Comments and Anonymity at Daily Nous

I am grateful that people take the time and make the effort to comment on the posts here at Daily Nous. I try to post about news and issues that are important to or of interest to other philosophers, and the discussions that the posts generate is one way of gauging success at that. Some of these discussions have been informative and helpful, occasionally provocative, and I’ve learned from them. I take it that if Daily Nous has any value to the profession, a big part of it comes from it providing a forum for members of our community to discuss issues, share news and perspectives, learn from one another, and enjoy the virtual company of other philosophers.

Daily Nous has a comments policy. You can read it here. It’s short. Its main ideas are (a) keep things in perspective, (b) do a good job at trying to have a productive conversation.

I have been fairly liberal in my moderation of comments, as any fair-minded observer can see, and a wide variety of perspectives are represented in most comment threads. For the most part, moderation has been fairly easy. Commenters, aware of the comments policy, have largely done a good job of self-governance. I really appreciate that, both because it helps maintain Daily Nous as a site worth reading and because it saves me time. Yet lately comment moderation has become more difficult. In part this is owed to the nature of some of the topics discussed here recently. But part of it has also been owed to an apparent increase in anonymous commenting.

Daily Nous allows anonymous commenting. Daily Nous also allows (but does not recommend) anonymous commenting from parties who will not even supply an accurate email address with their comment (the email address is not published, fyi). I allow anonymous commenting because I understand that people are sometimes fearful that others in the profession who are more powerful or more popular might condemn or shun them (or their associates) if their identity became known, and I do not want to discourage participation from those who consider themselves particularly vulnerable. Lately, though, more and more people have been using the cover of anonymity in ways that I consider to be at odds with the comments policy and the goals of the site, including speculating about people’s motivations, making unfounded accusations, getting engaged in trivial disputes, hurling insults, raising tangents, reposting anonymous comments made elsewhere, being unnecessarily hostile, etc. When such comments dominate a thread, it is tiresome to read, at least in my opinion.

So, I am asking all prospective commenters to try to keep the comments policy in mind when deciding whether and how to comment here. I am asking prospective commenters to use anonymity sparingly and only for comments that both meet the spirit of the comments policy and about which one could sincerely and reasonably fear significant negative professional or personal repercussions if posted non-anonymously. (By way of encouragement, let me say that I suspect that contributions to discussions will be treated more thoughtfully and respectfully if they are posted non-anonymously, and in turn protected from unnecessarily anonymous commenting.)

From now on I am going to try to be a bit stricter with the approval of comments, particularly anonymous ones. It’s a matter of judgment, of course, and I am fallible. I am well aware that the results will not be perfect and that some readers and commenters will be unhappy. That is where keeping things in perspective might come in handy. I’m not saying don’t complain about the moderation. But I ask you to think twice about it, out of consideration for my time and out of recognition of the limits of my abilities. I wish I could make you all happy. And I wish I could do it with a blog. That would be awesome. But I can’t.

Thank you for reading this, and for your continued assistance with making Daily Nous worthwhile.

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9 years ago

Justin, for all of the reasons that you note in this post, I agree with your policy on allowing anonymous commenting. If anonymous posting becomes too difficult to manage or if you believe that the costs of anonymity (and I agree there are many) outweigh the benefits, I think it would also be okay to go with a semi-anonymous system whereby we can use a verified e-mail address that is visible only to you and where we can request that some or all of our posts be posted anonymously.

For the record, I think you’ve done a great job moderating on this blog.

Adam Omelianchuk
9 years ago

Good words. The courage to put your name on your words is unappreciated.

9 years ago

I comment pseudonymously for a number of reasons. First reason: I would prefer it if my comments were judged on their own merits, independently of my identity — for much the same reason I do my best to hide my identity when submitting a journal article. You suspect that “contributions to discussions will be treated more thoughtfully and respectfully if they are posted non-anonymously.” If what you suspect is true, then this is profoundly unfortunate. Let me say that I hope that how thoughtfully and respectfully a contribution is treated should depend only on the comment’s content and tone, and not on whether the author’s identity is known. I certainly have no inclination to treat anonymous or pseudonymous comments any less respectfully or thoughtfully than other comments: indeed, I appreciate the fact that I can concentrate on the thoughts expressed rather than be distracted by a commenter’s high or low rank, prestige, reputation, etc., in the profession.

Second, I really do not trust many people in the profession — indeed, I don’t even trust people enough to make the rather innocuous comment you’re now reading under my real name. Third, in my experience, online comments are especially susceptible to uncharitable interpretations, etc. Fourth, if I do get into some disagreement with someone in blog comments about issues in the profession, I would rather be able to meet that person at the APA or whatever, without any pre-existing bad feelings. (BTW, I’d rather everyone comment pseudonymously: if I meet XYZ in real life without knowing that XYZ was the person who totally misread me on Daily Nous, and if XYZ has no idea that I’m the person who totally misread them, then good.)

Both anonymity and pseudonymity can allow people to be uncivil, offensive, etc. But if a blog is moderated by someone as sensible as yourself, then that downside can be substantially mitigated. Indeed, I would argue that pseudonymous and anonymous posting is preferable to people posting under their own names, and should not be at all discouraged. You ask that “prospective commenters to use anonymity sparingly and only for comments that both meet the spirit of the comments policy and about which one could sincerely and reasonably fear significant negative professional or personal repercussions if posted non-anonymously.” I respectfully submit that, if comments meet the spirit of the comments policy, then there is no reason to prefer non-anonymous comments to anonymous ones. (Indeed, as indicated, I believe that there is reason to prefer the opposite.)

The original comments policy on this blog is fantastic. It warmed my heart when I first read it. It seems that, now, you’re altering the policy slightly: between two equally highly thoughtful, respectful, and charitable comments, a non-anonymous one is preferable to an anonymous one. I respectfully request that you simply enforce the original policy, without concern for whether a commenter is anonymous.

Reply to  Justin Weinberg
9 years ago

Justin, I was indeed reading what you wrote as a purely descriptive claim, not as a normative one. I take your point about borderline cases, especially when you cannot get in touch with the author for clarification and appropriate editing.

Aaron Garrett
9 years ago

This is an excellent comment.

Derek Bowman
Derek Bowman
9 years ago

I would like to briefly suggest some reasons why it is better for the commenters themselves to choose to post under their own names.

It is true that one’s reputation in the field matters not merely for one’s social status, but materially for whether one will be able to secure a job and, if so, what kind of job one is able to secure. In one sense the incredibly competitive nature of the present academic makes this reputational vulnerability all the more acute.

And yet I think these very same conditions give commenters good reason to ignore concerns about reputation and speak their minds. For job candidates, making decisions based on how you might be perceived by hiring committees can begin to damage your sense of self. And, given the nature of the job market, there’s a good chance you might not succeed even if you do ‘everything right.’ Moreover, given the variety in departments and the resulting variations in what considerations weigh most heavily in hiring decisions, there’s no determine course of action that counts as ‘doing everything right.’

These calculations are, of course, different for junior faculty who may risk offending particular faculty members or administrators who will play an important role in decisions about tenure and promotion. They are also different for those adjuncts who literally risk homelessness or inability to feed themselves and their families if their contract is not renewed. The calculations are also different for those who do not enjoy the same forms of gender and racial privilege as I do.

So there are good reasons to post anonymously, and it’s good that commenters are given the freedom to make that choice for themselves. But in making that decision, I would encourage you to consider whether you (and our profession) would be better off if you stopped allowing yourself to be driven by fears about reputation.