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Tuesday, November 22, 2005

policy on anonymous UC comments

Policy summary: no anonymous postings will be allowed on UC campaign-related threads. All posts must be signed with a name that can be cross-checked with one of the online facebooks (the college's or facebook.com), either with a blogger name or at the bottom of an anonymous post. All non- or dishonestly-signed comments related to the election will be removed. Read below for a full explanation.

As I noted once before, we here at Cambridge Common have been discussing how best to handle anonymous comments in the context of the upcoming UC elections. Comments are an essential part of Cambridge Common, as they allow you, the reader, to argue with, correct, or compliment our writers as well as engage each other in long, fascinating and important discussions about the issues brought up by the front page writer. Anonymous comments are also very important, because readers feel freer to express themselves and their opinions and engage each other without having to worry about subjecting themselves to personal attacks.

However, the upcoming elections make anonymous comments increasingly problematic. When discussing issues, anonymity is often a productive means of emphasizing thoughts over people, but when discussing people, anonymity can lead to people being able to spread rumors and attacks without having to identify themselves as a source. This is especially problematic when one considers the fact that a large majority of CC's readership includes members of the Council, Crimson staff, and other members of the political community at Harvard. While I think it's true that most readers will be smart enough to look at anonymous posts with some skepticism, I know from personal experience that we are not always that smart. I myself have sometimes made the mistake of taking anonymous comments as truth, and I know from experience that anonymous rumors and whisper campaigns can be a part of campaigns that occur within such a small community. While Cambridge Common is intended to be a place of conversation for the Harvard political community, I'm not interested in being a host for this type of anonymous rumor-mongering. Someone could, far too easily, make accusations about candidate's personal lives (x candidate cheated on their gf/bf, is a drunk, does drugs, etc.) or politics (x is lying about this, really thinks that, dishonors Vietnam vets, etc.) without owning up to that statement.

To solve this problem, we're going to do something very simple: when discussing UC candidates and campaigns, posters will be required to attach a name (either by putting it at the bottom of an anonymous post or registering blogger name).(more in expanded post)

That name will need to be easily cross-checked with the facebook.com or the college facebook. To ensure that that is done honestly, I will occasionally email the poster to double check that it was, in fact, them that posted. I will delete any post that does not have a name signed to it. If this becomes a problem, and anonymous or dishonestly posted comments become common, I'll turn on moderated comments and make it so that I have to approve any comment before it goes on to the site. I have zero interest in doing this, so please don't make me!

I hope this makes sense to people, it's a little thing, but I think it's important. I very much hope that this doesn't quiet discussion and debate too much, and I hope that Cambridge Common is a helpful discussion place for the coming elections. I'll allow anonymous postings on all other threads (including this one), so long as it isn't related to the UC campaign/candidates. Let me know what you think!


At 12:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another thing you might want to consider is allowing people to keep pseudonym usernames as long as they verify with you their true Harvard identity beforehand.

That way, you can keep tabs on them but the whole campus won't know who it is.

At 1:41 PM, Blogger andrew golis said...

But I think the point is that the reader can connect a statement with a person. It's not for my sake...

At 1:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

But isn't the point of attaching names accountability to other readers, not just to the blog administrator? What exactly would keeping tabs on pseudonymous commentors accomplish? I guess people might be dissuaded from posting outrageous rumors if they think Golis might out them as a consequence, but that arrangement puts him in the pretty uncomfortable position of having to exercise discretion over which people to pressure into fighting fair.

At 1:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

yeah, sorry, that was a 'but' to the first anonymous, not to golis who snuck his comment in before me, rendering mine redundant. (scoundrel).

At 1:46 PM, Anonymous sarika said...

props for thinking of a good way to solve a potentially awkward situation -- plus i personally don't like anonymous comments, so it'll be nice to read through a set of comments with names attached to ideas.

At 1:44 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hear that andrew golis cheated on their gf/bf, is a drunk, does drugs, etc. Furthermore, he is lying about this, really thinks that, dishonors Vietnam vets, etc. But I'm still voting for him for UC President. Too bad they don't allow write-ins.


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