Thursday, January 15, 2009

Anonymous comments redux

I was recently involved in something of a comment skirmish (flame war) over at Bram’s Comet. This was the situation: Bram did a post about the upcoming Mayoral Campaign. The first comment, from an anonymous commenter, suggested that Bram’s opinion was incorrect (fair enough) and then asked whether Bram had any educational background in or experience in politics. Now, I think anyone who doesn’t see the huge irony in an anonymous commenter asking for more information from Bram is either hugely irony-impaired or doesn’t understand things in general. When Bram responded, a few comments later, he laughed off the request for information and then made some other point. Meanwhile, later another anonymous commenter also asked Bram the same question about his background.

So I had an opinion about the post, and after I expressed it I mentioned my own very old education and and pretty limited experience in politics, mostly as a joke. My intention with the joke, though, was to point out that I am pretty sure most commenters on any blog are not actively involved in politics, for a variety of reasons. I think it is also a safe assumption that most anonymous commenters don’t publish their own blog. I say that since one reason to comment is draw attention to your own blog (if you comment intelligently), IMO.

I got back an anonymous immediate comment: “A 25 year old pol sci degree and a 6 month stint as a coffee boy are not "credentials" Ed. They are more like glossed over line items on your resume.”

Ok, maybe I took that the wrong way. I know how I come off sometimes (if not all the time). If the commenter had not been another anonymous commenter …

Anyway, my immediate response was to ask what the anonymous commenter brings to the table. I assume anyone would understand I was asking why they thought they could “dis” my experience, what makes them better than me?

There was some more unrelated back and forth, some of it clearly in support of Bram. When the anonymous commneter responded to me, the response to (s)he brought to the table was “The painfully obvious”. I assume it was the same anonymous commenter (no way to be sure).

Now, maybe this is just the way this person talks. Maybe they are used to saying this stuff and no one ever calls them on it. And again, I know how I can come off.

Still, … at this point I was pissed. To my way of thinking, this person was hiding behind an anonymous label and claiming that I am full of shit. And making the claim not because they said I had said something stupid about politics, but because I had listed my education and experience. And I had only done that because frickin’ anonymous commenters were pestering Bram about his experience. I wrote a lenghty (surprise) comment in response.

So this went on for a while. The anonymous commenter used phrases like “pompous bragging” and claimed (s)he “was just pointing out the facts”. I made a statement wondering if some commenters used being anonymous as a license to be rude and insulting (exhibit A: a bunch of comments on posts on Pittsburgh Hoagie). I said that what was being pointed out was not facts but opinions. I also tried to explain Pat Dowd’s argument that anonymous commenting makes political discourse on blogs impossible. The anonymous commenter made the reasonable point that if you are not anonymous, you might be subject to reprisals. They also said “I am a bit more private, I don't want people knowing about my 2002 Hyundai or my folding bike. This is a political blog. It's big boy time.” Yep, tell someone they are being infantile, that is always persuasive. And yes, I am writing this post, so I may not be doing the anonymous comments justice.

Look, I know anonymous commenting is not going away. Even though anonymous comments aren’t allowed here, I suspect someone could find a way to end up commenting as Anonymous. But I think if you are commenting anonymously, you lose the right to ask about some other poster or commenter's past, or to make other personal attacks. Or as the old saying goes, simile if you’re going to say that. Because I can take a joke or even a reasonable put down. I draw the line when you all but say you are a better person than me or that my opinion is somehow forfeit because I don’t comment anonymously.


JChristian said...

Anonymous comments are designed for people who don't post enough comments, or don't want to see any repercussions of their actions. But they're generally used by people who are too stupid to figure out how to fill in 3 form fields.

Bram Reichbaum said...

Maybe this is the reason this stuff doesn't get under my skin -- when anonymous commenters start bring my credentials and qualifications into question, or accuse me of being boring or not having a point ... then I KNOW FOR A FACT that I'm on to something important. So the whole experience makes me feel really good.

See the Sciortino dossier for confirmation.

EdHeath said...

JChristian, your comment made me chuckle out loud. I can't see where a handle is any less anonymous than posting as anonymous, and it helps the rest of us keep track.

Bram, I had problematic anonymous commenters back in the '07 prmaries, but I was content for them to run wild, as they tended to expose their own ignorance. I may well have over-reacted to the commenter on your blog, but he or she just rubbed me the wrong way.

I will say that I don't always agree with you (occasionally I don't understand where you are going), but your efforts speak for themselves. Such as your post on Sciortino. Why does it seem every Pittsburgh political figure comes with a checkered past?

Matt H said...

Anonymous commenters are a joke.

EdHeath said...

You know, Matt, I will say I wonder why you don't disable the anonymous comment feature. I, fo one, wouldn't blame you. You get probably the most vicious anonymous comments I see around here.