Slaw and Anonymous Commenting

It seems sensible to say a few words now about Angela Swan’s concern, expressed in a recent post, about “anonymous blogging” on Slaw.

Let me start by giving you some information, most of which is not news. Only members may post entries on Slaw; members are, of course, known, identified, and much valued, I might add. Commenting on posts is a bit more vexed. We do not moderate comments on Slaw in the sense that we do not preview them before their publication; we do, however, promptly delete those that we find to be objectionable in one way or another — typically because they are simply attempts to promote the commenter’s business. Anyone who wishes to comment must provide a name and a well-formed email address, neither of which we vet, and must prove themselves human by filling out the reCaptcha form.

We do not plan to change this practice. Our aim is to encourage as much worthwhile conversation as possible, and to do this we, like most blogs, err on the side of inclusiveness when it comes to commenters. Angela’s proposal that one must be selected as a member in order to post would, I believe, pose obstacles to commenting that too few would bother to overcome. Such an exclusive conversation belongs more properly to email lists.

Is anonymous commenting in fact a problem on Slaw?

I looked back over the past 200 comments and found something like 25 where the commenter used a first name only — excluding those comments on Angela’s post, because the topic of anonymity invariably prompts anonymous responses. In nearly all of those two dozen cases I also found what was likely a good email address and often one that included the commenter’s full name. Some of these, indeed, were cases where Slaw members or others well known to the Slaw community chose to use a first name out of a desire for informality, perhaps. Too, most of the first-name-only comments were made in response to posts that touched on legal matters directly affecting the general public — e.g. adoption, stunt racing — where a desire to be anonymous is understandable and harmless. In sum, with a rate of apparently anonymous commenting at around 10%, I’m persuaded that it’s not a problem on Slaw.

I couldn’t leave the topic of blog comments without mentioning that our spam filters, which are pretty fierce, have managed to exclude 934,272 spam comments since March of this year. So when you want to post a comment and grumble at being asked to prove your status as a human being by filling out the reCaptcha form, think of that figure and rejoice a little. And if it should happen that you make a comment that doesn’t then promptly appear online, it may have been wrongly caught by our filters, so please let me know that right away and I’ll free it for all to read.

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Comments

  1. A possible middle ground, which I don’t think has been mentioned in the comments to the previous thread, would be to restrict comments to registered users. That is, allow comments only from users who have registered to do so with a working email address.

    This would, presumably, cut down on some comment spam, at a pretty minimal cost – one-time sign-up, occasional log-in (with proper cookie management). It would strengthen the current “well-formed email address” hurdle to “functional e-mail address”.

    This is, as far as I can tell, becoming a pretty common mechanism on larger blogs these days (e.g. boingboing.net).

  2. Actually Josh, the management of dubious postings which are closer to spam than genuine comments is fairly trivial. We let through anything that’s even borderline.

    I wouldn’t want to see us build walls, even if larger blogs need to do so.