Are blog comments a “joke”?

A good question:

In the early days of the Internet, there was hope that the unprecedented tool for global communication would lead to thoughtful sharing and discussion on its most popular sites.

A decade and a half later, the very idea is laughable, says Gawker Media founder Nick Denton.

“It didn’t happen,” said Denton, whose properties include the blogs Gawker, Jezebel, Gizmodo, io9 and Lifehacker. “It’s a promise that has so not happened that people don’t even have that ambition anymore.

“The idea of capturing the intelligence of the readership — that’s a joke.”

Denton was speaking at South by Southwest Interactive, the annual festival here devoted to Web and digital culture.

He said that commenting on his own sites (which he’s seen make reporters cry) has gotten so bad that he doesn’t engage.

“I don’t like going into the comments. … For every two comments that are interesting — even if they’re critical, you want to engage with them — there will be eight that are off-topic or just toxic,” he said.

And as sites get more popular, it’s harder to control the comments, which inevitably get nastier.

“What you can manage on a small site … the level of discussion you can have on those is not the level you’re able to have on a newspaper site or one of our sites. Our smaller blogs have 2 million unique (visitors per month). … It’s hard to have that intimacy.”

So, what’s the solution?

When it comes to improving open discussion threads, Denton seemed quicker to shoot down ideas that others are trying than to provide proposals of his own.

Having editors and reporters engage their readers in the comments? “The writer of the piece has to move on to the next piece. They don’t have time to moderate all those comments.”

Require readers to post using their real names? “My own view is that anonymity is at the heart of the Internet.”

Give other commenters more power to “up-vote” or “down-vote” posts? “We don’t really believe in the democratic process of decision-making when it comes to discussion,” Denton said.

Read more.

Comments

  1. For reasons that I spell out in some detail on my own blog, I do not accept comments there. When I post on others’ blogs, I always sign my real name. I would encourage people who manage blogs to read why I don’t allow comments, and to reconsider their own policies. I think the power of anonymous commentary makes it far more likely that ignorance and evil will express themselves. To permit anonymous commentary is provide a near occasion of sin, I’m afraid. That not everyone abuses the privilege is (a) true, and (b) beside the point. Blogs are personal cyber-property; what people permit to go on in comboxes becomes, eventually, their responsibility, as is true for most property owners at some point.

  2. Deacon Greg Kandra says:

    Excellent points, Ed.

    I’ve pointed out a time or two that people who choose to comment here are like guests in my home. I don’t want them putting their feet on the furniture or tracking mud on the carpet. If they do, they’re gone.

    But it’s hard to enforce unless you monitor comments 24/7. Which is awfully hard to do.

    Dcn. G.

  3. Brandon A. Evans says:

    Requiring a name seems like a decent step…I’ve seen that newspapers are beginning to go to a commenting system that requires your Facebook login so as to properly identify you.

    As for this comment, which seems like a cop-out: “My own view is that anonymity is at the heart of the Internet.” … what can I say, except that maybe a change of heart is in order!

  4. I would agree. I think fully half of the comments on blogs, especially on Catholic blogs, are vindictive, judgmental, mean-spirited, snotty, sarcastic, and, often, just plain wrong. Oh, and crazy, too. There’s lots of crazy going around. For some reason Facebook comments seem better, probably because they’re not anonymous. But on Catholic blogs the tendency, it seems, is to never give the other person the benefit of the doubt. It’s poisonous.

  5. I’ve always had a problem with comboxes, especially Catholic ones, where if not tightly monitored, it’s a no brainer as to what kind of comments are going to be written. (FWIW, Dcn. Greg I think you do a pretty darn good job, and I know it can’t be easy or without many headaches).

    That said, I think, especially on Catholic or sincere religious blogs, when comments are respectful and well monitored, they can truly impact another for a greater good. I know that on this blog, I have many times been edified and educated by the comments of others.

    On the other hand, there is a photography/facebook page/ blog I follow of a very popular wedding photographer. She fully admits that she deletes all negative comments; her blog, her right Well, yeah, but it reads like a 3rd grade luv fest sans the well needed sometimes critique.

    My main point of even writing this post is to thank you Dcn. Greg for doing such a good job in a crazy cyberspace world, as you are one of the rare blog owner exceptions where comments serve a good and useful purpose.

  6. I agree with Klaire, I find the discussions here on the whole informative and edifying. This communion flap for example, has served to raise everyone’s consciousness, sorely lacking for many years, of the doctrine of the Real Presence. Whenever discussions become passionate, I expect posts like this where some people insult the plebes in the “comboxes” as “crazy” and the like (so much for charity), but Deacon Greg is good about allowing a free flow of ideas and viewpoints without too much censorship.

  7. I would have to agree with Ed Peters. I don’t accept comments on my own blog, which is about the history of art from a Catholic perspective. It takes a lot of time for me to do the research on pictures and facts and just to get each post up and running. I don’t want to be saddled with moderating nasty comments. Although one is probably less likely to get really brutal comments on a blog like mine, which doesn’t often touch on current hot topics. Still, the possibility exists. Bottom line is that I can’t afford the time. There is more to life than blogging.

  8. Lord High Adml. Hadrian Dumblewinker Ivorytooth Jr., Esq. says:

    I think that the ONLY solution is to ban anonymous commenting.

  9. Your points are well taken, and I pretty much agree. However, some of the combox discussions can be helpful. I’m a member of the Archdiocese of Washington, and were it not for the Catholic blogs, I would have a very different understanding of the Barbara Johnson/Fr. Guarnizo controversy, because the archdiocese really hasn’t done anything to explain the canonical issues, and Lord knows the Washington Post hasn’t. Part of what made your (and others’) blog posts (and comments) so valuable was that they were partly written in response to misunderstanding raised in the comboxes by Catholics in the pews.

  10. On the other hand, blogs and other social media probably feed the temptation to gossip and narcissism. In a saner world: Johnson would not have presented herself for Communion in the first place, or the Post would have viewed the incident as a dog bites man story and ignored it, and the whole business would have been handled privately.

  11. Maggie’s point reminds me of another: blog have different purposes. One like mine (or MD’s), which is heavily educational, does not benefit (much) from comments by people who simply don’t know anything of what they re talking about. Other blogs, like this one, where often the topics under discussion are more free-ranging, might benefit by comments. Might. Might.

    I do think a lot of people who say they enjoy combox commentary and learn from it, probably have that sense from SIGNED combox commentary, but they attribute the learning experience to the comboxers in general, not mainly the signed ones.

  12. Agreed. I think the days of the open anonymous combox are numbered. Not that they will disappear, of course. But as the moral risk in maintaining them mounts, I think they will drop in number. Bottom line, if a comboxer wants to broadcast is views, he can set up his own blog, rather than piggy-backing on the reputation of another blogmaster. Many of the anonymous posters here would attract zero readership on their own for the views, so they come here to snipe, usually to the consternation (expressed or tacit) of the grown-ups.

  13. I agree about posting comments with one’s full and real name; that is a real sticking point with me. If you have something to say, speak up – but be who you are. In the early days of blogging, I said some deeply regrettable things, not under my own name.

    It was my faith that led me to start using my name and to be responsible. Or at least attempt it. As recently as yesterday I said things here at the Bench in frustration, that I should not have. In any event, I do not hide from it.

    Commenting is a tough one. Thanks for what you say about it here Dr. Peters.

  14. An open question to the many commenters here – for those of you who only use a first name and who might not have a linkback for people to see, why do you remain anonymous?

  15. I admire bloggers for their dilligence in posting interesting topics daily. I’m sure that I couldn’t sustain such an effort.

    I like the ability to read and make comments, although at times the conversation veers off into ugliness. Mr. Peters’ idea that enabling comments provides a near occasion of sin is interesting and worth consideration. (I hope this combox hasn’t caused me to sin. I’m already on notice at the confessional for taking too much time.)

    I’m wondering, does the inability to comment on a blog discourage readership?

  16. Methinks some of the “grown ups” protest too much. So much vitriol directed at people who occasionally disagree with you, whether they are right or wrong, is unseemly indeed. I have found brilliant insights from many anonymous posters and I don’t have the slightest interest in finding out who they are or where they live. It’s also a nice community too, and I was touched by the outpouring of affection for Greta recently, who was not a professional blogger but had a ton to contribute anyway.

  17. Dr. Michael Hfuhruhurr says:

    I could not agree more Admiral Dumblewinker. Well said.

  18. My name isn’t as fun to try to say as yours is.

  19. Lord High Adml. Hadrian Dumblewinker Ivorytooth Jr., Esq. says:

    Thanks, Doctor Hfuhruhurr! But That’s LORD HIGH Admiral.

  20. Thomas L. McDonald says:

    It’s kind of rich to read Nick Denton talking about the “toxic” comments when Gawker’s content is already pretty toxic.

    I never had too much trouble beyond spammers at my game blog, but on Patheos you have the occasional evangelical atheist or militant gay rights activist who just can’t help themselves. Comments such as “the God you believe in doesn’t exist” or accusations that I hate all gays are merely noise, and unworthy of response or consideration. I just delete them. People who have something they need to say are welcome to start their own blog. It’s free. No need to give them space on mine if they haven’t to offer.

  21. pagansister says:

    I just have to say that I enjoy commenting here on this site, and that I’m allowed to do so, obviously not being Catholic. (Thank you, Deacon). Deacon Greg does, IMO, an excellent job of monitoring it and removing what he feels necessary to remove. I try not to not put mud on the carpet or my feet on the sofa! :o)

  22. It gets to the heart of the mission of the blog. Ed says above:

    “blog have different purposes. One like mine (or MD’s), which is heavily educational, does not benefit (much) from comments by people who simply don’t know anything of what they re talking about. Other blogs, like this one, where often the topics under discussion are more free-ranging, might benefit by comments.”

    I agree with this. I go to a very large number of different sites for different purposes. I wonder if the traffic to site where you cannot comment get the same traffic as those who do so. I also can predict by the choice of the blogger on the topic which ones will get a 100 comments and which ones will get less than 5 and those comments are nothing more than agree comments. As I said on another post, why have posts asking why everyone can’t get along and be nice, and then have a comment which by its nature and the status of the Catholic Church divisions and those in our society will bring both sides to the battle lines?

    As to the anonymous, again a choice of the blogger to have comments or not or to have them require an open name. To this I have a couple of comments. When Greta was alive and running a large company, of which I played a support role, we had many issues that came up because of her life outside the company in the Catholic Church. She went forth as called to by the church for the laity to help take these teaching out to the world. Some, who did not agree with Church teaching, chose to get themselves involved in a very dangerous way with our personal lives and our business lives. And this was not on a public blog, but within the parish. We still stayed involved and active in the parish and still stayed authentic to the Church teaching, but for a while had to pay for protection and to fight against attacks from organizations dedicated to bringing anyone down who dares to actually support Catholic teaching. It resulted in one person going to jail. If you want to force people to lay out their names on a public blog, I think it is dangerous and I for one would leave which may please some people. I post my first name and Deacon has our email if there is a complaint and he has to power to ban which is his right. But take care in what you might impose that could come back to haunt someone. We live in a world where some resort to violence rather than discuss with words. I doubt I would want to see one of my readers tracked down and harmed for something posted on a blog site of mine. It brings a whole new meaning to hearing the message and not killing the messenger.

    So what is the mission and how do we have good discussions to share the faith and learn the wonder of the full range of Catholic teaching? Deacon, you have to set this tone because you are the one drving this boat and as captain, you have the controls. But look in the mirror and decide if what you post is aimed at that mission and if it gets the results you want. Whatever you decide I will honor and if I see it as something not acceptable will leave and if what I post is not acceptable on a routine basis or even one time, edit or ban. Your ship captain.

  23. “…does the inability to comment on a blog discourage readership?” Among the people I want to reach, not one bit.

  24. Dr. Michael Hfuhruhurr says:

    Indeed, L.H. Admiral, perchance you could lead a naval mission to bombard the homes and neighborhoods of those commenters who do not provide their full names.

  25. Now you see, I don’t take offense, but I actually do not find that funny either.

  26. That’s a really nice confession Fran. Let me say I said similar regretful comments in my early attempts at the internet.

  27. If you think the comments on Catholic blogs are “vindictive, judgmental, mean-spirited, snotty, sarcastic” you should see what they’re like on political news blogs. These are tame.

  28. Fran,

    I comment using only a first name by my full name, like yours, is unique. I’m not quite ready to live a fully public life. Maybe it’s a lack of courage on my part.

    Aaron

  29. I’m with those that find the discussions on blogs and intenet forums a net plus. Yes there are negatives but there are positives too. One just has to personally process comments, that is, understand where the person is coming from, understand if the comment is an opinion or a fact, and put a credibility factor toward that comment. Sure it’s not perfect, but democracy and exchange of ideas are not perfect. There’s a synergy that’s created by millions of people expressing thoughts. Important thoughts that might not otherwise get transmitted find a way into the marketplace of ideas. It may not be efficient, but it’s better than not exchanging opinions.

  30. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Anonymous posting (or rather, posting with handles) has always been the soul of the Internet and the BBS groups beforehand. It fosters informality, fun, and freedom of speech. However, what has always had to go along with anonymity is a strong, swift, unemotional hand against trolls and spammers, and for some busy sites, this may be too much to ask. For such people, it’s reasonable to close comments. Also, there are some sites which are just clique-ier and nastier than others, and those are probably not places to let strangers comment.

    That doesn’t mean that everybody else has to shut up shop, though.

    As a woman who has to look out for her personal safety, I’ve nearly always used handles. And I stand behind my handles’ reputations, just as I stand behind my own name. People who misbehave beyond anyone’s patience should be banned from sites; and if they’re too annoying, they should be kicked off the Internet by their ISPs, just like in the old days. If you don’t have the tools to determine where annoying commenters are coming from, get the tools.

  31. It is, unfortunately, much too easy today to track down a person whose name you know. I’ve done this, legitimately, for a living, and also worked in the related field of network/IT security, for a long time. I would never encourage anyone, for any reason, to use their full name on a blog like this, other than the owner or someone like Dr. Peters, whose public persona is well-established and deliberately created.

    It’s a tough bind, since I also agree wholeheartedly with those who see the freedom given by anonymity as opening the door to sin or its near occasion. The single-name and pseudonymous posters on this blog seem to be the greater offenders in this area. I always have the choice of going elsewhere, of course, and I do that when the vitriol gets to be too much.

  32. Anonymous for this one only says:

    My name is a very slightly altered form of my real name that will be readily identifiable by a human but not searchable by Google. I can’t post my “Exact” real name for the simple reason I, my family members, my relatives and my employers are stalked on the internet, and literally, as well. (This post is obviously different, but Deacon Kandra can verify I frequently comment here.) I’m dead serious about the stalking–the stalker is in and out of prison for the activities and there are court orders in place. If you were to google my real full name you would find me accused of wild and offensive crimes, all ficticious. There are many other legitimate reasons for using an internet de plume but for me, my internet presence must be invisible, at least to Google. The fact that any individual person is privileged to lead an unmolested life and is self employed does not mean that everyone has that freedom.

    If you have not been stalked then say a prayer of gratitude. You aren’t any more “grownup” than others–just luckier……for now.

    Furthermore, “real names” mean nothing on the internet. How do I know who “Ed Peters” is, to pick one example of a name that does not appear to be a pseudonym? Why would I care, unless i had ulterior motives to take offense and complain to his employers or would otherwise try to cause mischief? Maybe “Ed Peters” is a pseudonym, too. The fact is, unless you are really famous, nobody on the internet other than a handful of people actually know you or even care. And that’s true here, as well. I don’t “know” or care about “Ed Peters” any more ethan I “know” or care about “pagansister.” I recognize for my own purposes who those people are here and value their comments regardless of who they say they are.

    As Deacon Kandra says, this is a bit like visiting at home. I may only know a visitor by his nickname but still find what he has to say interesting. I don’t need to know his full name or what he paid for his house or whether he has a police record in any of the fifty states or the details of his divorce. If he just tells me his real name I would be able to find all that out.

  33. naturgesetz says:

    Why do I use a screen name? I do it because there could be adverse repercussions “in real life” (perhaps not so bad as what Greta and Mark experienced, but I see no need to run the risk) for some of the things I post on various internet sites. Mostly, it’s things elsewhere, not here; but when I had to register here, I already had the pseudonym and it was easier to let it stand than to put my first name or full name on the account. Using the pseudonym elsewhere allows me the freedom to put forward what I believe are valid ideas — and the validity of the ideas is far more important than the identity of the one who utters them, unless he is an expert like Dr. Peters. It kind of spilled over to this blog, but now if I were to start using my real name, it could blow naturgesetz’s cover where I think I really need it.

  34. I only give my first name too, but it’s not from a lack of courage. I just don’t want the complication of my employer, the people I work under, the people who work under me and those I work with to have a perception of me given my opinions. It could cause a friction that would be unhealthy in a work environment. My personal friends know my opinions.

  35. I don’t think anonymous posting will go away, for the reasons just described above (involving security and harrassment issues for those who post online).

    Also, if I’m not mistaken, the business owners of these sites probably favor as many comments as possible because it drives up traffic. More traffic, more eyeballs, more advertising revenues.

    Am somewhat amused by the condescending remarks I’ve seen here by “professionals.” One referred to himself and his fellow experts as “grownups.” I would like to know who put this person in charge of the world.

    Another expert (and prominent writer) condemned “judgemental” commentary in the same post where he maligned half of the people who comment here and elsewhere in the Catholic blogosphere “as vindictive, judgemental, mean-spirited, snotty, sarcastic, and, often, just plain wrong. Oh, and crazy too.”

    Snotty? Sarcastic? Vindictive? Crazy? Come now, who’s being “judgemental”?

    For myself, I profit from reading EVERYTHING posted here. Even the comments that are unnerving or with which I vehemently disagree help me better understand views of fellow Catholics and other seekers whom I may not otherwise encounter. And that most especially includes the comments that are unsigned.

  36. I understand that Aaron. A big part of this for me is about the times that people say really strong things, negative, mean-spirited and cruel things – and they use only a first name.

  37. Manny, please hear me when I say that I am speaking to you with due respect… but what you say is exactly my point. If you are going to say something on the open internet that would complicate your life at work, then perhaps you should not be saying it out here at all.

    This is a matter of integrity perhaps and not solely courage. I feel very strongly about this matter, so I am not singling you out.

  38. In many cases, the comments do make the blogs. Dr. Peters’s situation is different, but for most of us, the comments are a big part of it.

    I have seen Deacon Greg shut them down at other times, and I suspect that he would do it again if he had to.

  39. I am not picking on you pagansister, because I generally enjoy your comments – but why not use a real name? I am being curious – in the end, we all get to choose this element.

  40. I know someone else with that circumstance and it is awful. Again – I simply say that people who do make really strong statements might consider how it would feel to say that openly and under their own name before hitting send.

  41. I am not sure that I understand what would be blown. Again, I simply offer this question… What would the repercussions be if it were said in your own name? If you can’t say it as John Doe, maybe it should not be said at all – that’s all I’m saying.

  42. naturgesetz says:

    Fran —

    I disagree. It seems to me that a person can have opinions or information which he thinks participants on a blog would profit from hearing, and I don’t see why the other users should be deprived of hearing them because the person considers it dangerous to announce them as his own to those among whom he lives and works.

    As I tried to suggest in another comment, the validity of an idea does not depend on the identity of the one who expresses it.

  43. There is some evidence in the academic literature that nasty comments attract readers out of proportion to the content of the post, so for commercial sites there can be an attraction to an open undermoderated com box that has little to do with ideas and exchange and much to do with revenue.

    I dont’ think they will vanish utterly, as there are many sites that have managed to keep lightly moderated comment sections alive and well where civility and decorum and honest exchange rule the day.

  44. naturgesetz says:

    If I told you the repercussions, I’d have to kill you. ;) LOL

    What I mean seriously is that detailing the possible repercussions might actually give a clue to my identity to someone who wanted to track me down in order to make those repercussions happen. Some of my ideas are unwelcome to those to whom I express them. Unwelcome enough that I think it is possible that one or two might want to track me down and cause trouble.

    Why do you think that if someone believes it imprudent to say something in his own name, maybe he shouldn’t say it at all? That has a certain surface plausibility, but on serious consideration I don’t see a sound reason behind it.

  45. Katie Angel says:

    In some cases, it also helps to have some understanding of the person’s past experiences – particularly in relation to some of hte more volitile topics. I know my opinion of the late “Greta” was dramatically changed when she shared what had made her such a passionate advocate for repealing Roe v. Wade. Understanding her past helped me understand her posts.

  46. True. Quite true. We hold ourselves to higher standards, of course.

  47. I’m with Fran on this one, for the reasons she gives. Besides, many people exaggerate the complications that their life would suffer if their views were known, and who’s to say that one fellow man, confronted with clear public witness, is worth more than the consultation many get from anonymous views?

  48. Exactly. Levels of politeness fall when anonymity is at hand. A common example is caricaturing another’s view points, which most folks would not do to someone in the room, because they’d be called on it right away. Yet they feel free to do anonymously, why? cuz they don’t really think of their adversary as person, but rather as screen id.

    Plus, face to face communications are short-lived. Written posts about people last a long, long time, often, well after another has moved on, and is not aware of what was later said, tho the world sees it.

  49. Fran, you have made your point. others do not see it that way and disagree. trust me your point has been made (and made again!) and i do not see the harm in agreeing to diagree?

    i see no connection to commenting with a full name, partial name or made up one and the amount of negative comments on blog. the main point should be the content of the comment and not the personality. if i am in a room with many people during a discussion, i would perk up if someone made a point…but i do not need to know his/her name etc. or ask for their ID etc.

    giving ones full name is not the silver bullet to control negative comments. there are too many other dynamics involved in all this.
    as mentioned by others, some blogs focus on “tabloid” topics and spin them in a way to get many comments that helps the bottom line (advertising). certain types and styles of blogs attract people who will only see everything in a narrow ideology, and they will post no matter what.

    the style and purpose of the blog, the way it is monitor, the type of readers it want to attract, all these have more to do with the type of comments that will be posted.

    it would be easy to do a test, maybe the blog owner could try limiting comments to only those who post with full name (which is proven to be the real name) and see if after 90 days it really makes a difference?

  50. naturgesetz says:

    Some people may “exaggerate the complications that their life would suffer.” Others may not. Outsiders have no way of knowing which are which, and I think that we should respect the prudential judgment of those who know their own circumstances.

  51. I’m not worried about people knowing my opinions and associating them with me. I’m trying to live consistently, both publicly and privately, so I do not want to hide myself for that reason. I don’t post things that I wouldn’t want attached to me, because while may be posting under a pseudonym, I will know I did it and my Father in Heaven will know I did it. That’s enough for me.

    Maybe I should post as myself, and offset some of my early foolishness on the internet. A google search on my name produces results from almost 20 years ago. Maybe I should post as myself to show that I have conviction on whatever I post. If I’ve commented, I’m not afraid of my comments, but it may look like I am. Maybe I should post as myself to counteract that belittling voice in my head that says no one really wants to know what I have to say.

    I guess I have something to ponder and pray on.

  52. “I don’t think anonymous posting will go away,”

    Not as long as it permitted, no, it won’t. It’s too easy to make use of, for good reasons or bad. But anonymous posting always represents a decision by the blog master, and like every morally cognizable decision, the decision-maker incurs some responsibility for what happens in its wake.

  53. To discuss the Deacon’s Bench in the same universe as that despicable vile toxic pathetic blog Gawker is borderline sacrilege. Anything the founder has to say about any subject is so irrelevant in a civilized grouping that it’s laughable and vomit provoking at the same time. Like attracts like, birds of a feather fly together: the trash on Gawker attracts trash minded readers to share their trash thoughts. Even the most disagreeable comment on this blog is sweetness and light compared to the vomitos Gawker. Just sayin.

  54. I avoid Gawker like the plague. It is vile and upsetting. Nick Denton’s ideas are anti-matter.

  55. Are you serious? Are you trying to say Deacon Greg is “morally responsible” for blog posts he and/or you don’t like or find offensive? This is getting ridiculous. The commentariat here was getting along just fine with each other within reason until this communion flap, and all of the sudden there are now calls to shut everything down, silence everyone – - exclusively by professional “bloggers’ whose feelings are apparently hurt that their expertise is not universally bowed down to and accepted with nary an ounce of independent thought.

  56. I rest my case.

  57. pagansister says:

    Fran R. Szpylczn: There is a reason behind the name I use, to much to go into. And I realize you’re not picking on me, only asking. Besides the reason behind it, I happen to like it.

  58. Oh my – I’m sorry. People stumble over my name every day, and I’ve come to enjoy the variety of attempts. I only meant my clumsy remark as fun. It’s not the first time my “sense of humor” has fallen flat. No offense intended. Mea maxima culpa.

  59. Fran, anomyous makes a very good and valid point about self employment. I hire a lot of people, and I can tell you that 70% of companies “cyber screen” the candidates.

    I tell my nieces and nephews all the time: “You own whatever you ever posted on line, including Facebood.” Even if
    deleted, it’s always out there in cyber space.

    Be it our party days when we were young and stupid or the passion for our faith, some or all of it at some point is going to come back to bite.

    Some of the faithful may argue that it’s part of the faith to put yourself out there. I say, “Why be stupid, especially when you don’t have to.” Any one of the considerate posters on this blog may someday need a job by an hiring manager that is anti-catholic to feed their family. It might well be a great company, and only a certain person who won’t hire Catholics, but when you need it most, the decision at the time may not be in your corner.

    I’m all for taking a hit for the faith, but like suffering, I think God gives us plenty without the need for self infliction.

    That said, people like Ed Peters, Dcn. Greg, and the ordained gain much by being ID’d, as their full time careers are well connected to the faith, and will probably never be otherwise.

  60. also, i think some of this is just a temperament thing…..
    just to throw out myer/briggs terms; i imagine more extroverted temperaments naturally go with using their names and more introverted ones are always more protective of privacy. the more extroverted is focused on the person, who s/he is and details etc……the introverted is more focused on the content of the message.
    and neither understands why the other is like that!

  61. I practically learn something new here (at Deacon’s Bench) every day. Had no idea what the “Gawker” site was all about, so I checked it just now after hearing mention of it here. Spent about a minute there … and that was enough. “Joanc57,” you are quite right in your assessment!

  62. naturgesetz says:

    LOL

  63. FrMichael says:

    Some of us have professional prohibitions, such as diocesan review prior to publishing things in our own name, so an anoymous handle is the agreed-upon compromise. On the other hand, I don’t write any ideas online that I don’t say aloud at the parish and in the chancery, although over the years I have written things intemperately in a manner I would rarely do in-person. Not sure if that’s only a function of anonymity as of the limits of putting things into words without the non-verbal cues of personal conversation. The severe time crunch of a parish priest of a very large parish who devotes minimal time to blogs leads to a fast-and-furious approach to reading and typing.

    Kudos to the Patheos and other Catholic blogs who serve as the online Catholic bulletin board for the rest of us. One would imagine administering the boards takes an considerable amount of time and patience. Perhaps that could be the subject of another post. How does that work with bloggers with other jobs? Your time management skills must be well-honed.

  64. Deacon Greg Kandra says:

    FrM:

    How does it work? Easy answer: bi-location.

    Dcn. G.

  65. Max Lindenman says:

    I addressed this topic back last June:

    http://www.patheos.com/Resources/Additional-Resources/Naked-Blogger-Max-Lindenman-05-23-2011.html

    By the way, one of my readers seduced me and broke my heart. Twice. The same person. Beat that.

  66. You lose. Fr. Marcel has just given a superb statement showing that 915 is not the be all and end all proviso governing the distribution of communion, as some of us have been saying all along. I know, Ed, we are all wrong, and you are right, but you’ve already said that about 15 times. We all know that you are a brilliant canonist and none of us really belongs in the same combox with you.

  67. Fran and Ed, I was looking at letters to the editor after this discussion started. To me there is even less civility than most comments here when the names in the paper are clearly shown. However, we just had someone’s house trashed after posting the paper under their name.

    The only way you will see less from some is when standing face to face and looking into the eyes of the other person, human to human. We are seeing less civility because that seems to happen less and less as we have email, twitter, facebook, blogs, and other instant electronic forms of communications that are impersonal. You even see it in how people drive today and the anger they have separated by glass.

    I can honestly say that anything I have said here I have said exactly the same thing face to face in meetings at several of the organizations that I belong to. I didn’t use to do so, but living with Greta all those years changed that because I saw how her passion changed people over time.

    Speaking of which, I spent time over the past month finally going through all of her things. I have yet to sleep in our old bedroom. Call me a coward. I found out she kept all the letters we exchanged while I was serving in the military. I spent a day reading each letter which she had filed in order by response. She also had all the other lettes she has recieved over the years all carefully cataloged and stored. We use to really take time when we corresponded in letter snail mail. I thought about Deacon Greg advice to think about posting for a day before doing so and how foreign that is to all our discussions. I wonder if Deacon observes that with his own communication during the day. If he does, I suspect he would have a lot better content and so would we all. Something to think about.

    I still strongly urge that having people post real names is not a good idea because of what we went through. I can’t imagine a worse feeling that finding out a policy caused someone to be harmed. And with that in mind, do we benefit from more open thought or have self censored thought to avoid some nut job.

  68. But then you would lose my thoughts. Hopefully I’ve added something positive to the discussions. Like I say in my comment below, take the comment for what it’s worth. Ignore it if you don’t think there’s value in it. By why make free speech harder?

  69. But why take them seriously Fran? Such meanness is only a reflection on them.

  70. Good points Kevin. Does it matter if the “brilliant insight” came from an anonymous poster or not? No, it doesn’t.

  71. Yes that is true. On forums, you tend to get a profile page that you can fill. Commenting on blogs is a little different. Deacon’s blog is such a high traffic blog that it almost feels like a forum. Too bad we couldn’t have a profile page here for the regulars.

  72. Perfect Klaire. And so is Anonymous ‘s statement. How do I really know if a “real” name is really that person’s name.

  73. Me too, both about learning something new and Gawker. Never heard of it. I guess I should google it.

  74. Just http://www.gawker it and you’ll see quickly what Mark and I are saying. This crudmeister’s opinions on the current temperature, let alone blog commentary, is as worthless as his demonic web presence.

  75. justamouse says:

    I don’t post under my real name not because of anonymity, but for the privacy of my family, and for their saftey. If I were solely responsible for myself, then I would post my name. In certain places I DO post my name, but it’s only been recently and with great anxiety. Writers used to be the least famous famous people you knew about. Those days are gone.

    I look at the acidic comboxes as the truth of the hidden man. Yes, people would be more polite if face to face, or with real names, but finding out what’s in their hearts is much sadder. They don’t lie to keep face. I think there’s a lot of work to be done by Catholic media.

    Plus, if Dcn Greg wanted to chastise me, he has my email.

  76. This is a very interesting topic, and one that I have been involved in for over 25 years, amazing as that is to me. If I may, one perspective on the issues of handles, anonymity and courtesy (or lack thereof)

    Handles: Simply put in today’s world, typing DcnDon is simpler than typing Deacon Don O’Shaughnessy, and given that as a two-finger typist I do make my share of typing errors, it saves me time. I figure if anyone wants to get at me, the email link and/or web site link is there. Historically, the handle came from what we used to call the “eight dot three” world, when operating systems could only handle filenames with a maximum of eight characters, one period (dot) and a three character extension. At that time, handles were essential since most systems could not handle nulls (spaces) so proper names were non-functional. Times and technology change but habits not so fast, eh?

    Anonymity: There are good reasons for this that have been expressed here and have nothing to do with hiding. I think that as long as Deacon Greg approves the person for posting that’s good enough for me. This is not a laissez-faire blog. In the larger Internet world however, anonymity is a two-edged sword. It allows the publication of necessary information or opinion that might otherwise never see the light of day because of retribution against the poster. We’ve all seen this happen. On the other hand it can be easily abused, and the wild world of the internet is not known primarily for its self-discipline.

    In earlier times, before the advent of the “Big I” internet there was definitely more of a community atmosphere. In tech-oriented Usenet newsgroups it was possible to actually communicate directly with top software authors in some of the major corporations. But as online access became a commercial product and new arrivals started to demand responses from these same people, expecting the internet to function as their personal tech support, the high value people left and went to private mailing lists available only by approval of the list owner. The internet became poorer because of this.

    People will say things to each other online that they never would in person. In another past environment, a local network of hobbyists called FidoNet with participants aged 9 to 85, regular face to face meetings at a local coffee shop kept the online flame wars in check and worked to establish a deeper sense of community. It’s hard to swear at someone you’ve met.

    What makes the difference? In all the years I’ve been doing this, one thing more than anything else: a mature and proactive moderator. I can honestly say “trust me on this” because I have both been one (a moderator, not necessarily the mature part…) and seen hundreds if not thousands with varying degrees of ability: we are blessed to have Deacon Greg.

    God bless

  77. Interesting topic. In my case, having been on some form of social site for almost as long as Deacon Don, I’ve always used either my first name or a handle. Even my AOL address doesn’t have my full name because when AOL started up they limited the number of letters you could use. When I started, Bulletin Board Systems (BBS) were small local operations so they were monitored and everyone was known to the owner since you had to pay them directly to dial up. So there really wasn’t a huge amount of anonymous nasty comments, but the moderators had little trouble bumping people off the system when there was.
    So the question I asked myself is would I start using my full name today. Probably not. Not because I am ashamed of what I say on here. I try to be polite and not say anything I wouldn’t say off the net. But because unlike a conversation in real life, the internet is a permanent public conversation. On occasion I do share personal comments. Things I might say to people but would not want publicly shared and searchable by potential future employers. The competitiveness of the market means that people are put under a microscope and internet searches of potential employees is common. Imagine someone posting a message full of typos who’s interviewing for a proof-reading job. In my case if you know my real name and search for me on google the only thing that should come up are some past articles from a former job. Very professional, and that’s the way I like it. If someone specifically wants to know my name I have no problem giving it but I’d prefer not to post it online.

  78. Gee, I’m just a regular person. I don’t have a blog or a degree or any authority outside of my children (even that’s questionable at times). But I learn a lot through the comments. Every blue moon I might even fancy that I contribute a little morsel that is a valuable part of the discussion. Part of what I learn from comments is that some people are jerks. And jerkier when they can type and run.

    However, the meshing out of the ideas and meaning of various points has been helpful to me from the point of apologetics, and also just helping me learn about Church stuff, like canon law, etc.

    It is rather discouraging to me that some things that seem quite plain, are dissected, rationalized and fuzzed into relativism…e.g. “no one can know”. I tire of that. And then I just skip over those well-worn comments.

    I do find sometimes that bloggers, as much as commentors, are offensive. And no amount of comments seems to convince them…”Lesbo-Fascist” being the most recent example of a lack of charity from a link you all might recognize last week. Mocking, condescending, crass name-calling. Really?

    I hope you will allow comments to continue, Deacon Greg. I have learned a lot here in the blog box. And sometimes there are questions from the writing, as flawless and wonderful as all writers think their work is…that are clarified by the blogger in response to comments. At times I have wished for that on the Peters’ blog.

    Commentors “type and run”, and we can criticize them for that. But not allowing comments is another form of the same thing: “I said it and I want no further discussion!”.

    In fact, the very comment about the problem with comments speaks to their value. :)

  79. I recently read another converstation going on about the identified single source names issue and facebook. Many orgainziations are in essence oursourcing the need to monitor their contact with the general public to Facebook. Many privacy rights groups showed strong concern finging it unacceptable, reprehensible, dangerous, and utterly at odds with basic free speech rights in the United States.

    I also recently read the following..

    There are costs to living in a “free society” — or what used to be a free society, at any rate. One of those is that we need to accept some speech that is painful or abhorrent, as part of the price for protecting free speech and civil rights for us all.

    When anonymous speech is destroyed, whether under a boot and rifle shot, or via a simple mouse click on a massive social networking site, the damage is strikingly similar in the long run.

    People become nervous about speaking their minds. They fear what their neighbor or employer will find out about their private lives. They self-censor and retreat from public life and discourse. This is especially true if that speech is at odds with the government accepted or politically correct society has demanded. The PC police see someone standing up for things like Catholic teaching as someone to be attacked. Their identity googled and “concepts not accepted by society” reported to employers or their home names and addresses posted to sites where these thoughts are no longer to be tolerated.

    For those on the left side who often advocate this open name business, there was a recent incident by an organization called the ADF going after comments it saw promoting gay rights and or abortions. The group would work to find the identity and go after the person by sending copies of their comments to their employers, posting names and addresses on line, and anything else they could to create havoc on their lives. It’s a matter of having basic control over your
    identity and your life. Far too many people are putting themselves and their loved ones at risk and both sides of the right and left should be aware of the dangers of exposure has on the wide open internet.

    Why the hell should it be the business of your boss or anyone else you
    know, if you want to legitimately comment on a hobby site, or a game
    site, or on any site about a controversial issue, for that matter? Maybe even more important, why would anyone trying to communicate with the public want to do anything that might put those who visit at risk?

    Remember, the Federalist Papers, a series of eighty-five essays urging the citizens of New York to ratify the new United States Constitution originally appeared anonymously in New York newspapers in 1787 and 1788 under the pen name “Publius.” A bound edition of the essays was first published in 1788, but it was not until the 1818 edition that the authors of each essay were identified by name as Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay. The Federalist Papers are considered one of the most important sources for interpreting and understanding the original intent of the Constitution. This is possible because the ideas were looked at unfiltered.

    Does it matter if we have to give our full identity on Deacons blog to post? It does to me and would mean that I could no longer post here which will make some very happy. Soon you will have a society that goes along with each other so as not to offend or say something that jolts us into seeing things in a new reality. I strongly urge folks to read Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas to see what each small move in German did to freedom until you were afraid to speak out even in your own home. Fight for our ability to speak openly. Even on discussions like this make the point known. While we worry about stalkers and nut jobs today, at some point in time everything you have said on the internet could be part of your file. A friend I am reading Bonhoeffer with mentioned imagine if Facebook had been around and Hitler and his bunch had simply gone in and nationalized it gaining access to everything laid out for them about each and every citizen of the country. If the Government took over Facebook and Google, they would have a treasure trove.

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