Amongst other things recently, I’ve been involved in developing some moderation guidelines for a project. A vexing issue is what do with anonymous comments in an online conversation. When are they appropriate and how do we handle them in the context of public sector debate?
I don’t know the answer. Clearly there are online communities where anonymity is one of the central planks they are built on. But what about debates where the other participants are identified? Is it appropriate for unknown individuals to join in?
My personal feeling is I prefer people to identify themselves, at least to the moderator, to establish their genuineness. Otherwise I wonder why they won’t declare themselves – are they agitators? Do they want cause trouble? What is their agenda?
I was thinking about this last week when I came across a new blog by a civil servant who chooses not declare their identity. Its entertaining and a pretty accurate description of life inside a Whitehall department. But two problems come to mind:
- It will be too easy to say something inappropriate on the basis that no one knows who you are, and
- If the blog gains traction you can bet your bottom dollar that people will do their best to work out who it is – and eventually they will, causing problems for the author.
Most of the good corporate blogging policies that exist are pretty flexible and forgiving, provided the author doesn’t contravene rules around inappropriate comments about the company or other people. ‘Inappropriate’ of course is interpreted differently by different organisations, and I’m not suggesting that the civil service would be the most liberal.
But if you identify yourself as working in a particular place, but don’t reveal your own identity, the clock is probably ticking. Or am I just being too cautious?
I’ve got an unmoderated comment sitting to be approved for my blog about the recent barcamp at the moment. It raises some good points and is a useful part of the debate. Its not controversial but constructively critical.
But for some reason the commenter has chosen to anonymise their response. Can’t for the life of me think why, unless they are embarrased to say what they’re saying in public. Don’t know what to do with it. Will chew it over. My instinct is, no anonymous comments, but does that unintentionally censor the debate? After all, stuff written here is hardly life or death.