Monday, August 21, 2006

Yeah, well, I can still trackback your ass!

What is it about some of these authoritarian right-leaning bloggers that anonymous and pseudonymous commenters drive them so apeshit? Why are John Cole, Tacitus [heh], and the weaselly Patterico [double-heh] so obsessed with the identities of people who disagree with them? What difference does it make?

Brad Warthen, the editorial page editor of The State newspaper, has long had a burr under his saddle about anonymous and pseudonymous comments on his blog (he also doesn't seem to comprehend the difference between anonymous and pseudonymous comments). Recently he's been harrumphing around about the dismal quality of comments on his blog and threatening to do something about it; but he kept his 10 or 12 loyal readers (more than I have, I'll admit) in suspense about what the new policy would be. I figured, based on the hints he was dropping, and given his antipathy towards anonymous and pseudonymous commenters, that the new policy might include one or both of two things: 1) deleting ad hominem attacks, and 2) real-name registration. The former at least is arguably reasonably calculated to foster civil discussion. The latter - well, you need only have a passing familiarity with the work of Ann Coulter, Michael Savage, and Bill O'Reilly to realize that lack of anonymity is no guarantee of civility. But I can see how someone like Brad Warthen might think a real-name requirement would keep his commenters in line (or at least keep them from harshing on Brad Warthen too severely).

But the comments policy Mr. Warthen announced consists neither of deleting all personal insults or requiring all commenters to register their real names. Instead, he has come up with the most bizarre, asinine, indefensible comments policy I've ever seen. To wit:

I'm implementing a Double Standard:

The bad news is that one group of people will be free to post pretty much whatever they want. I will maintain the same hands-off policy with them that I've maintained with everyone up to now. With those in the other group, I will delete at will any comments that I deem harmful to good-faith dialogue.

The good news is that you get to choose which group you're in.

To be in the first group, you just have to give up your anonymity.

You read it right - if you tell Big Daddy your real name (and he wants to know your occupation too), he'll let you post whatever you want, no matter how insulting, vile, or "harmful to good-faith dialogue." But if you use a pseudonym, even if you use the same pseudonym every time you comment, he'll arbitrarily and capriciously delete anything you post that he doesn't like.

He claims to want to promote "discussions that move toward real solutions on issues." How this idiotic policy is designed to do that is beyond me. If you truly wanted to foster civil, productive discussions why would you proudly announce a double standard wherein a handful of your commenters are exempt from any requirement to actually be civil?

It's too bad, because although Mr. Warthen is consistently on the wrong side of national issues (his editorial page called on Clinton to resign; it endorsed Bush twice; it endorsed Mark Sanford (then complained when Sanford did what he promised to do); it was and continues to be pro-Iraq invasion and in fact Brad's itching to invade Iran; etc, etc) I've always thought Mr. Warthen deserved some credit for being, as far as I know, the only mainstream media figure (albeit a relatively minor one) to run a blog that permitted relatively unfettered feedback. Now that that's history, I'm hard-pressed to think of anything nice to say about his blog - except that I'm on the blogroll, evidence of at least a smidgen of good taste and judgment.

Oh, and Mr. Warthen? The reason some people give gmail, Hotmail, and Yahoo email addies when posting comments on blogs like yours is to avoid having their "real" friends-and-family and work accounts bombarded with the type of spam you get when you post on a pop-up infested site like The State's.

UPDATE: Thers, who knows whereof he speaks, weighs in. As Thers succinctly puts it: "If something is genuinely offensive, it's offensive whether it comes from a named or an anonymous source." Indeed. The rhetoric of, oh, say, David Duke isn't any less disgusting just because Duke uses his real name . . .


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