Roolz and policies: Anonymity on this site

Since some other websites are changing their policies about revealing the names and the email + IP addresses of commenters, and because I’ve never explicitly stated this website’s policy on the issue, let me give it now.

While I have always encouraged commenters to use their real names instead of pseudonyms, my policy is to always protect the identity and contact details of commenters, anonymous or not. What that means is that under no circumstances will I reveal your name, email,  IP address, or other personal information to other commenters.  Nor will I reveal them to anyone with one exception: if a comment appears to threaten physical or other harm to someone, including me, I will report the information to  the proper authorities. But I see no point in reporting it to the commentariat as a whole.

If you wish to contact another commenter (this happens sometimes), email me and ask. I will then contact the person in question and ask if that’s okay. Only then will I pass on the contact details to the parties.

And those guilty of what I see as bad behavior, trolling, or other violations of The Roolz will simply be warned, banned, or moderated, but never outed.

I am heartened that so many commenters have chosen to use their real names, and I encourage you to do so, for I think this practice encourages the kind of civility I’m proud of on this site. But there will be no sanctions for using a pseudonym.

kthxbai

anonymous-cat

You’re safe, too, Butter!

73 Comments

  1. Posted June 8, 2013 at 6:05 am | Permalink

    I support these roolz! I share your opinion on the use of real names (based on previous posts of yours on this subject), but given the content of a portion of discussions on this website, I also understand that some people feel that their participation in such discussion requires anonymity, for whatever reason. I think that should remain a personal choice — perhaps one that is strongly encouraged, as you have done, but a choice nonetheless. I do very much enjoy the community you have built here!

    • jesperbothpedersen1
      Posted June 8, 2013 at 8:33 am | Permalink

      I support your support. I also understand that there are those who do not wish to use their real names in fear of repercussions. Luckily, I live in a place where most people are, if not atheists, then at least agnostics.

      I’m relatively new to this community, but so far I’m really enjoying the reasoned debates and comments.

      It appears to be a civil and reasoned place, which is a rarity on internet forums.

  2. Posted June 8, 2013 at 6:44 am | Permalink

    Great policy Jerry: yet again you demonstrate class.

  3. Paul Bruggink
    Posted June 8, 2013 at 6:44 am | Permalink

    I love the photo of Butter. How long after the photo was taken did s/he pull the mask off?

  4. Posted June 8, 2013 at 7:08 am | Permalink

    I will use my Shelldigger alias for a few more years. I live right smack in the bible loving, gun totin, republican infested part of Tn. The only reason I care about anonymity is I still have a couple of kids in school. My concern is that some of the good xians around here would persecute my kids, because of my stance about science, evolution, and religion. Given the type of behavior these people represent, I have no reason to believe otherwise.

    I have been way past the point where I am concerned about what people think of me for a long time, but I will do whatever it takes to protect the kids. Once they are free from school, it won’t matter anymore.

    So…thanks for allowing me to remain behind a bit of anonymity.

    • Geoff Boulton
      Posted June 8, 2013 at 7:29 am | Permalink

      Land of the Free (unless you’re not a Christian) Even thought I live in an almost exclusively Catholic country, I’ve never felt threatened or even felt the need to hide my atheism. Maybe, one day, the Christians in the US will take a few lessons from their European cousins about what it means to ‘be like Jesus’ and American atheists can really be free to voice their opinions without worrying about the implications for either themselves, or their families.

    • Diane G.
      Posted June 8, 2013 at 10:14 am | Permalink

      I was also most circumspect while my kids were in primary and secondary ed. I was worried not only about persecution but about prosyletization. Yes, I raised my kids to think for themselves, but when they’re young they’re always prey to threats, and some of the stuff Christians come up with is the stuff of nightmares.

      • SA Gould
        Posted June 8, 2013 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

        Growing up (60’s)our nice religious neighbors with the cute dog, were against some village proposal. The husband simply told my mother not to support it, because “I know the route your kids walk to school each day.” It had the desired effect. Our mother didn’t tell us until we were adults.

        • Diane G.
          Posted June 8, 2013 at 8:59 pm | Permalink

          *Shiver!*

    • Posted June 8, 2013 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

      We had that problem in Nashville. We joined the Unitarians. Then we were just dirty fucking hippies…

  5. Marcoli
    Posted June 8, 2013 at 8:04 am | Permalink

    That is the purrfect picture for this posting.

  6. neil
    Posted June 8, 2013 at 8:57 am | Permalink

    “Neil” is my real name. I am a “Ichiro”, “Woody”, “Tiger” kind of guy. JAC would ask Jesus for his last name.

  7. Posted June 8, 2013 at 9:02 am | Permalink

    Your house, your roolz. I support your right to establish the rules. I also support the right of other bloggers to unmask those using nyms as a way to avoid responsibility for very hateful and hurtful comments. If you are hiding behind a nym because using your real identity exposes you to real injury then no problem. But if you are using a nym, and repeatedly morphing it to avoid detection, simply because you don’t want others to know who is actually spewing the hatred, I’ve got no sympathy for you. If you aren’t honest enough to take responsibility for what you say, then I have no problem with others doing it for you.

    • Posted June 8, 2013 at 9:15 am | Permalink

      The way to deal with those hateful and hurtful comments, in my opinion, is simply to ban the people who make them and deep-six the comment, which is what I’ve always done. Otherwise it because a purely subjective decision of what kind of comment really is “hateful and hurtful”. People have very different standards for this, and someone making a comment may get “outed” because someone has very low standard for what is “hateful.” I think it’s fairer and easier just to remove questionable comments.

    • mordacious1
      Posted June 8, 2013 at 10:12 am | Permalink

      The problem is: Once you establish an “I will out you, if you make me angry” policy on a blog, then you are basically controlling comments through intimidation. I would never comment on a site that has such a policy as it promotes groupthink. Even banning can and has been overdone on some sites. Agree with the group or you’re out of here. What kind of skeptic would want to post on such a blog?

      • mordacious1
        Posted June 8, 2013 at 10:20 am | Permalink

        Besides, why comment on a mere blog when you can comment on a great website such as this one?

        • John Scanlon, FCD
          Posted June 8, 2013 at 10:50 am | Permalink

          Nice footwork there. :)

      • Graham Lyons
        Posted June 9, 2013 at 4:57 am | Permalink

        How can I tell if I’ve been banned?
        Graham Lyons

    • Diane G.
      Posted June 8, 2013 at 10:18 am | Permalink

      I also support the right of other bloggers to unmask those using nyms as a way to avoid responsibility for very hateful and hurtful comments.

      And you really think that’s a problem on this site? Our host is so on top of things, they almost never escalate to that degree.

      • Posted June 8, 2013 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

        No, I do not and nothing I said implies that I think this. In fact, I think just the opposite. This is not a problem here. But it is a problem at other sites, such as Pharyngula. I was simply saying that I support the right of the blogger, regardless of who it is, to establish the rules for posting at their site. I support Jerry’s right to set his rules and I support PZ’s right to set his rules. I did not argue that Jerry’s rules must apply at PZ’s site nor that PZ’s rules must apply at Jerry’s site. And I did not and am not arguing that either set of rules is right or wrong in a universal sense.

        • Diane G.
          Posted June 8, 2013 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

          Could you be a bit more specific?
          :D J/K. Gotcha! (As in, I get what you meant, not I caught you unguarded. Damn, you have to be so blatant on the ‘net.)

  8. Posted June 8, 2013 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    “If you are hiding behind a nym because using your real identity exposes you to real injury then no problem. But if you are using a nym, and repeatedly morphing it to avoid detection, simply because you don’t want others to know who is actually spewing the hatred, I’ve got no sympathy for you.”

    How do you determine that?

    • Posted June 8, 2013 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

      I concede that it is not easy and it requires a great deal of care and diligence on the part of whomever is managing a blog site. One way, so it seems to me, is to track the comments of a person posting.

      We do each tend to have a style of expressing ourselves. I don’t think it is too difficult to recognize comments after awhile from a person who was banned under a different pseudonym. The ones who spew the vile, hateful, hurtful stuff tend to keep saying the same thing pretty much in the same way over and over again. If a person is banned, comes back under a different name, is eventually banned again, comes back again under a different name, etc. … I think it is fair to unmask them. Why should a blogger be held to the standard that a person deserves anonymity no matter how offensive their postings and no matter how many times they’ve been banned and come back under a different disguise? This blog attracts a very different audience than do some other blogs. What works here may not necessarily work elsewhere. And I repeat, the site host gets to decide the rules. I respect this. I am not going to take issue with the host over their rules. If I don’t like the rules I don’t have to post there.

      I don’t have my own blog so I am not entirely familiar with the tools available to the site manager to keep tabs on who is posting. But I am pretty sure they are able to do this. Jerry can correct me if I am wrong.

  9. Posted June 8, 2013 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    Just for the benefit of newcomers, yes, “Ant Allan” is my real name. Google me.

    /@

  10. totallyfakename
    Posted June 8, 2013 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    Is there a somewhat widespread change in policy in the (atheist?) blogosphere you’re responding to?

    “And those guilty of what I see as bad behavior, trolling, or other violations of The Roolz will simply be warned, banned, or moderated, but never outed.”

    That seems fair; people who run afoul of the (always somewhat ‘arbitrary’ – different tolerances and all) criteria any site owner espouses can be removed from that space but ‘outed’ would be weird; even if you err on the side of caution, you can misunderstand a forum’s tolerance for e.g. snark, especially during your first interactions.

    Perhaps I’m missing some crucial context here or some sites are actually enacting really weird rules.

    • Posted June 8, 2013 at 10:12 am | Permalink

      PZ Myers recently announced a change in policy, stating that he will now out those who repeatedly employ multiple pseudonyms to avoid detection and continue posting after being banned.

      • Divalent
        Posted June 8, 2013 at 9:08 pm | Permalink

        What you state is 100% incorrect (except for the part about pz annoucing a change in policy). PZ has announced that just being an anonymous “shithead” is sufficient for him to out you. No requirement to have repeatedly employ multiple pseudonyms, and no requirement that you tried to post after being banned.

  11. ivy privy
    Posted June 8, 2013 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    It doesn’t matter, the NSA knows who you are, whether your comment gets axed or not.

    • Dave
      Posted June 8, 2013 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

      Well, it was always a pain having to guard those civil rights anyway.

  12. truthspeaker
    Posted June 8, 2013 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    I do use a pseudonym, but not to protect my identity – I just like nicknames.

    My real name is Nathan David Teegarden. I have previously shared this on Pharyngula, where I post under the same pseudonym.

    • HaggisForBrains
      Posted June 8, 2013 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

      Me too, probably because no-one ever gave me a nickname at school (aaawww). I don’t need anonymity here in Scotland, where I’m known as Colin McLachlan. Where I grew up in Glasgow, saying I was an atheist would probably have just confused the Proddies & Micks (“aye, but are ye a prodisant atheist or a catolic atheist?”). If anyone in Glasgow asks you if you support Rangers or Celtic, be warned, it’s a trick question, designed to establish whether you’re a protestant or a catholic. The safe answer is to say you support Partick Thistle – then either side will just laugh at you.

      • Brygida Berse
        Posted June 9, 2013 at 7:00 am | Permalink

        Thanks to your pseudonym, I learned a new word (and also read a bit of poetry that I had not known before). Unfortunately, the description also made me a bit uncomfortable, and I grew up in a country where blood sausage is everyday food!

  13. Diane G.
    Posted June 8, 2013 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    If you wish to contact another commenter (this happens sometimes), email me and ask. I will then contact the person in question and ask if that’s okay. Only then will I pass on the contact details to the parties.

    I just wanted to publicly acknowledge how grateful I am for this policy. I’ve only taken advantage of it a couple of times, but when the need is there it’s so nice to be able to connect that way. I’m just floored that our busy host finds time for such courtesies, esp. considering the size of our loyal commentariat.

    • Dave
      Posted June 8, 2013 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

      I agree! It’s very gracious.

  14. mordacious1
    Posted June 8, 2013 at 10:30 am | Permalink

    On the internet, nyms can give more information than a real name. Unless you have a unique name or are well known like Professors Coyne and Dawkins, it doesn’t make a difference if you post your real name. If I posted as “Paul Jones” or “Sally Smith”, would that tell you more about me than my nym? I try to be consistent when commenting on atheist/science sites in using mordacious1 because people know me by that nym. If I used my real name, people would say, “Who’s that?”.

    • Diane G.
      Posted June 8, 2013 at 10:36 am | Permalink

      True. And looking at your post reminds me that consistent avatar pictures across sites is one of the best ways to ensure recognition. I’ve always liked yours, BTW. :)

      • mordacious1
        Posted June 8, 2013 at 11:28 am | Permalink

        Thanks. Off topic, but I moved the snake, bird, cats, kids, dog and spousal unit to San Jose in the last few weeks and now I’m back in our house getting it ready for sale. It’s the first time in decades that I’ve woken and not had to take care of at least six other organisms before breakfast. Feels weird.

        • Marcoli
          Posted June 8, 2013 at 11:44 am | Permalink

          Say, how do you get an avatar picture? I want one too.

  15. Graham Martin-Royle
    Posted June 8, 2013 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    Some of us are lucky enough to be able to use our real names, some of use like to use our real names, some of us for various reasons are unable to use our real names.

    I’m happy for Jerry to make whatever rules he likes, it is your site after all Jerry.

  16. submariner2
    Posted June 8, 2013 at 10:42 am | Permalink

    This is an excellent policy Jerry, and one similar to my argued position in my YT video “A Response to S. Zvan re: Doxxing” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mgP9gBTqEs8

    Thanks for applying common sense to your posting policy.

  17. qbsmd
    Posted June 8, 2013 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    “under no circumstances will I reveal your name, email, IP address, or other personal information to other commenters. Nor will I reveal them to anyone with one exception: if a comment appears to threaten physical or other harm to someone, including me, I will report the information to the proper authorities. But I see no point in reporting it to the commentariat as a whole.”

    I think that’s the best policy. I would probably add an additional exception for asking for help if the proper authorities seem unwilling to act. But as long as comments aren’t threatening, there’s no excuse for outing people.

    My reasons for not using my name are similar to Orac’s: not having my internet free time activities show up in an internet search for my name. If I ever have a job I like with something like tenure, I might decide to become a more public activist.

  18. Drew Hardies
    Posted June 8, 2013 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    I’m looking for a charitable reading of PZs decision. I can’t find one.

    Revealing someone’s email exposes them to harassment from PZs commentariat. That’s the only way the ‘threat’ would be threatening.

    This removes any pretense of a principled objection to group-harassment.

    • Drew Hardies
      Posted June 8, 2013 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

      To link back to the actual post; this is why I think Prof Coyne’s decision is totally correct.

      If someone needs to be removed, he can remove them. If the authorities need to be contacted, he can contact them.

      As a random commenter, there’s no way I can contribute to either of those efforts. The only thing I could do to ‘help’ would be to contact the person whose dox were dropped.

      That ‘help’ is entirely illegitimate if people are opposed to harassment on principle.

  19. eveysolara
    Posted June 8, 2013 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    This is why I love you

  20. Posted June 8, 2013 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    Excellent policy, and, when it comes to passing on contact requests, generous of your own time.

    I never understood this use of pseudonyms, but that is because I have never been in a situation where I or mine could be penalised if I speak my mind, and realise that others are not in such a happy situation. Indeed, I think, however misguidedly, that what I post here does me credit, so it is in my own interests that people know who I am.

    BTW: Wednesday I got the Faroes, which (just) trumps Jerry’s Greenland, and today I got Brunei.

    • Posted June 9, 2013 at 1:17 am | Permalink

      I used a pseudonym for quite a while simply because I found it so much more fun than my real name. And it’s true that the name of a mere mortal can seem to mean not much on an internet discussion, whereas something like “shadow of a doubt” or “musical beef” is really entertaining, isn’t it? When I’d seen Jerry mentioning a few times in a very friendly way that he thinks it’s a good idea to use your real name, I started doing that. Am not sure if it makes a big difference either way. Although when I read all the good reasons people seem to have for not wanting to use their own name, I start to think that maybe I am being naive and just not experienced enough in the possible nasty sides of “coming out as your own true self on the web”. hm…

      • Dave
        Posted June 9, 2013 at 11:19 am | Permalink

        I think it wise to minimize your divulging of your identity, absolutely. Who knows how information may be one day used, even by the US government, for example, in their noble efforts to “protect” us. Even HR departments will try to find out what they can about you if you apply for a job (or, who knows, even at your current job). BTW, using your first name only is not exactly “using your real name” even though my first name is Dave (would show a rather massive lack of imagination if ‘Dave’ was my chosen pseudonym!). However, my using ‘Dave’ is not exactly like leaving my DNA at the scene, is it.

        • Posted June 13, 2013 at 3:21 am | Permalink

          I must say, I thought it was funny you would use another first name as pseudonym… Still first names do the trick – no need to be too formal, is there? And my family name is such a bore, truly…

          Yes I start to think about all the cautionary advice people give concerning this subject. Thanks for charing yours.

  21. Posted June 8, 2013 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    Excellent policy, and another reason why I consider this the best *ahem* non-blog for people with my interests.

    A good policy is one which encourages free discussion. I have found that the tone of the posts and the overall tone of the blog/website has a big effect on the commentary.

  22. Gordon Hill
    Posted June 8, 2013 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

    agree completely with the roolz, yet reserve the right to disagree with comments… ;-)

  23. Dave
    Posted June 8, 2013 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

    There are good reasons to use a pseudonym. In my case, the concern is commercial liability. Someone recognizing my name and taking a dislike to what I say here may well include that as a factor in a purchase decision. I cannot expose my company to that risk, no matter how small anyone thinks it may be. I do not discuss controversial subjects when meeting with clients and exposing my identity here would, in effect, be doing just that. If you are retired, have tenure, or are not putting yourself or someone elke in jeopardy, use your real name. However, as someone above pointed out, what difference does knowing my real name make, especially if comments are screened and bad actors taken off the set?

    • Dave
      Posted June 8, 2013 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

      Should probably have mentioned, no one at work is under any illusion when it comes to my views on religion.

  24. Posted June 8, 2013 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

    I’m chastened. I’ve never been in a job where I could be damaged or lose custom because of my freely expressed views (one trivial exception; a promising student changed his mind about doing research with me, because my motivation – the chemical background to the origins of life – conflicted with his creationism).

    I just never realised how fortunate I am.

    • Posted June 8, 2013 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

      I find being out of the closet is one of the biggest liabilities to being a licensed professional. Reputation really, really matters and it only takes one nutcase taking umbrage at something you say to really mess you up.

  25. Posted June 8, 2013 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

    I have started using my real name in all online fora ever since dropping a nom de ‘net I was using to argue with intelligent design creationists on their home ground. I also agree that “your house, your rules”.

    However, there is some evidence that eliminating anonymity does not improve civility: http://techcrunch.com/2012/07/29/surprisingly-good-evidence-that-real-name-policies-fail-to-improve-comments/

    Anonymity or pseudonymity do, however, have benefits that should be considered before eliminating them.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted June 9, 2013 at 1:06 am | Permalink

      Heck, if Youtube or somewhere tries to make me use my real name I’ll just invent a fake ‘real name’ to use. It’s depressingly easy for people to find out stuff about you and I certainly don’t want somebody to be able to find out everything I’ve ever done on the Internet just with a two-minute Google.

      (And no, I’ve never done anything illegal so far as I know, but would any of you want some stranger to find out all your hobbies, any TV series you were a fan of, every comment you’ve ever made…)

  26. Posted June 8, 2013 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

    I appreciate the rules. Since, until sold my practice a few years ago, I was a CPA with a large portion of my clients being in the Christian Music industry, I used to take those kinds of doxing threats seriously.

    Especially, way back in 1998/1999 a certain crazy person spread malcious, horrific lies about me and, at one point, cost me about half my practice. Which is why I went to the pseudonym in all things Internet, not just atheist websites.

    Now that I’m out of the public, as it were, I’ve thought about coming out of the closet. But since Sheppard of Trolls knows who I am IRL and I don’t want his horde of butt-monkeys going after my wife (the reason I know him)… I think I’ll stay in the closet.

  27. Dave
    Posted June 8, 2013 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

    It’s the same with email. People – we may even know them well – will say things in an email that they wouldn’t dream of saying to your face.

    I’ve always thought that anonymous commenting must be a gold mine of data for some social scientist. If anything reminds us of just how thin the veneer of civilized society really is, it is the comments filed by many anonymously!

    • Diane G.
      Posted June 8, 2013 at 9:03 pm | Permalink

      I suspect they’re working on it.

      But did you see this comment?:

      http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2013/06/08/roolz-and-policies-anonymity-on-this-site/#comment-451396

      I’d like to see more studies before I’m convinced. I’m sure that knowing the sex of commenters makes a huge difference many places, for one thing

      • Dave
        Posted June 9, 2013 at 6:29 am | Permalink

        Yes, which suggests, like my statement about email, that it’s being remote that enables uncivil behavior, rather than necessarily being anonymous. We see the same effect on the freeway, at least where I live.

      • Posted June 9, 2013 at 8:20 am | Permalink

        Data scientists are definitely working on identifying authors based on their writing style. One impetus for this is to disambiguate journal authors, but some of the techniques can be equally well applied to categorizing anonymous articles as likely being from the same author.

        I’m not sure how much data is required, though. A single short paragraph might not provide enough distinguishing information.

  28. Shadow of a Doubt
    Posted June 8, 2013 at 8:57 pm | Permalink

    I myself agree highly with this policy, by posting here I am willing to submit myself to the roolingz of the roolz, and if someone finds a comment inappropriate then I take no offense if it’s deleted. I’d never have a problem defending anything I comment here or anywhere else on the net. The only reason I would be worrying about some bloviating ignoramus from a blog (unlike this fine non-blog website) outing me is only that I would cause my company harm in sales by revealing I am an atheist. Not something I’m willing to risk for the sake of a comment which some precious snowflake might find “hateful”.

    • Dominic
      Posted June 10, 2013 at 1:24 am | Permalink

      Perhaps we could just call you With A. ?!

      • Dominic
        Posted June 10, 2013 at 3:18 am | Permalink

        I am @HStiles1 on Twitter

  29. Jim Thomerson
    Posted June 8, 2013 at 10:04 pm | Permalink

    This website seems to function very well. I use my real name. So there are things I think but do not post. Probably a good thing. You can google me if you wish, and, No, I am not the lawyer in Tennessee.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted June 9, 2013 at 1:13 am | Permalink

      That raises an interesting point. I wonder if the lawyer in Tennessee has ever lost a potential client (probably unknown to him) because someone’s Googled him and found ‘he’ posts on an atheist website…?

      (Not that I’m suggesting that you’d be in any way at fault, btw).

  30. Posted June 9, 2013 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    Shuggy is a Scottish nick- for my real first name that I like to use in non-confrontational contexts. I find it useful not to give people in the confrontational ones sticks of personal information to beat me with. I’d like to stick with it here in the interim.

    As the Internet and the social media break down old rules of privacy (and the US with its talk shows, have set new precedents for exposure of personal information), I think it can be constructive to have multiple identities with barriers between them. They have to be used responsibly, of course – no using both at the same time in the same place!

  31. JBlilie
    Posted June 10, 2013 at 8:07 am | Permalink

    “the kind of civility I’m proud of on this site”

    Hear, hear! This is one of the mainn reasons I frequent your site more than any other.


2 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] This is a refreshing post on Why Evolution Is True about anonymous users online. […]

  2. […] post is inspired by the commenter privacy policies at Atheist Revolution (VJack), Why Evolution is True (Jerry Coyne) and Pharyngula (PZ Myers). I encourage you to click the links because they have […]

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