalized people might not have the privilege of sharing their politics and experiences with oppression using their real name, googlable by anyone who types their name into a search engine, support abolishing pseudonymous online posting.

We've talked about this a number of times before on babble.

Here's a recent blog post by David Climenhaga, where he actually agrees with Dean Del Mastro that anonymous online comments should be banned by media outlets.  It's incredible.  I posted a lengthier response as a comment under that blog posting, where I linked to other rabble blog and babble discussions about this issue.

I really feel like our "mainstream" lefty politicians and more privileged lefty folks (e.g. those who have jobs that wouldn't be jeopardized by their employers knowing their politics, or those who haven't experienced the kind of oppression or violence or family dynamics that they can only discuss online under the safety of a pseudonym) need to be educated on this issue.

Online comments and forums have really played a part in democratizing media.  If only the people whose views are mainstream enough to not be threatened by posting them under their real names become the only ones participating and marginalized voices are intimidated out of the field because they don't want to use their real names, then that is a giant step backward.


Anyone remember this thread?  Can you imagine that helpful thread ever having been posted in the first place if there was a requirement that people use their real names here?  Their employer would find it in the time it took to type welder's real name (or that of anyone else they see as a union "troublemaker") into a search engine


Here's another old thread where we discussed why people might not want to use their real names online.

Catchfire Catchfire's picture

Great archivist work, Michelle! This is a very hard argument to convince people of, I find. The idea that anonymity=trolling is hardwired into people it seems.

You know, it occurs to me that there was a similar argument when North America brought in the secret ballot for elections -- how could you trust the vote if you didn't know who it came from?

I'm not sure that anonymity works or is desirable in all situations, but it's interesting to see how deeply invested we are in one idea or another without really looking at them critically.

radiorahim radiorahim's picture

I've posted this elsewhere, but I think that anyone concerned about the future of internet freedom should spend a little time (about an hour) with this talk by Eben Moglen at last year's re:Publica conference in Berlin.   Eben Moglen has been the inspiration for projects like the Freedom Box, and user controlled, privacy respecting decentralized social networking models like Diaspora* and Friendica.

The threat of Facebook and data mining explained by Eben Moglen

I'm quite concerned that some folks on the left in their quest to deal with the sewage of right-wing trolls are falling into the trap of throwing out online privacy rights.  


Catchfire wrote:

I'm not sure that anonymity works or is desirable in all situations, but it's interesting to see how deeply invested we are in one idea or another without really looking at them critically.

It certainly does not work in all situations. I have run discussion boards for my union (at the local level). Reading and writing were both private, password protected. Local members only - first and last name mandatory to register, login, post. It works beautifully - the equivalent of a local union meeting, but because it was a big local and regionally based, in-person monthly meetings weren't enough to facilitate full discussions and debate. A previous board had allowed anonymous logins (where only the moderator was able to confirm local union membership). The discussion was wild and irresponsible and bickering and shouting. Kinda like babble. (Kidding, partly.) Suddenly it became respectful and serious.

That's obviously a very special case. Generalizations are impossible. But banning anonymity in situations where it's not a "private" board in the sense I've described is, I think, an attack on democracy. It would be like forcing people to print their names on leaflets they hand out or posters they stick up.



Unionist wrote:

Catchfire wrote:

I'm not sure that anonymity works or is desirable in all situations, but it's interesting to see how deeply invested we are in one idea or another without really looking at them critically.

But banning anonymity in situations where it's not a "private" board in the sense I've described is, I think, an attack on democracy. It would be like forcing people to print their names on leaflets they hand out or posters they stick up.

Agreed, Unionist.

And I wouldn't say that no one has looked at them critically. I heard a good radio piece a year or so ago (I probably mentioned it in that other thread) that the desirable situation is for people to stand by their words when they speak with an alias. Of course there are going to be people who troll and act otherwise irresponsibly, but I don't think most people do that.

And as for bad behaviour.... I seem to remember that when they turned the cameras on in the house of commons is when that really went into full gear. So it doesn't always have a direct relationship with anonymity.



Not to mention that I've seen some pretty racist and abusive crap written under what look like real names under mainstream media articles.  A lot of mainstream media outlets make people login using their Facebook ID (don't even get me started on how crappy that is privacy-wise), and it's amazing, how stupid and abusive people can be, even using their real names.

radiorahim radiorahim's picture

What I'm seeing in Charlie Angus' Facebook thread are arguments that are in the end not all that different from those of Vic Toewes' "you're either with us or you're on the side of the child pornographers arguments.

It's just that this version is "You either support a real names commenting policy on mainstream media sites or you're on the side of the right-wing bigots and hate mongers".    Neither of these things is true.

We're slowly losing spaces where people can communicate anonymously...or you have to be extremely tech savvy in order to do so.

In the Moglen video I linked to above, he talks about this generation possibly becoming the last generation that can read without being under surveillance, that can listen to audio or watch video or search for information or I would add, make an online comment without someone in the middle keeping track of what we're doing.

Anyway, I've invited Charlie Angus and everyone else who participated in the thread to come here to a model where people can post freely under pseudonyms and there's a paid staff that works very hard and doesn't get paid enough to deal with the trolls and spammers.

Unionist, I can see your point in a "closed" discussion forum like one run by a local union.   It's a relatively safe space and generally speaking everyone knows everybody and there's a sense of solidarity.   OTOH, there might be a member who is being sexually or racially harassed in the workplace who might not feel so safe.



I have the misfortune of looking in to discussions at the Montreal Gazette and the amount of hatred spewed about Indigenous people, and of course francophone Québécois people... They require Facebook registration. That angers me greatly, as there is no way I'm registering on Facebook. 

I'm a freelancer, and although a good many of my clients aka employers are progressive, I want a free hand to criticise, say, the trade union bureaucracy or large progressive associations, and I also work for corporate clients (there are of course contracts I would refuse out of principle). My life has become difficult enough due to the Harper cuts to any vaguely progressive NGO and to the arts without further material problems. 

I almost always use the same handle at forums; it is long-standing and people who know me know very well who I am. 

The wild anti-Native-people hatred brewing these days at the National Pest but even at the Globe and the Star (just to mention anglo media; in French obviously the worst are Le Journal de Montréal and Le Journal de Québec, Péladeau rags) doesn't require anonymity. No, they are fuelled by groupthink, they are bullies who believe the crap they are saying against Indigenous peoples and are proud of hating them. 

voice of the damned

South Korea passed an anti-anonymity law a few years back. The government was partly capitalizing on public outrage at netizen harassment of celebrities, which in a few notorious cases had allegedly led to suicides.

Apparently, the database was hacked last year, and many users had their private info stolen. Then, in August, the law was ruled unconstitutional.

Even when it was in effect, the law only applied to websites with 100, 000 daily visitors or more, so it was of somewhat limited utility. Furthermore, many users just switched to websites that were operated overseas, similar to what Free Dominion did when they went to a Panamanian site. If more countries pass laws like this, I'd expect some countries to set themselves up as the "Swiss Banks" of the internet, to attract domain holders from more restrictive jurisdictions. Possibly that's already happening.





I don't agree with Mallick's solution, but her piece is relevant to this issue (and others here).


Did she really call Aboriginal people "Indians" in her piece?  Wow.  And in a piece where she decries racism, too.  Incredible!

Anyhow, it doesn't surprise me that Mallick supports people being forced to use their real names in comment sections.  She has had some pretty vicious e-mail in the past over her columns.  But you know, she's also got a pretty thin skin for legitimate criticism of her columns as well - she sure didn't like it when babblers occasionally called out some of the problematic things she wrote in her columns.  And there has been lots to call out, too. 

From her crusade to save an East York school with 90% Muslim students from the Muslim hordes who wanted a place to pray during the day, to her grossly sexist remarks about Sarah Palin during the 2008 US election (describing her as having a "porn actress look"), it just goes to show you that even when people write using their real names, that doesn't necessarily mean there won't be sexism and racism in the writing.

By the way, since Mallick is so concerned that people post their addresses as well as their real name when their writing is published on newspaper websites, I'm sure she'll go first and post her address after each one of her columns.  Right?

voice of the damned

What got me about the Mallick piece was her apparent shock that their is racism in Canada.

I had always thought that one of the joys of Canadian life was its abhorrence of racism. But judging by some of the email I received and the comments I read online elsewhere, it’s getting a bit Mississippian around here.

Possibly, Mallick is just naive, but I think it could also be that, for some people, the reality of racism is irrationallly highlighted when it suddenly appears on the internet. Basically, legitimate concern about racism is being conflated with lingering moral panic about the internet.

I saw the same problem with the Climenhaga piece that Michelle posted. He cites the "Taliban Jack" epithet as an example of why we might need to do away with on-line anonymity. Well, I'm sorry, but the Taliban Jack horse left the barn when Rick Mercer called Layton by that name on CBC, doubtless to the delight of Mercer's more right-wing fans. And I'm betting a lot of those fans were repeating it the next day in offices, donut shops, and on call-in radio shows. But a few right-wing keyboard-jockeys use it on the internet, and it suddenly demonstrates the neccessity for a whole new set of laws?   

[Just to clarify, in my second paragraph, after the quote, I'm not saying that concern about racism is irrational, just that it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to start worrying about it only when it appears on-line.]




Do we not have slightly more important issues at hand here?

I am familiar with the protocol, but most of the Indians I know call Indians Indians. And while I recognize that it's not my call, I'm not going to get all bent out of shape about some white person forgeting (or perhaps making a point WRT) the various terms like Aboriginal, First Nations, Native.

Or maybe she made the mistake of presuming that she could be so familiar.

On the whole, I thougth the article made some points that people would do well to pay attention to.If she fucked up on some of the details, well, write a letter.

Personally, I too have been surprised by the reaction to this of some people I thought I understood. So my reaction to Mallick's article is not to point the finger at her as stupid or naive, but to appreciate the fact that she has come to the realization that she has.





No kidding.  I find it hard to believe that she hasn't heard that kind of thing in real life.  There are lots and lots of people who are more than willing to say those kinds of racist things right out loud, more than publicly. 

As a white person who grew up in smaller white communities and towns and cities (we moved around a lot when I was a kid), the kind of racism and sexism you read in comment sections now were standard fare then.  And hell, they're standard fare NOW, too, and not just in smaller centres, but right here, in "enlightened" big cities too.  We grew up with incredibly racist schoolyard chants and jokes, people in many of our families and our friends' families regularly made bigoted and racist remarks, whether at family dinners, or car rides to this place or that when listening to the news or talk radio.  Talk radio is filled with racist commentary, by both the hosts and the callers, and they all use their real names!

What amazes me is that the same people who want real names policies argue against tighter moderation because they think it will cost too much because it would take sooooo much time.  But they don't take into account how much time a real names policy would take, that is, if you wanted to VERIFY that the "real name" and address someone uses is actually their real name and address.  And on top of that, the threads would still have to be moderated, because lots of people using their real names would get out of line.  Wouldn't it just be easier to just moderate the threads after the articles, delete the comments that contravene the paper's policy, and have the threads automatically close two or three days after the article has been posted, so that the moderators only have to keep track of the comments after the most recent articles?

Who's to say that someone who signs on as "John Smith" is really John Smith?  Who's going to verify that?  babble even had some troll on here for years who kept coming back with new aliases, and one of them even sounded like a real name, which he used on all sorts of web sites. 

This pollyannaish idea that the comment section sewers in mainstream media are filled with things people would never say without anonymity is ridiculous.  First of all, a lot of the commentary in the comment sections can be found by right-wing columnists and talk show hosts who are only too thrilled to perpetuate that kind of crap while proudly using their real names.  Secondly, most of us have heard that kind of crap from people in our real lives, although we experience it differently based on who we are.  People of colour hear it aimed AT them.  White people who try to have a clue end up hearing it from other white people who think that just because we're white, we'll "get" what they mean when they say racist things, and that we'll empathize with their racist points of view.

In an article where she repeatedly calls Aboriginal people "Indians", it doesn't surprise me that she didn't realize there was so much racism in Canada.


I think it is very different for First Nations people to use "Indian" than non-Indigenous people. Often it is in slightly self-mocking expressions like "Indian time", or stuff about the rez. As a journalist she should know better. Correct word usage and terminology is a key facet of her profession.

She used "Indian" in an earlier column too. One of the uses was legitimate, as it was a semi-quote, about how non-Natives viewed "Indians" where she lived in northern Ontario. The funniest aspect of this is that Heather is an actual Indian (and an actual Scot); her dad was a doctor from India, her mum of Scottish descent (don't remember whether or not mum was an immigrant, think so).

I wouldn't be hard on someone who doesn't work in communications professions for using "Indian", but it is sloppy writing at the least.



I've written two long posts responding to her column.  You quoted one line from those posts.

So my answer to your question is, yes, there are slightly more important issues at hand.  Issues I addressed in both posts.

P.S. You'll also notice that in the comments under Mallick's article, a number of commenters have also taken issue with her using the term "Indian".  I would assume the protocol is probably the same as any other marginalized group that takes an oppressive name and uses it among themselves.  Fine for insiders, not so fine for outsiders.


Sloppy writing I can buy - and unfortunate, since it seems to have distracted from what I see as a good issue raised, even if I don't agree with her on the anonynity issue.


voice of the damned

Out of curiousity, Smith, what did you find to be so insightful about the Mallick piece?

Moving back to the broader issue, I will admit that ditching anonymity would probably deter a number of people from posting obnoxious stuff on the internet. The biggest deterrence might be against personal attacks and flame wars. I'd probably be less likely to call a specific person a "goddam motherf*cking [INSERT SLUR WORD HERE] piece of shit" if I thought he might be able to move the flame-war over into the analog world.

Other than that, I don't think the deterrent effect would be significant enough to justify the negative effects that would ensue from abolishing anonymity. And remember, the street runs in both directions. POCs and anti-racists will also have to post their personal info on the boards, presumably. So racists could use that info for harassing them off-line.



Nothing too illuminating from our perspective. But it's not every day that someone in the mainstrem press calls out a racist campaign for what it is. Mealy-mouthed platitudes about free expression are more the norm.

So sloppy, certainly. And I disagree with her conclusion about anonymity. But I haven't read too many articles in the regular press which went as far as she did with this issue,



voice of the damned

Fair point.

radiorahim radiorahim's picture

Here's an excellent blogpost by CBC Radio's tech columnist Jesse Hirsh

Trolling does not  require anonymity



Thanks, radiorahim. I had already made a similar point, but he makes it better. As I said, there is no shortage of racist venom at the CanWest websites (or whatever that media conglomerate is called now) though they actually require Facebook registration. As I refuse to join Facebook for privacy reasons, that means I am silenced there. 

Of course if one is so unfortunate to peruse the Montreal Gazette, the anti-Indigenous venom rivals the usual anti-Québécois crap. (We are "Québecistan", after all). And of course all the crap one finds everywhere attacking Muslims and presumed Muslims...

These bully boys (and girls, à la Blatchford) are PROUD of the racist shite they spew. 

I liked the emphasis on how anonymity is a cornerstone of democracy. There is no democracy if the powers-that-be know how you vote. 

radiorahim radiorahim's picture

There is a debate about online trolls on CBC Radio's "Q" this morning in the second half hour (around 10:30 AM local time).   I'll post a podcast link later on.


The entire mediaverse is populated with trolls extolling the virtues of one ideology or another that is complimentary to a system that certainly doesn't limit itself to online trolling.  When we engage in a debate about the pros and cons of anonymity as an exploratory ways and means response to trolling commentary in general that the system itself engages in across the spectrum of communication, we're taking up with a conversation that is generated by the system, in a manner that is constructive with the design of abolishing anonymity so as to fix everyone's location and to ascertain their intent and level of threat.  It should be enough to know that the system mainly concerns itself with contradictory knowledge from that which it produces on a daily basis, rather than racist or extremist reactionary mumblings that have always served the system in whatever medium it appears.

RevolutionPlease RevolutionPlease's picture

That article was nasty but the proof is in the comments section.  The vast majority of posters believe this racist crap is merely freedom of expressions and whats the big deal anyways with spreading lies and hatred, its our right under the Charter. They would mostly likely feel comfortable spewing racism and claim it is a democratic right while doing it.

Maysie Maysie's picture

I'm enjoying this thread. And I completely agree with the understsanding that being anonymous has nothing to do with spewing trolling and hateful language/ideas.

A former babbler and I are friends on Facebook. He posted a rather bland and mildly funny chart, outlining the differences between those on the left and those on the right. I "liked" it and made some pithy comment as I am wont to do. I assumed his friends were lefties as he certainly is.

I got into an intense argument with a friend of his (we ended up on the topics of abortion, war and capital punishment) who ended up calling me a self-centred Nazi and a murderer. My friend intervened in an "argue the argument, don't attack the person" kind of way to no avail. I was a bit concerned that this freak could access my basic FB info, but given that he lives across the continent and in the US, this was not warranted. He might not have though, and that made me think about getting into something like this again.

I saved screenshots of the argument just for the hell of it. And when I use my real name and identity I'm extremely civil. In fact, the more wound up and personal the dude got (such as assuming things about my life, name-calling and telling me I was going to hell) the funnier I found the entire exchange.

And, as a larger point, racism and other oppressions aren't just about "people saying and writing oppressive, offensive, violent things". It's built into our systems and institutions, which have been wide open to be viewed and scrutinized for as long as this colonial entity called Canada has existed. There is where it is legitimized and there is where it needs to be dismantled/destroyed.


Maysie wrote:

I was a bit concerned that this freak could access my basic FB info, but given that he lives across the continent and in the US, this was not warranted. He might not have though, and that made me think about getting into something like this again.

That's not even any protection nowadays. There have been enough cases of people having their lives made hell long distance.

And even if one were to end anonymity on boards, that rule would end there. It wouldn't stop anyone from harrassing and attacking anonymously elsewhere.

Or not anonymously; as you say. For some people if they can get away with it they just don't care.


To play Devil's Advocate, whenever you write a letter to the editor in a newspaper, the paper will always verify that you wrote it and publish your real name. What's the difference between that and requiring people posting comments on public news boards to do likewise?

voice of the damned

Aristotleded24 wrote:

To play Devil's Advocate, whenever you write a letter to the editor in a newspaper, the paper will always verify that you wrote it and publish your real name. What's the difference between that and requiring people posting comments on public news boards to do likewise?

Not much of a difference. Except that, as far as I know, what is being advocated by some re: the internet is an enforcable law mandating name indentification.

Let's say you're gay or lesbian, and want to write a letter outlining your personal experiences as they relate to some issue connected to gays and lesbians. But you live and work in a socially-conservative area, and don't want to give your name. Maybe the local paper will only publish your letter with the name attached, and if that's their policy, fair enough. But at least the law as it relates to print media allows for the existence of other venues that might accept your wish for anonymous publication.

The laws being suggested, it seems to me, would be the equivalent of saying that ALL print media, whether it be the local paper or a gay and lesbian newsletter, have to include the names of correspondents. Maybe that can pass constitutional muster, since I think the CRTC oversees the internet, but that still doesn't mean it's a good idea.