On Anonymity: Is Authenticity Worth the Bad Behavior?

Anonymity bugs me, but after many years of existing on the intertubes, I realize that it’s frequently necessary for authentic commentary and very often, more interesting.

Many people cannot (for fear of reprisals) or choose not to (for personal reasons) attach their names to what they say online. However, the problem with online anonymity is that it’s associated with trolling, slander, hate-speech and all manner of bad behavior.

The debate about anonymity has risen again with Facebook’s new comments, which have been in place on TechCrunch for a few weeks. Short version, after implementing Facebook’s comments, which attach to a person’s real profile, TechCrunch comments have changed. On the plus side, the trolls are gone. On the minus side, the commentary is less interesting.

For a news outlet of sorts, this is good and bad because while clearing out the cruft, they also lose anonymous tipsters and inside sources.

I started writing this with my usual goal to pick a side, but I simply can’t.

A few years ago, an acquaintance died in a horrific car accident. This person was entirely at fault and unfortunately paid the price for what appeared to be distracted driving. The news reported the accident online, and in the comments were many offerings of sympathy, peppered with the occasional got-what-was-deserved comment, which of course, set off the emotions of the well-meaning, etc.

You probably recognize the thread.

I guess the point is something like this gem from Toothpaste for Dinner (@toothpastefordinner):

We all want to believe the world is rated PG-13, but it’s really R-rated and we’re not sure whether we like it or not. Or something.

This went off the rails a bit, but I guess that’s a reflection of my mixed feelings.

What do you think? Find the comments, anonymously or otherwise.




  1. Generally, I don’t think it’s worth it (we’re not talking whistleblowing here). I don’t think you should be saying anything to anyone you wouldn’t say to their face (sober). Plus, I don’t see why the inarticulate and abusive need to be rewarded over those who are open and can put up a good argument.

    Sure it’s a laugh at times to read some comments, but at other times it’s infuriating or even deeply upsetting, as you say. Such comments are designed to get a reaction to inorder to validate the poster rather than persuade. Cheaper than therapy for some but they can be very hurtful for others.

    What I find most interesting are the informed insiders who like to argue cogently with positive construction and you’re left wondering do you know this person? Aaagh! This might be to get around company policy or whatever. If you’ve an interest though I think it is best to disclose it (indeed policy requires that).

    To be honest, most people posting anonymously don’t realize they’re not really anonymous and could be tracked if necessary. We’ve all looked up IP addresses or googled after the odd comment, right?

  2. Yeah, Twitter has provided famous (term loosely applied) people a no-do-over way to say stupid things. Kind of a different topic, but sure.

  3. Well, we could be talking whistle-blowing though. There have been instances where anonymity online has protected people reporting issue, although it’s highly difficult to prove accusations from anonymous sources.

    As for those people who feel their employer’s won’t support their participation too, anonymity allows them to participate without fear of reprisals, could be good or bad depending on the content.

    It’s a tough call to make for me bc I don’t really benefit from anonymous commenting, but I can see that some people, sites, etc. might.

    I’m also hinky about establishing Facebook as the system of record, although that hardly seems to matter anymore.

  4. Interesting article. Anonymous vs non-anonymous can be a never ending debate. Instead of the system dictating to consumers let the consumers decide. Let they have a SAY or an OPTION. Its a choice they only need. Facebook should just allow posting comments anonymously as well. Problem solved.

  5. Agreed, that’s one reason I like Disqus’ approach to commenting. It combines a bunch of known identities, your choice, or you can create a new one under their management. Allows me to offer several options, including anonymity.

    Facebook won’t allow anonymity, not in their DNA, but they have loosened a bit lately. You can now post as a page/brand, e.g. I can post as the AppsLab bc I administer the page.

  6. Really one for the site owner. If trolls are a problem, force authentication. If you want to hear from whistleblowers, provide a mechanism for anonymous input.
    However I don’t want facebook to become THE de-facto authentication provider.

  7. It’s for you too as a commenter. Yes, you’re Gary here, but do you want that everywhere? It’s subjective, and you’re likely to fall into the same category I do. Still I think others should have that right.

    +1 about FB, but I think that ship has sailed.

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