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Saturday, March 20, 2010

Comment Nymity Catching on in South Dakota Blogosphere

The Madville Times banned anonymous comments last May. I often consider lifting or lightening the ban to permit casual nameless comments back in the mix. However, my experience on the mudfest forums on KELO and that Sioux Falls paper and the occasional nameless snarkbites submitted here keep me thinking the costs of anonymous comments still outweigh the benefits.

Some other members of the South Dakota blogosphere are coming to a similar conclusion. A couple weeks ago, Mount Blogmore dean Kevin Woster announced a comment policy shift: anonymi can still leave comments, but they cannot issue personal attacks against others who go by name. It's not an absolute policy, but it establishes the reasonable principle that if you want to criticize someone, you have to be willing to stake your own name to your criticism and accept the heat you might get in return.

Bob Newland at the Decorum Forum is quitting anonymi cold turkey: if a post is headed "Anonymous," he now deletes it. But this is a ban more in form than substance: Newland is requiring each speaker adopt a username, but unverifiable pseudonyms are fine.

Meanwhile on the corporate side, Heartland Consumer Power District has adopted a blog to offer a mix of PR material and political commentary. Their comment policy: "Heartland reserves the right to delete any anonymous comments or those containing profanity or personal attacks." They didn't delete my first comment; I'll try to keep it civil.

I'd love to claim a leadership role in encouraging blogs to move away from anonymity. But it's just as likely that this shift is a response to the discussion aroused by the Blog Control Acts (House Bills 1277 and 1278) considered briefly by the South Dakota Legislature this winter. Or perhaps this shift is a result of the natural cultural evolution I suggested to Rep. Noel Hamiel as a superior response to discourse in this still-new medium than draconian and unconstitutional legislation.

So what's your read of the state of the South Dakota blogosphere? Are the blogs moving toward a more civil and responsible role in democracy? Or is move to rein in comments akin to the closing of the frontier, an end of the Wild West days, with cowboys and saloon girls giving way to schoolmarms and church singalongs?

Web Bonus! Retired journalism professor Bill Kunerth takes a turn at the Black Hills Monitor mic to discuss anonymity/confidentiality in a different context: the hiring of public officials. His comments come in response to the Rapid City school board's super-secret superintendent selection process. Kunerth says revealing names weeds out the weak and selects the strongest, most competent candidates. That's kind of like what happens with blog comments... although Bob Ellis is a powerful counterexample.


  1. "But this is a ban more in form than substance: Newland is requiring each speaker adopt a username, but unverifiable pseudonyms are fine."

    Au contraire! Form IS substance, and I am opposed to substance abuse.

    Really, we bloggers are in showbiz, and constructive construction of a user handle is part of the show.

  2. Gee guys; you have both built successful marketplaces of ideas and now you are streamlining your workspaces. Hoping for any comments at all is part of building traffic.

    Don't you think that part of the Ellis/Sibby spamathon is a direct result of reader ambivalence at their own sites?

  3. Mr. Newland, you crack me up. We should meet. (You bring beverages; my wife will bake the brownies.)

    I hadn't thought of it from the showbiz angle. I wouldn't apply that model to everyone, but you make a valid point. A string of comments with the same useless author tag "Anon" doesn't feel as much like a conversation as one in which the characters are named. Even if the result is an absurdist script, it still helps to name the clowns.

    Larry: dead right on the Sibby/Ellis tactics.


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