Is there any value in allowing anonymous comments?
In this post, I'd like to examine a side of this that some may have never thought about. My subject today is not one of complaining about anonymous commenters, but to share with you my thought on the value of anonymous comments.
Let me say first of all that when an anonymous critical letter has ever come to my attention in 21 years of ministry, whether it be through snail mail, e-mail, or whatever - I delete it or throw it in the trash and give it absolutely no credibility. I believe most leaders/pastors do the same. Most of us have absolutely no time for such cowardly banter. Pastor Paul Grabill (one of my fav bloggers) has a great blog post on this subject. I previously re-posted it here on my blog, I liked it so much.
So, why allow any anonymous comments on blogs? What's the difference? I believe there is a difference, the main one being the motive and the spirit of the poster.
I shared this issue with a good friend of mine who doesn't blog or understand much of the blogosphere, and she said, "why would anyone allow anonymous posts at all? What possible value would there be in that?" I explained to her my view that many very pure hearted and well intentioned people out there want to post on a topic that is sensitive and not have their name attached. Their motive is not to take a swing verbally at people, on the contrary, it's to protect.
For instance, at times bloggers will write a post about the issue of sexual abuse. Some who have been victims of sexual abuse may want to enter the conversation, share their feelings, things that have helped them, or maybe even reach out for help. But perhaps they are not at the point where they are ready to attach their name to it and reveal to the whole world that they have been abused.
If you are a blogger that writes a lot about everyday real life issues and you want feedback from your readers so that you can be an encouragement to them, and they can at times also be an encouragement to you and others who read - you might find yourself lacking in the feedback department if you nix the ability for commenters to be truly anonymous.
I have been writing online for a long time now in the form of my website, message boards, and now in the past few years, blogging. Do you know how many totally anonymous people have written for advice and or prayer and shared things like...
"My husband is beating me...I don't know how to safely leave. Please pray..."
"My daughter is pregnant. My husband and I are pastors. No one knows yet. We don't know what to do or where to turn. Any advice? Please pray."
"I was abused by my uncle as a little girl. I have never told anybody up til now. I am reading what you wrote and it has stirred me to change. I am thinking about going to counseling."
"We pastor a church and just went through a split. I can't give my name right now, but I think I'm going to have a nervous breakdown if I don't reach out somehow. Please pray."
"My husband has a porn addiction...we are in ministry...I just need a listening ear without anyone knowing my name."
These are all things I have heard over, and over and over again as I'm sure some of you other bloggers and particularly women in the ministry have heard. Many times it starts anonymously because people are looking for a safe place to turn.
I have a friend who is a powerful woman in God. She has been through a lot and she ministers to people on these issues but never uses her name because her husband is not comfortable with it. She is, but he isn't. So she only posts anonymously but my friend has a lot of wisdom to share. On blogs that don't allow anonymous posts, she can't do it though.
So why do I welcome and allow anonymous posts? For the reasons stated.
Until February of this year I had never had a problem at all with anonymous comments. This was the first time I ever had to address it in any shape or fashion. It was an isolated incident/commenter and outside of that I have never had any issues. At the same time a few of my friends dealt with the issue too. We came to the conclusion for the same reasons I just described that the benefits of allowing anonymous comments far outweighed not allowing them. Of course we had to enable comment moderation and delete stuff that didn't belong, but it was worth it. It isn't my intention today to focus on that situation but simply to share my view and own personal experience concerning why bloggers should consider accepting anonymous comments. I believe the good far outweighs the bad.
Lately I have noticed how many blogs don't allow anonymous comments at all. I mean, A LOT of them. Of course it's their right to do so - it's their blog, they make the rules. But I sometimes am disappointed because I myself would like to make an anonymous comment now and then, but to protect certain sensitive information, do not. Lest you think I'm being abused, have a porn problem, etc. let me put your mind at ease. (SMILE) Usually I'm wanting to post anonymously with comments/advice concerning church stuff. We in ministry deal with a lot of serious issues and many times it's about other people's information and situations that we hold confidential. I do have a ministry message board where pastor's wives and women in ministry can share on these sort of things, but I'm the only one there who actually reveals my name because I run the place. lol Even on this message board of ministry women, 99% of them use screen names so as to protect the information of their church/ministry and the things they share. If I required them to use names, this message board would not have many posters, being that some would feel it is not a safe place to share what they are going through.
This week I did come across a blogger who posted their blog comment "rules" in the most interesting way I've ever read. She's not currently on my blog roll but I probably do need to put her there as I really enjoy reading her stuff. She's a writer who seems to have a huge readership and is on the pneumablogs list. Her name is Julie Neidlinger at Lone Prairie Blog. This is her page that you have to read before leaving any comments on her blog. Get a snickers bar and coffee...it will take you a while to read it. But enjoy. It's very entertaining and she makes some great points.