Tuesday, June 5, 2012
Why I stopped allowing anonymous comments
I've thought a lot about my policy on anonymous comments since winemaker Charles Smith sued some of my readers in 2010.*
(Brief non-update: Smith has never sued me, has not yet hit me hard enough to knock out my diaphragm, and since I'm not a party to the suit, I don't know what's going on. If you do, email me.)
The thing about anonymous comments is that the most valuable of them are not actually anonymous: they are simply people who haven't registered for whatever comment program one uses (I use the one provided by Blogger) but sign their name anyway.
An old-school journalistic adage is to allow people you have written about a chance to respond. I liked having a low barrier to that. I'd say comments like this only accounted for about 2% of the "anonymous" comments I received, but they were important to me.
Other signed comments from non-affected parties brought the total of anonymous-but-actually-signed comments to about 10%.
Another important category is people with inside information. I got a lot of these relative to other blogs because winemakers would report techniques they use that they didn't want associated with their wine brands. (Ask me how chocolate wine is made some time -- I just learned recently.) I love these comments, but they were probably less than 5% of my anonymous comments.
The remaining 85% of my anonymous comments were generally:
* Unsigned comments that really didn't have to be anonymous: observations, jokes, whatever: 15%.
* Scam comments, often leading people to a sleazy website to boost its SEO ratings: 20%. I didn't think eliminating anonymous comments would reduce these, but it has, dramatically.
* Insults of me, 50%.
I've been taking insults -- and giving some back -- for years. Why did the latter finally wear me out?
Here's a little view of how Blogger works. You must set comments to be moderated on old posts because otherwise companies will go into all of your older posts and comment sales pitches, SEO-boosting scams, etc. You can't possibly police everything you've ever written, but if not, some post you wrote about Croatian wine a year ago will have a series of comments like "Best sex views vision manhood increasing 96 times natural viagra click here for details."
When you set up comment moderation, Google sends you a helpful email early in the morning every day with all of the comments that await your approval.
I've been doing this blog for a while now and I have hundreds of old posts. So nearly every single day, somebody would click on something I wrote 6 weeks or 6 months ago and write, "Idoit. Moron. U think everything bad like you r."
Every day. Before breakfast.
I laughed for weeks, sighed for weeks more. Turned so many other cheeks that I felt like a butcher with a shipment of cow heads.
When I worked for other media, I got comments like this. But I didn't have to face them until I'd showered, dressed, commuted. Prepared myself. Plus, I was getting a salary and benefits, which always makes crap more palatable.
There was no one comment that did it; nothing that went over the line. In fact, the creative insults tend to be signed; people want you to recognize their work. The anonymous ones are mostly, "U suck u suck so bad dumaass."
When I realized I was considering never opening my email before breakfast, I decided the time had come to make a simple change. I moved up to the next level of verification required by Blogger. I'm sorry that it has made it a little more difficult for my longtime readers to comment, but my mornings have been so much nicer.
So why am I going back?
Because I heard something recently, an intriguing current-events wine story, that I think simply cannot be reported without true anonymity. I haven't seen it reported anywhere yet and I'd like to get at the facts.
So tomorrow I'll run a short post about it: take a look. And after I've had breakfast, I plan to turn anonymous comments back on. I won't leave it on for long; the Internet's not getting nicer. But I do want to experiment, to see if occasionally allowing anonymous comments will get me a higher percentage of the valuable ones.
See you tomorrow, friends. Ladies. Gentlemen.
Posted by W. Blake Gray at 6:30 AM