In the world of online comments, there are plenty of opinions, but few names
Merits of anonymity debated in online world
Top active contributors to the Journal-World’s online article comments:
1. Marion (Marion Lynn), 15,997
2. just_another_bozo_on_this_bus, 13,047
3. Multidisciplinary, 9,707
4. merrill, 8,308
5. The_Original_Bob, 7,831
6. Godot, 7,318
7. bearded_gnome, 7,206
8. justbegintowrite (Ronda Miller), 5,692
9. Agnostick, 5,490
* Numbers are since 2005, when LJWorld.com started using online comments, to July 22.
They spend a lot of time online telling the world what they think, but their identities remain a mystery.
And as The World Company Web sites — including LJWorld.com, Lawrence.com and KUsports.com — approach their one-millionth comment, it appears they’d like it to stay that way.
Of the more than 15,000 commenters who submit roughly 680 comments per day to LJWorld.com, the vast majority choose online identities that don’t include their real names.
Recently, World Company Citizen Journalism Academy fellow Dave Klamet compiled data on the top 10 most frequent contributors to the online article comments section.
LJWorld.com, the Journal-World and 6News asked the top currently active contributors from the list to participate in an article about comments. But, in order to take part, as in all 6News and Journal-World stories, they would have to reveal their identities.
None of the seven anonymous commenters (two of the top 10 use their real name and one user is no longer active) agreed to reveal themselves. They cited various reasons, such as employment concerns and possible retaliation for their comments.
Commenters and the journalism community continue to debate whether the shield of anonymity for commenters is a positive or negative aspect of the online world.
“(Anonymous blogging is) free speech or a free shot at character assassination,” said David Perlmutter, former Kansas University journalism professor and author of the book “Blogwars.”
Perlmutter, who said he used anonymity on occasion when commenting, understands why people choose to remain anonymous.
“You don’t have to take responsibility, but you escape retribution,” Perlmutter said.
LJWorld.com’s most frequent blogger, Marion Lynn, who has made about 16,000 comments since the site enabled them on stories in 2005, doesn’t buy the rationale that users who remain anonymous cite.
“I use my real name, what’s yours?” said Lynn of his response when fellow commenters attack his views.
Lawrence Mayor Rob Chestnut said that he occasionally read the comments on articles pertaining to city business and has had anonymous commenters attack him and his views. But it’s not the attacks on public officials that bother him. His main concern, he said, is some of the inappropriate comments made about those not in the public eye, who are featured in human-interest stories.
Chestnut considers those instances similar to letters to the editor, which require the author’s name to be published.
“The folks ought to have to put a real name down there,” Chestnut said.
A way to promote dialogue?
Perlmutter compares the blogging phenomenon to the earliest newspapers, where people with a point of view would simply create their own newspapers. Now with blogging, those with something to say can circumvent the expense and hassle of printing their own newspaper.
But Perlmutter said he didn’t think the ease with which people could anonymously blog necessarily led to better conversation.
“It cuts off dialogue,” said Perlmutter, citing the frequent back-and-forth personal attacks some commenters engage in.
Chris Crandall, a KU social psychology professor who researches how people express prejudice in society, said there were other factors that contributed to why people chose to comment anonymously.
“There is concern for retaliation, but to a certain extent, anonymity is liberating beyond that,” Crandall said. “It is good not to have to justify one’s self.”
Crandall said that in anonymous situations, people might be more likely to express prejudice, but they might also be more willing to help others. He cited situations in which people chose to secretly donate to good causes.
“There’s a freedom in it,” he said, “for both good and bad.”
And for those who enjoy that freedom, they’ll be able to continue commenting anonymously on LJWorld.com, said Jonathan Kealing, Journal-World online editor.
“I expect we’ll continue to encourage users to become verified and reveal their full name,” he said, “while at the same time allowing users to remain anonymous.”