Anonymous IHE Commenters

Why people won't give their names.

September 22, 2013

This past weekend the NYTimes ran an article about Kinja, a new website that "flips on its head the idea of comments and conversation below a story."

I'm not sure I totally understand how Kinja will work, or how the platform can be extended to sites beyond those in Gawker Media, but I like the idea of equalizing authors and commenters on social media platforms.

I've come to appreciate that many of the best IHE commenters, the most insightful and most knowledgeable, choose to comment without sharing their real names.   

The fact that anonymous commentators are so often the catalyst for constructive debate and discussion on IHE somewhat flies in the face of conventional Internet wisdom.   
It is often thought that anonymity on the Web enables rudeness, extremism, and bullying.

Perhaps IHE gets it fair share of non-constructive comments. I don't know, as the editors review each comment and approve them based on the standards laid out on this page.

Why should it be that so much of the smartest stuff written on Inside Higher Ed comes from colleagues that choose to remain anonymous?

3 Hypotheses:

1. Anonymity Enables Honest Critiques of Our Employers:

Let's face it - it is very hard to publicly critique the places that pay our salaries. Even when these critiques are constructive, and are made thinking that we are trying to play a part in improving our institutions or companies or whatever, we know that it is all too easy to cross that line.

A commenter on IHE has the option of taking advantage of the ability to remain anonymous. This privilege enables the commenter to write from a place that is more critical, and perhaps more honest, about the environment in which they work. An anonymous commenter can build on the articles, opinion pieces and blogs by reflecting on how they relate to the contexts in which they are embedded.  

2. Anonymity Allows Commenters to Make Arguments Based on Persuasion and Evidence - Not Position:

We will always judge the merits of an argument based on who is making the claims. This is human nature - even if we know that we should judge arguments on their own merits.   

An anonymous commenter is freed from having her writing evaluated by the job she holds or the place that she works. I find it refreshing to not always know the employer, rank, or position of the writers on Inside Higher Ed.  

3. Anonymity Opens Up Space for Unpopular Views:

How tolerant are we really for views that differ from our own? It seems to be most common to see positive comments for articles, opinion pieces and blogs where the commenter agrees with the views presented. How often do we see positive comments for the reasoning, boldness, or originality of an argument when the commenter fundamentally disagrees with the premise or conclusions of the article?

I think that the ability to participate on IHE as an anonymous commenter could be an antidote towards our tendency to only support views in which we agree.  An anonymous commenter can give himself space to play with ideas, and engage in dialogue with other community members even when they are on very different points of the ideological spectrum.

We should recognize that anonymous commenters have added immensely to the quality of our IHE community.

We should trust that those members of our community that choose to remain anonymous are doing so for good reasons.

We should understand that a vibrant and productive online community should encourage a diversity of voices and opinions, and that the ability to remain anonymous is an important contributor to reaching this goal.

Why do you choose to contribute to Inside Higher Ed without sharing your real name? 


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