Chalk up another point for online reputation building. Increasingly it's looking like news publications are taking moves away from letting vocal readers remain anonymous on their sites.

The Washington Post, New York Times and The Huffington Post are all making moves toward eliminating anonymous commenting on their sites. Are the days of anonymous trolling numbered?

Arianna Huffington tells The New York Times:

“Anonymity is just the way things are done. It’s an accepted part of the Internet, but there’s no question that people hide behind anonymity to make vile or controversial comments...I feel that this is almost like an education process. As the rules of the road are changing and the Internet is growing up, the trend is away from anonymity.”

Negative commentary is not the only drawback to anonymous comments. At Econsultancy, we are no stranger to anonymous commenters coming on the site to shill their products or masking their identity for some other motive.

In fact, one instance of such behavior happened last week when Patricio Robles wrote an Econsultancy post about a new anonymous reputation ranking network called Unvarnished. The founder's brother came on our site to defend the company, but failed to disclose his relationship to the company and its founder and Patricio called him out on it.

The exchange underlined one of the reasons Unvarnished received so much negative press at its launch announcement. Anonymous reviews of people on a site like Unvarnished are just as questionable as the wholly positive reviews that populate sites like LinkedIn.

Moreover, if you don't know where a comment is coming from, it's harder to judge its motive and relevance. A network of reviewers built on obscured identity leaves lots of opportunity for abuse.

Of course, there are plenty of arguments in favor of anonyomous commentary. Someone might get in trouble for a negative post online. For websites readers, not everyone wants to take the time to sign up and register to make comments, which is one reason that many sites — including ours — allow anonymous comments.

But many are finding the benefits of known identity online outweigh the drawbacks. According to The Times:

"Several industry executives cited a more fundamental force working in favor of identifying commenters. Through blogging and social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, millions of people have grown accustomed to posting their opinions — to say nothing of personal details — with their names attached, for all to see. Adapting the Facebook model, some news sites allow readers to post a picture along with a comment, another step away from anonymity."

Although sites like Facebook may prove that this is not always the case, connecting online and offline personas often has the effect of making people weigh their words and actions more carefully. And while making identity more clear online may not necessarily make "the new niceness" stick, there may be a new adage developing online — if you can't say something with your name attached to it, don't say anything at all.

Image: NYTimes

Meghan Keane

Published 13 April, 2010 by Meghan Keane

Based in New York, Meghan Keane is US Editor of Econsultancy. You can follow her on Twitter: @keanesian.

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Comments (3)


Stuart Bruce

Neither of the two reasons given for allowing anonymous comments are very good. Being too lazy to register is pathetic, if you've got time to say something then you've got time to say who you are. And if your opinion has any value then you won't be afraid to put your name to it. You shouldn't be saying something negative unless you're right and can substantiate it.

over 8 years ago




over 8 years ago


Winston Smith

"And if your opinion has any value then you won't be afraid to put your name to it." If your opinion can have no real-world negative consequences then you won't be afraid to put your name to it. That's not the same as having no value, or not being right and substantiable. Why makes identities traceable unless you intend to trace some of them? And for what purpose? Do you think, perhaps, that nobody has thought of compiling a database of people's political opinions? If you've published personal information about yourself on the open internet, you have no claim to privacy in the matter. Technology developed here spreads across the world. How valuable do you think anonymity is for those living under authoritarian governments or amidst violent conflicts? Are those the voices you wish to shut out?

over 8 years ago

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