Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The other side of transparency

You know, this has bothered me for some time, but never more than now:

anonymous comments

By that I mean comments left by people who who not sign their complete name or a name linked to another website/blog of theirs. I know this is all in the name of encouraging conversation, dialogue, etc. - but please.

People must realize that 28 comments on a blog post, each signed with a different cutesy nickname - could easily be the writing of one - or two people. And who exactly might those people be? There is absolutely no way of knowing. Could be a school board member, a 4th grader in Omaha, or the original blogger him/herself.

I know this type of forum exists in other venues - newspaper articles or opinion pieces, for instance. Some blogs may moderate comments, so that inappropriate stuff does not get up there, but there is still no way of verifying who left the comment without a full name.

Somebody might suggest that anybody could sign anybody else's name. True. Sure, somebody else could sign a comment "Mark Ahlness". Chances are pretty good, though, that it would get back to me and I would straighten it out with the blog author.

So please, folks. Show a little transparency here. Do not hide behind an unlinked nickname. If you feel strongly about something, say it and sign it.

I'll say right here and now that I am Mark Ahlness, a teacher at Arbor Heights Elementary School. If you'd care to leave a comment here about this post, the school closure issue, or any other related issue - please use your full name.

In closing I'll add that we have put this belief into practice at savearborheights.com. Comments will not be posted on that blog unless signed with a full name. As soon as the blog was launched, several comments supporting our school came in. Four fantastic, wonderfully written and insightful comments will never see the light of day - because we do not know who sent them.

We think it's important to know who is saying what - at all levels of the conversation, especially as we demand transparency from our district and school board. - Mark

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18 comments:

Sarah Davies said...

Before you start setting an example for impressionable children, please read up on the importance of anonymous speech in a fair and just democracy. It is essential that people be able to speak out about controversial issues without fear of intimidation or ostracism. As long as you censor (and you are openly outright censoring free speech) the input that anonymous criticism has to bring to the table, then you are abusing your privilege as someone who agrees with the majority opinion or is too high on the hierarchy to be intimidated. Many people are not in your position, yet their input is just as valuable.

rugles said...

So instead of a cutesey name, if I say my name is Charles Smith and blah blah blah, you won't censor it?

Silly.

Sincerely,

Not Charles Smith

SolvayGirl1972 said...

Since Beth Bakeman is the originator and moderator of this blog, I'd like to see her take on this. Personally, I have a professional persona that I do not necessarily want linked to everything I post on the internet. A client or potential client may not agree with my opinions on anything and therefore may not hire me.

I'd like to be able to speak. I try not to be inflammatory or rude, but again, I'd like my personal and professional lives kept separate. I can't do that if I have to sign my name to a blog where it would come up if googled.

SE Mom said...

I also have a professional persona to take into account. And I maybe inaccurately assume the best about folks, but it seems that posters here are consistently using their
"screen names". I would say that the use of "anonymous" on other blogs is very confusing.

Roy Smith said...

If Arbor Heights wants to restrict input on their blog to those who are willing to identify themselves, I think that is perfectly acceptable.

Personally, I am much more willing to take seriously the input of those who identify themselves.

Beth Bakeman said...

I'm happy with how we are handling identification on this blog.

At the beginning, I allowed anonymous comments, because I wanted to encourage open, honest communcation and remove any techical barriers to posting. But eventually, I found it too difficult to follow discussion threads with multiple "anonymous" posters.

Now, with the use of usernames (which I do believe are used consistently by most people), it is much easier to follow conversation threads.

I feel no need to connect our blog's usernames with links to information about the real-life people behind them. Of course I'm sometimes curious about who the people behind the opinions are. But there are perfectly good reasons for why people might not want to disclose that information.

momster said...

thanks for the input, mark, but i'll continue to use a handle other than my name, because i feel like it, and even if roy smith takes my writings less seriously. :)

i agree with roy that it's fine for you to set the rules at your school's blog - but i think it's a little impolitic (audacious?) of you as a relative newcomer to suggest that the same restrictions be imposed here, especially when not phrased as "hey, i'm a newcomer here, but what would you guys think of...?"

i'm also mystified as to why you would deny your blog's readers those "fantastic, wonderfully written and insightful comments" - that seems bizarre to me.

protected static said...

Sorry, Mark. Your discomfort with things some people are feeling - and saying - about your school community is no reason to force other people to 'out' themselves.

Even a Letters to the Editor section of the paper will allow letters to be published anonymously or under initials only. How does this differ?

classof75 said...

I have gotten my car keyed, apparently because someone didn't like my bumper stickers.

My political yard signs have been slashed and I have been harrassed at otherwise peaceful events by those who didn't like what I was trying to stand up for.

I identify myself to other interested education advocates when I meet them in person. They do not seem distressed that I do not use my full name online.

For those that are- oh well.

My reasons, which I suspect are shared elsewhere, for not using my legal professional name, for dispensing my political opinion on a blog, are of much greater weight and importance to me, than, that, somebody won't take my comment as seriously, if I don't use a name that can be tracked to a home/business address.

As I remind my kids, teh internets are 4-3ver.

Melissa Westbrook said...

This has come up before especially when a few people have felt the need to attack bloggers. I do agree that there are many reasons why people don't sign their names. Those of us who blog ALWAYS sign our full names. I personally do not appreciate those who take personal aim at bloggers and then don't sign their names. It's an easy thing to throw stones and hide.

However, that doesn't happen often and I think the use of nicknames has made that less likely to happen.

Protected Static, I don't know what newspapers you write to (or read) but the Times, the PI and others require your name, address and phone and they verify it before publishing. I do not believe the Times and PI will publish anything anonymously.

protected static said...

The editorial policy of the Times and PI require that you include your contact information for verification when you submit a letter. They say nothing about requiring that information be published when your letter is. I'm pretty sure that in the past I've read letters where the authors were identified by initials only, though I may be wrong. It wouldn't be the first time.

hschinske said...

Here's an example of a "name withheld upon request" letter to the editor: http://community.seattletimes.nwsource.com/archive/?date=20061220&slug=webletswed20

It does happen to be an online-only letter, but I am pretty sure they have such letters in print as well.

I was under the impression that the blog-owner had access to the email addresses of those who comment, but perhaps it's just IP addresses or something?

Helen Schinske

adhoc said...

Mark, I agree with Solvaygirls post exactly. I used to sign my name, and then I applied for a job that did a very extensive background check. They goggled me and found a blog post of mine where I stated my views on racism in schools. It was not the employers business, but they had the right to ask me about it since it was public information, and on the internet. Since then I do not sign my name on any posts. I do not want anyone to be able to google me and find out all of y personal view. I disclose my views to people when and if I think it is appropriate and when and if I want to.

I understand using a screen name, as using anonymous gets confusing and you sometimes it is impossible to follow who said what on a thread. But a screen name seems to work find.

If this blog enforced signing a name I would either stop posting here or I would just make up a fictitious name which wouldn't be any better than my screen name.

Thank you Beth and Melissa for allowing people to speak with anonymity.

Dorothy said...

Let this be a lesson to all the design teams who will work magic with school mergers and consolidations. The transplant sometimes has ideas that the rules should change (for the better! of course!), and without asking the old hands about reasons to gather history and wisdom, just jumps in with "suggesting" the new proposed rule to the masses.

"That's not the way WE did it in our house." Is not the way to peace and harmony and a smooth merger.

Regular readers appreciate the handles and I am pretty sure that mostly they are not abused. We get a lot of wisdom from folks with handles who have pretty good reasons for not giving whole name. And Melissa, you are not quite right, there has been a blogger here who did not use her full name. I think she only ended up posting once or twice.

Plus, we've gotten used to adhoc, classof75, Solvagirl, and many more and some of us would probably notice if someone else used the handle, writing has a voice.

Dorothy said...

I was under the impression that the blog-owner had access to the email addresses of those who comment, but perhaps it's just IP addresses or something?

Not true for blogger, but one can install haloscan or something to enforce that. But since this site uses sitemeter, one can glean information from that. Not perfectly, but possible.

seattle citizen said...

I wouldn't want to use my real name because then everyone would know I work for Homeland Security and that I'm just here to monitor your nefarious plotting.

adhoc said...

The blog authors do have the power to remove and/or delete inappropriate posts, and they do so when warranted.

Mark says "28 comments on a blog post, each signed with a different cutesy nickname - could easily be the writing of one - or two people."

I don't think this is the case, but what if it were.....so what? What difference would it make? What is the difference between that and me, adhoc, making 7 or 8 posts on a single thread (which I often do)? It's still sharing of information which, I think, is the main goal of this blog.

Should we get rid of anonymous comment boxes?

How about anonymous surveys? I know my kids and I have both filled out plenty of these for SPS.

How about voting. Should we not be able to vote anonymously?

Or call the police anonymously as is currently acceptable?

Should book authors not be allowed to use pen names?

I could go on and on and on.

Michael Rice said...

Hello

As the first teacher to use my full name whenever I either comment or actually post a blog entry, I believe that including your full name is a personal choice. I was only a second year teacher when I started commenting and blogging, but I never felt any pressure to not sign my name because I knew that my performance as a teacher was not impacted by what I wrote here. I don't know if my principal (Dr. Robert Gary,Jr.) reads this blog, but he knows that I am opinionated and passionate about teaching mathematics and about the students at Rainier Beach HS and that is really all he cares about. I have had disagreements with top administrators in this district and I have told them in no uncertain (but polite and respectful) terms that the math decisions they are making are hurting the students, not helping them. I did this before I had a continuing contract.

I also know some Seattle high school math teachers who read and comment on this blog who don't feel comfortable signing their name for a variety of reasons. I have tried to get them to sign their name, but they won't do it. I respect that. Everyone has to do what is best for them and I think Ms. Bakeman has a policy that is fine. It is easy enough to follow people's comments.

I think what is most important the we have a discussion about Seattle Schools and what can be done to make the district as good a district as it can be.