All too often I see people acting online in a manner that is very similar to "road rage" in traffic. In the relative safety and anonymity of their cars, people will often do and say things, and act in ways that they would be too "chicken" to do if you happen to meet up with them, say at a gas station or grocery store down the road.
Likewise, online, people so often choose to use pseudonyms or alternate online profiles for security and privacy reasons, that an entire culture has developed in which it is perfectly acceptable to have an online persona which may or may not resemble the real-life you. While, as I mentioned, there are some good reasons at times for doing this - to protect your job, family, or peace of mind - but there are also people who do this so they can "get away with" doing and saying things they would not do in person.
TechCrunch has a post this week about an application that allows people to comment anonymously on blogs, but the author, Alexia Tsotsis also makes it clear she's not a fan of the process:
Miss being able to blather on about Android versus iPhone or express your irrational hatred of a certain author, startup or device on TechCrunch, without having to attach your Facebook account (and don’t want to go through all the trouble of creating a dummy Yahoo/Aol account)? Well you might be in luck with a new Chrome extension that lets you comment sans identity on Facebook Comments...(Continue reading Defaceable let you Comment Anonymously on Facebook Comments >>)
My guess is that this app will soon be history, and it should be. The people who are going to want to use it are mostly those who want to post drive-by insults and harrassing comments, without anyone being able to respond directly to them.
This all brings me to the question, should you allow anonymous comments on your own blog or website? By now, I'm sure you can guess how I feel about this. I've always taken the position that my blog is like my living room. Yes, you have a right to free speech as a human being, but I have the right to ask you to leave, or boot you out if necessary. While WebRevelation is not my blog (they just me post here), we do have the same type of philosophy here. Our comments are moderated, which means that an administrator must approve them. There are levels of security, depending on what software you're using, but I usually recommend that at a minimum, any comment provide a name (it can be a psedonym), and an e-mail address, and must have at least the first comment approved by an administrator before commenting. The minute you begin to have problems with "trolls," I recommend locking it down so that all comments must be approved.
Yes, it can be time-consuming to moderate comments, but it takes a lot more time to referee arguments between comments, or clean up spam and vulgar commentary after it has been plastered all over your discussion area. Remember, it's your website, and your blog. You're not refereeing a free-speech zone. If people have a lot to say, they can get their own website or blog, and post to their little hearts' content.
Also see: Blogging Law and Etiquette - Managing Reader Comments
Jennifer Pointer (e-mail) is in Tulsa, OK. She promotes a simple, a low-tech approach to effective online profile management, search engine optimization and social networking.