9/12/11

Anonymous Comments: Should You Block Them From Your Blog?

Anonymous comments did not start with the World Wide Web; they've been around for centuries and they've always been a headache at times. For an interesting read about anonymous comments, check out the Online Journalism Review's article on traditional journalism's take on anonymous commenting -- you'll learn a lot: for instance, did you know that Benjamin Franklin wrote many an anonymous comment under the psuedonym "Silence Dogood"?

The position of many print publishers is this: if someone wants to have their words published in their publication, then the publisher feels that the writer should have the cojones (yes, I'm in Texas) to put their name right up there with their comment. Of course, the publisher's lawyers have pointed out that there may be legal consequences to the words printed in the publication; therefore, having the ability to find that potential co-defendant if the comment proves litigious is important to the legal team.

I get it. And I'm still in favor of allowing anonymous comments on your blog (or blawg).

Here's why: technology being what it is today, right now there are all sorts of hurdles to leaving a comment on a blog or newspaper or online magazine. Just this past week I experienced the following:

  1. I had a devil of a time trying to leave a comment to a Typepad post - I was requested to sign in via Twitter or Facebook or Google to leave the comment, or alternatively leave my name and address (for the blog's growing email marketing list). If I used Twitter, I was asked to agree to allow the platform to post its own tweets on my Twitter feed. That's right. Their stuff. On my Twitter feed. Without my prior looksie. I was left with two options, well three: (a) agree to be on their mailing list; (2) allow the platform to be my Tweet-partner; or (3) not leave a comment. Surprise: I didn't leave the comment.
  2. A client in Florida wanted to put a comment at one of the top Florida newspaper's online sites. Same platform issue. After much time (that we both could and should have dedicated to other things), her comment was left on the news article -- and now, she is watching her Twitter feed, to see what they are going to do (and I hope she's got her finger on the Application Approval button at the Twitter settings page).
In social media today (think Klout), you want to have comments on your blog (or blawg).  You want to make it easy for readers to communicate with you.  Sure, there's a spam issue and yes, there will be times when a comment is troublesome. I'm not recommending that bloggers ignore the contents of the comments and monitor what's being written by readers. 

However, it is just too darn easy to surf away if the blog (or blawg) puts up a hurdle for the reader to jump in order to write a short thought or two about the post.  Who wants to spend all that time and effort just to leave a little message?

I know I don't.  I leave anonymous comments when it's too much burdensome to get through the blogging platform's hurdles ... maybe I will leave a signature within the comment itself.  If I remember.  For something like, "thanks for sharing this" I may not.

Bottom line:
  • blocking anonymous comments doesn't help your reader (or your social media dialogue, if that is the terminology that floats your boat) and may alienate some of them, since it's the fastest and simplest way of leaving a comment online. 
  • forcing readers to allow third party access to things like their Twitter feeds just to have the joy of leaving a comment on your blog is just plain disrespectful and manipulative and wrong in my humble opinion, and I'm sure I'm not alone here. 
  • blocking anonymous commenting is not going to prevent you from getting troublesome comments: it's just as easy for troublemakers to create online pseudonyms with fake online email accounts, etc. as it was for Ben Franklin to sign "Silence DoGood" to his letters long ago -- you're not stopping the dedicated writer who doesn't want to leave his real name. 
  • in the event of a huge lawsuit, techies may well be able to track down the source of the comment anyway: how anonymous that writer really is in today's technological world is debatable.
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