Monday, 28 September 2015

Against anonymous commenters

Mark Steyn attacks anonymous commenters too timid to put a name to their opinions.

Kathy Shaidle and Gavin McInnes have been discussing online anonymity. I agree with them. You’re not in the battle unless you put your name to it – and don’t give me that Scarlet Pimpernel stuff: you’re not riding out after dark on daring missions, you’re just reTweeting some bloke’s hashtag.
    Mr McInnes is withering about the cyber-warrior ethos – the butch pseudonym, the graphic-novel avatar. But, cumulatively, it’s making the Internet boring and ineffectual for everyone other than Isis…
    There are alwaysrational reasons for not flying under your flag. But cumulatively and objectively they have a corrosive effect. McInnes cites the stand-up mommy who, in response to the arrest of a parent who let her children walk home from the park unaccompanied, organized a "Leave Your Kids At The Park" day - to demonstrate to the statist control freaks that they can't arrest us all. Her name is Lenore Skenazy, not "WarriorPrincess437"

Frankly, if you can’t take your own ideas seriously enough to put your name to them, then why the hell should anyone else? That’s the lesson from the likes of Lenore and Steyn.

Yes, it’s true (as Steve Kates responds) that “free speech of unpopular opinions – meaning opinions that are unpopular on the left – is not so free after all, but comes with a huge potential cost.” That “the anonymity of the net allows many of us to say things in public that we are very aware may have us receiving modern versions of being burned at the stake or sent to the gulag.”

But while “there are always rational reasons for not flying under your flag … cumulatively and objectively they have a corrosive effect.” And it remains true that for every opinion coming from an avatar, one from someone using their own name is more genuine.

Because one of us is real and the other isn't. Which means that one of us has his own skin in the game, and he doesn't want to waste his time trying to figure out whether the other one's deranged obsession is simply the usual basement blowhardry…

It is also true that virtually without fail every single scurrilous or cowardly attack online comes from some anonymous blowhard hiding behind a self-fantasising nom-de-plume. Like the current loony from Los Angeles who’s been spamming the comments section here at NOT PC for the past week with links to white supremacist websites and claims about something called Tavistock—which I had to Google to discover is among the internet’s 4th-most popular bizarre conspiracy theory among loonies who still haven’t learned to tie their own shoes.

So until the spamming stops, or slows – or until shops in Irvine, California run out of tinfoil—I’m afraid I’ve had to apply moderation to all the comments here.

Which won’t bother most of you, since you don’t often bother to comment anyway, whether anonymously or pseudonymously or not.


  1. Has it ever occurred to you that there are some people who would be quite compromised if certain opinions where read be certain regimes or circumstances? It is for this reason that publishers such as the Economist have anonymous content. It is how dissident opinion was gotten out in the USSR and China under Mao. As a matter of fact, anonymity in political comment was a common feature of the English, American and French Revolutions. It is in a quite old tradition in Western Civilization. In many governments and in many private enterprises, one could face dismissal or worse if some opinions could be traced. This is certainly true now in much of the so called "Western Democracies", were political correctness beginning reach a point similar to the old days of the USSR or the fascist regimes of the 1930s. This is also in great measure true in a great many parts of Latin America today. It is absurd to imagine that "if you can’t take your own ideas seriously enough to put your name to them, then why the hell should anyone else?" This is an extremely parochial opinion, and shows narrowness of experience in, and reflection on, political life recent and past. You should be thankful that some would take the time to speak their mind--it is worth handling a few trolls.

    One notices a very narrow spectrum of opinion on this blog, and there is a tendency for writers to imagine that they are deeper thinkers and more broadly and deeply educated than they actually are. (This appears to be a vice of Libertarians--perhaps it is because so many of you were once Liberals.)

    You would be wise to realize that this is an extremely obscure blog. Many people, including myself, could care less about 'defending our proposition" here, but merely wish to widen your scope a bit. You really are not that important in the broader world to merit deep argumentation, especially when you so tediously given over to self-importance and egomania, and so prickly when some happens to disagree with you.

    I would suggest you be more thankful that people participate, and less sensitive to criticism. You seem to be out looking from arguments all the time (this too seems a Libertarian vice). It is childish; it is tiresome. Get over it. You are not that important. Get control of your ego, stop expecting everyone to agree with you or argue with you, and appreciate that readers notice you at all.

    And it is as hilarious as it is pathetic for a political "pundit" such as Steyn--really not much more than an entertainer, sort of a recent, tarted up version of P. J. O'Rourke (with slightly better wit and prose, granted)--to whine about this. In fact, some large his very career is based on him expressing opinions that other cannot for various reason voice them. Much of the rest of his earning comes from him willfully placing himself in front of the Left. His fans then watch the farces that ensue. I can assure you that is is mostly entertainment. nothing he does will change anything much, and his "ideas" are mostly commonplace of the right just restated with more pith.

    If he had his way, it would destroy his position and livelihood. His real problem is organized, professional left-wing "trolley" which uses and outsourced, services, often from overseas, paid for by the professional Left. They are just too mindless for his brand of humor. He should figure out how to play them, and stop being played by them. It is also deeply insensitive of him to not understand the obvious points about anonymity that I have made above, especially given what is going on in his native country and Canada.

    He makes a living being a target for the Left. It is hard to sympathize with his complaint, all things considered.

    1. Anonymous, you ask, "Has it ever occurred to you that there are some people who would be quite compromised if certain opinions where read be certain regimes or circumstances?" A: Well, yes it has, and Steyn addresses it in his piece. But we are not yet at the Samizdat stage of our cultural decline--though Steve Kates argues we're not far away, while Steyn would respond, I guess, that this relies on all of us sharing the risks of ensuring we don't decline that far. And I would argue that it remains the case that opinions given by someone with a real name can be taken more seriously than those without -- and are less often tinged with the bile that tends to fester behind anonymity.

      Anyway, thank you for your comment, from the safe haven of anonymity. And for your 'constructive' criticism. Me looking for arguments? No, not exactly. I just like to challenge people, and encourage them to think. If that makes me tedious, self-important and egocentric, then make the most of it.

    2. And noting I run a blog against the powers of IRD under our Tax Administration Act - which gives that department more powers than police while setting up one of the most draconian surveillance states the West has seen - and given in a worse case scenario, as my job is filing tax returns, if they chose they could make the business of my livelihood (for a start) difficult (to impossible) if individuals there took a snitch to me, I still choose to post under my real name because otherwise the rampant-surveillance-state wins the moral ground. And if we given the statists that, freedom lovers may as well leave the field of debate.

  2. I don't recall why I started using my pseudonym, Kiwi Dave, about 14 years ago (real name, since you're concerned, David Lenny); before that I used my name in the occasional letter to the paper.

    If the anonymity of the Internet allows incivility which people would not engage in under their real names, it also enables people to express their real views rather than mask them, to which others can respond. Whether this leads to improved or worsened dialogue, I don't know.

    And on the question of names, what lesson should we learn from your phrasing, "the likes of Lenore and Steyn"? The given name for one but the family name for the other. I associate the use of the first name in media with the pseudo-intimacy of celebrity culture as seen on women's magazine covers at the supermarket checkout, 'Julia and Mark's Secret Heartbreak', etc.

    Kiwi Dave

  3. Hi Peter,

    Of course this is your blog and totally up to you how you choose to police comments, especially given the recent series of deranged posts by someone who probably needs professional help. (or maybe you are really one of the lizard people? ;-)

    There are a lot of crazy people on the internet, it seems that one innocuous comment has the potential to agitate entire hordes of hate-filled troglodytes with nothing better to do than vent their anger at the goldstein du jour, this could range from random rants, to public slander or even to physical violence.

    Is my passing opinion on a blog worth running the risk of having to deal with the mentally ill on a vendetta? Not really.

    So what to do?

    Have the government enact 'harmful digital communication' legislation to regulate all internet comments so they don't hurt anyone's feelings? "Nothing to hide nothing to fear"?

    ...or perhaps not attach my fairly unique real name to every comment I make to be hoovered up by the big databases and held against me in twenty years time if I'm not randomly stabbed by some loony first?

    Freedom of speech without privacy is no freedom at all. I would contend that it is somewhat naive to think otherwise.

    I'm happy for my opinions to stand on the strength of their own logic without the need for argumentum ad verecundiam, I'm always more interested in what is being said than the identify of the speaker saying it, but if it makes you feel better then please feel free to accord this opinion less weight because I didn't postfix it with a selection of random patronymic identifiers....

    Only on Not PC would a moderation decision elicits such a debate :-)


    1. If you believe in your opinion, put your name to it , Sticks and stones may break your bones but names will never hurt you. I don't care what people say about me but it is a crime to physically harm me.

    2. Don, you appear to be convinced of the idea that freedom of speech and privacy are mutually exclusive. Linking your name publicly with an opinion is not going to help uphold individual freedoms in any meaningful way, unless to sway those who value celebrity over reasoned argument.

      It has been part of our species social evolution to make cursory judgments based on appearance, familiar words or accents. This is very useful for working out if a person approaching your cave is friend or foe, but has little use in philosophical debate where it tends to distract from the core message and play to our instincts to judge the messenger and not the message. How often have you seen debate degenerate into a cacophony of ad hominem attacks? The beauty of the internet is that it allows us to leave behind the baggage of identity and converse in ideas, that is something to which I and many others assign great value.

      If I told you that I'm a trans-gender swede called Carol Erikson who used to be a member of the communist party and adores small kittens does it help my point about privacy? Does it hinder it? Or are you now busy building a mental picture and working out how these pieces of trivia affect the perceived validity of my case?

      This is no more evident today than in the circus of politics, where personality, emotion and trivia feature heavily in voter decisions and actual ideas are rarely discussed in any detail. Do you think it would be a good or bad thing if all parties listed their policies anonymously and people voted for the ideas rather than looking for the usual brand name or color they support?

      As to those who would control, the words of Cardinal Richelieu spring to mind:

      "If you give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest of men, I will find something in them which will hang him." Why give people like the late cardinal ammunition unnecessarily?

      Putting your name publicly to your views has its place and there are certainly times when this is an admirable and important stand to make, but I'm not convinced that the comment section of an internet blog is the place to do this, you may view this as cowardly whereas I view it as prudent choice of exposure.

      The point is well made that privacy brings with it an ethical responsibility for courtesy in speech, with that thought I apologize for the excessive verbiage required to express myself!


  4. I agree with Tom. Content matters more than knowing who the author is. I like to be anonymous but that comes with an obligation, in my view, to be polite. Privacy is greatly undervalued these days when it seems everyone thinks their boring life demands attention or what they make in a year is newsworthy.


    1. "Content matters more than knowing who the author is." Oh, indeed. But knowing the author is prepared to put their name to it is a fair guide that the content is intended by the author to be taken seriously.
      And if the content's conclusion rests on statements like "I think," "I did," " I saw," "I like," then as long as the "I" is just person X, then the conclusion is entirely worthless.
      But I do like your idea that being pseudonymous suggests an obligation to be polite. Sadly, for the most part that's observed more the other way--i.e., an opportunity to be impolite.

    2. If you value your privacy that is good, but if you want your views to be in the public arena put your name to it.

    3. If people aren't prepared to put their names to their views, I wonder if they value their individual freedoms, which I think are being eroded away by those that want to control us. .

  5. I agree with Tom in that the content is more important than the author.
    Putting your name next to your comment may or may not add credibility to what you have written, but it can have potentially nasty consequences, if it's a comment on an issue that is highly politicised & tense (for example, an industrial strike or similar).
    Sometimes in life, you need to consider how your actions will effect those closest to you.

    B Whitehead


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