It seems to me clear there can be contexts where it would be best for a person to be allowed to post a comment on a blog anonymously. Perhaps, for example, a grad student wants to raise issues about sexist attitudes, behaviors, and assaults in her dept. But there are cases where anonymity creates problems. Perhaps, for example, a small very active group of hostile folks raise the temperature so often at a blog that people not going there for the give and take of outrage are driven away and the profession loses one of the few forums where there might be a broad, welcoming, discipline-wide discussion. If we grant that there are cases of both sorts, what is the most sensible general policy for a blog?
In my view, a person should be permitted to start up a blog and choose any reasonable commenting policy she wants. So my question is not about what is permissible, but rather with what is the most wise policy for the person who runs the blog to pick. (Also, I am not familiar with blogs that regularly permit anonymous posts–as opposed to comments–so I will focus on commenting policy.)
Here are some options: 1) permit people to comment under whatever name they want, 2) require all commentators to “register” with the person who runs the blog before they may post anonymously to the blog, 3) permit a person only a certain number of anonymous comments per month, 4) within the same blog, have some posts that are open to anonymous comments and others that are not, so people can pick and choose what sort of environment they want to blog in, 5) require commentators to make a case to the blog owner that this is a context where anonymity is for the good, 6) forbid all anonymous commentating.
I’d love to hear people’s thoughts about the comparative merits of these or other options. I myself have the sense that unlimited anonymity is robbing us of much of the usefulness of some blogs. And we here at PEA Soup feel that our restrictions on anonymous comments has elevated the discussion here as compared to some other blogs. This is not an abstract argument that de-anonymization is the right way to go in all contexts. Rather I think looking around at the situation with, for example, Daily Nous, it seems to me anonymization is doing at least as much harm as good. Anonymization provides something like the Ring of Gyges to commentators, with predictable results. There are those that thrive in contexts where the temperature has been instantly raised to boiling before the issues are even clarified. But many do not welcome or thrive in such an environment, and they will be driven away from blogs where that is the norm. I would like it best if there were places where shouting and indignation were not the starting points. (I’m totally cool with there being places that are like that as long as there are salient discipline wide options that are not like that.) People can be effectively silenced by not being able to state their unpopular opinion without bringing broad censure from others. But they can also be effectively silenced by there not being a venue one can enter without it being reasonable to expect shouting, abuse, and dogged resistance by the indefatigable.
My own view is that the best policy involves real restrictions on anonymization. Some such policies would create a lot of additional work for those that run blogs, at least in the short term. They might, for example, have to deal with lot of requests for anonymization and indignation when such requests are denied. To deal with that there might be an editorial board of sorts that adjudicates such cases. Additionally, as time goes on and the policy becomes more fine grained and public, presumably fewer and fewer people will waste their time making a frivolous case for anonymization.
Even if something in this direction is the best approach, there are interesting and important issues about which cases deserve anonymity. Is it enough if a full professor at a well-known institution says they think their unpopular opinion will bring them negative opinion from others unless they get to be anonymized? What if a grad student claims that, say, conservative voices are underrepresented in philosophy and/or in a particular blog and they need to be able to speak anonymously to get ideas out without hurting their job prospects? There will be difficult decisions to be made here and I suspect that practice at making such decisions and honing a public policy on such matters would lead to this being done more skillfully and consistently over time. I’d welcome people’s substantive opinion about which cases merit anonymization and which do not. But I think the costs of permitting the status quo need to be considered. As is, Daily Nous, for example, provides a very atypical exposure to general philosophy culture and, in my view, is not likely to be found generally welcoming to women, minorities, and the not overly confident, who are already severely underrepresented in our field. For many considering a career in philosophy, such venues may well be a person’s first exposure to the broader culture of philosophy. Thus I think we need to think carefully about what that exposure looks like and feels like.