Who Are You?

A couple of months ago, I started thinking about a way to deal with anonymous commenters who are regulars at this site. This is mainly because I like to engage in comment threads but I’ve also become annoyed that many of the people I interact with are unknown to me. It’s made me feel increasingly foolish. What would make me feel less foolish is if I at least knew who I was sparring with.

So I came up with an idea. More on that in a second. First, here’s a perspective on anonymity from Jeff Jarvis that aligns with my own, especially the last sentence of the second graph:

One tactic to cope with the fear of exposure and overexposure is anonymity. Anonymity has its place. It protects the speech of Chinese dissidents, Iranian protestors, and corporate whistleblowers. It allows Wikileaks to expose secrets. It helps people share, for example, medical data and benefit others without having to reveal themselves. It lets people play with new identities. When the game company Blizzard Entertainment tried to bring real identity into the forums around its massive, multi-player games, including World of WarCraft, players revolted, and no wonder: Who wants everyone to know that in your other life, you see yourself as a level 80 back-stabbing night elf rogue who ganks lowbies at the Crossroads? Taking on identities””pseudonymity””is the fun of it.

But anonymity is often the cloak of cowards. Anonymous trolls””of the human race, not the WarCraft type””attack people online, lobbing snark at Julia Allison, spreading rumors and lies about public figures, sabotaging a politician’s Wikipedia page, or saying stupid stuff in the comments on my blog. I tell commenters there that I will respect what they have to say more if they have the guts to stand behind their own words with their own names, as I do.

Now I can appreciate and respect the need for anonymity by some commenters, because of job concerns and the like. So I would never want to exclude  anonymous commenters from my blog. However, to ameliorate my own frustration, I thought about asking anonymous commenters to reveal themselves to me–if they intended on being a consistent commenter. I looked at it this way:  if a source for a story I’m writing about comes to me with information but he or she does not want to be in the story, I still insist on knowing the identity of the person, so I can establish credibility.

Of course, comment threads at blogs are a different kettle of fish. And taking this step at my blog would have its complications, since some commenters might not want to reveal themselves at all–even in private, and perhaps wouldn’t trust me. So I ended up abandoning the idea.

But I’m still curious what folks think about it and I’d also like to hear from anonymous commenters–in the thread–as to why you choose to remain anonymous.

37 Responses to “Who Are You?”

  1. grypo says:

    I’m anonymous for employment and family concerns.  I don’t mind revealing myself to you, as it in your professional code to keep that info from Google.  The main problem with revealing this to too many people is that lately, the ‘skeptics’ take a special joy in ‘outing’ people, with a complete unconcerned attitude toward that may do.  But I’m not a player in the debate outside the internet.  So my name would make no difference as to what I would say, or how people would view what I say.

  2. bluegrue says:

    Most commenters I have seen are pseudonymous rather than anonymous, i.e. they have taken on another name that they consistently use on the web. To me it is simply a measure of keeping my privacy while being able to participate in discussions I am interested in. Would you ask for an ID of everybody you talk to in a pub? Would you keep searchable records of all your discussions in real life?
    How does it make you feel better or make them more trustworthy, if people use monikers that look like their real life names? Nothing could stop me from using the moniker Perter Smith or another commonn name and set up a corresponding e-mail address. You’d never be able to trace that down. Instead, I flag myself as pseudonymous, am thruthful and try to be civil. In short, act like I would if we were talking face to face.

  3. golf charey says:

    I do not wish to meet Ben Santer down some dark alley.

    I do not wish Greenpeace to know where I live

    I do not wish to be regarded as a life form as low as a paedophile

    Ido not wish to be targetted (again) for redundancy for daring to question

  4. Stu says:


    I’ve stuck with Stu since mainly I used it to post on climate blogs in order to just ask a quick question- I had no real opinion about things, therefore I didn’t feel that revealing anything more about myself was really necessary. I always use the same email, which does include my surname- so blog hosts can check that I’m atleast a consistent poster.
    I’ve been thinking about adding my surname to my posts lately as my opinions have grown stronger or atleast more defined. I do actually like the fact that there are probably a few Stus around, as I’ve noticed that the climate wars tend to develop around personalities and not what people are actually saying. I therefore recently thought that that kind of ambiguity might be a way to sidestep those kinds of impressions that people develop over time. Still not sure what to do there… maybe I’ll take on a more recognisable pseudonym at some point?
    I think if Keith would like to know more about me (not that I claim to be important to this debate)- he can write a quick personal note. I’ve given a few bits of information here before.


  5. Andy says:

    I am anonymous for work-related reasons.  I work for government in the intelligence community and I do some traveling.  Since foreign intelligence services can use Google too, I take a great deal of care to manage what information comes up.  I’m probably overzealous, but I think we’re in a brave new information world and I want to be cautious given I have a family. “Andy” is actually my real name, I just don’t use my last name which gives the same effect as what bluegrue describes.

  6. Keith Kloor says:

    “Would you ask for an ID of everybody you talk to in a pub?”

    Bluegrue, in my pre-parenting days, when I spent way too much time hanging out in pubs, I got to know plenty of people in a casual sort of way (as regulars are wont to do), and yes, we would learn each other’s names.

  7. RickA says:

    My name is Rick Arrett.  I am no longer anonymous.

  8. willard says:

    > I tell commenters there that I will respect what they have to say more if they have the guts to stand behind their own words with their own names, as I do.
    You’re basicailly implying that you’re courageous because you’re branding yourself, Keith.  And you are making another person saying that I am gutless because I don’t comment under my real name. Social identity just got to be more nuanced than that!
    My name here and elsewhere, for our concerns, is willard.  My work under my name is my honor.  Using my real name would not add to this honor. Using my real name would provide me of an interest to comment.  And this creates concerns that inhibits freedom and impartiality, some of which have already been outlined by grypo.
    In any case, if you want to know my ordinary name, you have my email.

  9. Marlowe Johnson says:

    FWIW I gave Keith my info a few months ago (for the exact reasons he mentions in this post) and have not yet experienced any attempts at extortion 😀

  10. Tom Fuller says:

    Who am I? Who am I? Jean Valjean!

  11. Barry Woods says:

    I’m spartacus 😉

    seriously.. I’ve always used my real name, and I have had a few reason to regret that recently.. too late now..

    More about me here..

    I totally understand why anyone in any field of government funded science (if sceptical) has been anonyomous..

  12. AMac says:

    My preference for using a pseudonym have been ably outlined by grypo (#1), bluegrue (#2), and willard (#8).

    The WSJ has been running What They Know, a series about web privacy.  This is a case where it is “worse than you think.”  In other words, the casual Google searcher might be frustrated by the tactic used by grypo and me.  But in all likelihood, our legal names, residences, places of employment, etc. have already been connected to our handles, by a few savvy businesses in the targeted-advertising world.

    Being pseudonymous makes it hard to argue from authority.  Impossible, really.  That has both good and bad aspects.  The plus is, obviously, that arguments stand or fall on their merits, not my merits.

  13. I write as Paul Daniel Ash and exclusively use either that or PDA as my online identity. My legal name is quite close to that, but I chose Paul Daniel Ash as a pen name a very long time ago for reasons of euphony, not anonymity. Google, I’m sure, can quickly tell you more than you probably ever wanted to know about me.
    I stand behind everything I have ever written, professionally or otherwise, under this name. My interest in this topic is anthropological (why people believe what they do, how they defend it, etc). I have no ties to climate science or any carbon-spewing industry… other than being a US citizen using resources, generating pollution, and hoping to pass a world worth living on to my nieces and nephews, I have no direct interest in the field.

  14. Sashka says:

    Keith, as I told you I am using a pseudonym that is known to my former colleagues in academia. (Not that I expect to meet many of them in the blogosphere.) The reasons that I don’t use my real name include those mentioned in 1 and 2. To add more color, my employers typically forbid participation in any blogs on the wholesale basis, don’t allow maintaining “web presence or personality” and outright block web access to anything that resembles a blog. (For some reason CAS is under radar for now but probably not forever.) Long story short, blogging under real name is one of the more efficient ways towards permanent unemployment.

    However, since you know my real name feel free to spar 🙂

  15. Both skeptics and supporters of the mainstream can have valid reasons to prefer to remain anonymous (often in the sphere of employment, family, safety).

    As long as people don’t hide behind their anonymity in order to be rude, there’s no problem. The problem is, there are more than a few (not on this blog though) that do. 

    If I would start blogging anew, I would seriously consider doing so anonymously.

  16. BBD says:

    Anonymity is a necessary evil. Moderation deters incivility. Other commenters deter nonsense/outright falsehoods etc.
    Like several here, I prefer consistent pseudonymity to anonymity.
    Like AMac, I feel that anonymity (or pseudonymity) prevents argument from authority and forces each comment to be judged on its merits.
    On a lighter note, perhaps the truth about Bluegrue’s identity can be found in Debrett’s?  😉

  17. NewYorkJ says:

    Reasons covered pretty well here.  Also, on a topic where scientists have been extensively harassed by ideologues due to inconvenient results of their research, even receiving death threats in some cases, it seems anonymity is a good idea unless a real name is necessary.

  18. NYJ, either you’re coatracking for effect or you’re proposing journals move to accommodate anonymous papers. Which is it?

  19. peetee says:

    yes! Please proceed with your want to bust the anonomi… quickest way to kill this “journalism” apologist outlet. Or… you could compromise, go the way of µWatts, and simply out those compounding your frustration. As you say, “ameliorate your frustration”!

  20. Phil Jones claimed that he received death threats. Either the police don’t find Jones credible or don’t find the death threats credible. Either way, the police are not investigating any death threats against Jones.
    Four times, now, I have found a dead rat on my doorstep. I do not suspect, nor have I accused, my neighbour’s cat of issuing death threats against me. A dead rat on your doorstep is not compelling evidence of a death threat and I reckon only the paranoid and the guilt-ridden would believe it to be so.
    As for anonymity, I have no problem with individuals assuming pseudonyms. I cannot pretend that my perception of their credibility as commentators is enhanced by their use, however. Precisely the opposite. Though there are no hard and fast rules on t’internet there is a long-established principle of “netiquette”.
    In exchange for anonymity, an individual is expected by convention to conduct their online affairs with restraint and in moderation. If an anonymous individual is abusive to another individual (anonymous or not) exploiting their own anonymity as leverage for escaping personal responsibility or consequences, they do so in breach of netiquette. If their behaviour, for example, compromises the anonymity of another individual, then by that act they surrender their entitlement to the same.
    Anonymity on t’internet is not an unassailable or inalienable right. One’s liberty to say what one likes should be tempered by a burden of responsibility for one’s own words.

  21. Menth says:

    Strictly job related for myself. While I don’t necessarily expect my boss to be googling my name and correlating certain comments of mine against my work schedule to discover I’ve been reading climate blogs during work hours, anonymity is the only way to reduce this risk to zero.
    I also don’t want Anna Haynes coming to my house. 😉

  22. Andy says:

    Simon (#21),
    I agree about netiquette and that’s a great point about the importance of moderation for those of us who choose to remain anonymous/pseudonymous.

  23. mondo says:

    We have a world where all (OK then, almost all) of the grant funding advanced to climate science is being made available to those who accept/perpetuate the CO2 AGW thesis, and none (OK, almost none) of the grant funding is being directed to those who are courageous enough to ask challenging questions.

    In such a world, it is clear that by agreeing with or complying with the predominant paradigm (as per Kuhn) one can continue to enjoy the benefits of employment, including salary.   It is also clear that by honestly questioning the prevailing paradigm, continued access to salary might well be jeopardised.

    It is no wonder that the public faces of scepticism are retired folk, or in some cases courageous tenured academics.

    And it is not at all surprising that many folk consider discretion to be the better part of valor when it comes to whether they can continue to feed their family or not.

    This thesis can be broadened.   It is not wise, in this politically correct world, to declare that one has questions about 911, the evolution/creation debate, or that you are interested in matters spiritual.   It is not even wise to declare (if you are white collar business man) that you love the sport of sprintcar racing.  Heck, one cannot even question the holy grail of the Capital Asset Pricing Model without attracing adverse consequences.

    Similarly, it is not wise to question the Big Bang theory, or Plate Tectonics, or even the thesis that all granites are formed by slow crystallisation of molten rocks at depth.

    One learns, over the course of a career, that it is mostly better (at least in terms of maintaining access to a salary) to maintain a stance of complying with the Politically Correct majority view on most issues rather than to declare an opposite position.

    Of course, the time comes when there is no alternative but to make direct statements in your own name, and when the stakes are high enough, most of us do that.

    I also agree, though, that those choosing to assume an anonymous identity for blog purposes have an even greater responsibility to be polite and to observe the Golden Rule – do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

  24. harrywr2 says:

    Who am i?
    An offspring of a Journalist employed by the Larsen Family until the Larsen’s(Life Magazine fame) sold the last bits of their publishing business to Capitol City-ABC.  Todd Larsen(who at one point worked for my mother) has done fairly well at the Wall Street Journal.

    My first real job was as a Caddy at an exclusive country club. One can learn a lot about how the world works from toting the golf bags of people that played golf with folks like Joe Lieberman.(Lieberman preferred a pull cart to a caddy).

    One of my high school heart throbs ends up working in Ted Kennedy’s office.
    But alas, my lack of ability to grasp writing and grammer was equal to my mothers inability to grasp geometry, so a nepotistic career in journalism was not in the cars for me so I ran off and joined the Air Force. The Air Force was a great learning experience,I went from freezing my back side unloading crates from airplanes at 40 below in Alaska to inventorying the bodys of that came home from Guyana and finally ending up in the Middle East courtest of Jimmy Carter.

    Along the way I learned how politics distorts so much of our world view.

    For those of you who might be interested, Charlie Wilson’s War was Jimmy Carters War.
    Republicans prefer to believe Jimmy Carter was a pacifist and so do Democrats. So the Afghan Soviet conflict ends up belonging to some nobody like Charlie Wilson.

    After my tour in the Middle East I decided an apolitical life as an engineer or computer programmer was more to my liking. Being an instrument of US Foreign Policy was just too complicated. I took some joy in keying lincoln continentals over my anger at people who used oil like water for a while but eventually I grew up and just accepted humanity as it was. Hopelessly stuck between SNAFU and FUBAR.

    All went reasonably well until 9/11 when some nut jobs, born of Jimmy Carters War ended up crashing airplanes in the WTC, where my nieces husband worked, he’s one of those black specks failing to their death. Then my #2 daughter ended up trotting off to the Middle East just as her father did a quarter of a century earlier.

    My daughter has a combat action badge and all the questions that go with first hand knowledge as to how ugly humanity can truly be.

    I blogged here as a while as a kind of therapy or primal scream.

    Along the way I got invited to be a voluntary analyst for the Iraq Data Group, which spent endless hours looking at apolitical indicators in Iraq. I.E. The mechanics of warfare and governance rather then the various ideological proclamations that the MSM so love.  At one point we had good visibility of ‘what was to come’ about a year in advance and various global ‘risk management’ firms consulted with us regularly. All war all the time gets depressing.

    We aren’t going to have ‘peace in our time’ as long as we are dependent on ever dwindling supplies of fossil fuels.

    Climate folks like to concern themselves with ‘what will happen to the environment’ if we burn all our fossil fuels’. I would counter that the more immediate concern is that we will probably blow ourselves up arguing over who gets the privilege to burn the last few drops of oil. At some point China and India will decide that America’s share of oil is too big and do something about it.

    So that brings me to climate blogs, if those who worry about what would happen if we burned all the fossil fuels and those who worry that we will blow ourselves up deciding a ‘fair and equitable’ distribution of those resources could just sit down and agree that burning fossil fuels is a problem, then maybe, just maybe a solution might emerge.

    But alas, we are locked into some foolish struggle over having to agree on why burning fossil fuels might be a problem.

  25. Keith Kloor says:

    I just want to say that I am really gratified by the responses in this thread. I didn’t mean to prompt folks to talk about themselves, but I’m glad many of you have.

    Your personal stories/biographies (some quite poignant, such as harrywr2) help me humanize your otherwise anonymous selves. And I think on some unconscious level, that’s what I was lacking in these exchanges. So thank you all.


  26. Marlowe Johnson says:

    I share your frustration at the lack of progress that peakers and climate concerned have had in presenting a compelling ‘big tent’ case for transitioning to alternative energy sources.  But on this particular issue i’d suggest that the fault lies primarily with the Right (within an U.S. context) rather than the left.  In the same way that climate change has become synonomous with Al Gore (i.e. catnip for the right), energy independence was set back generations by being tied to Carter. And so as with many other issues good  climate/energy policies stall because they don’t make for good politics.
    I recently spent  a few weeks on a tour of the U.S. talking to various climate/energy policy folks and the overriding message was that the country (at the national and state levels) was generally so mired in hyper-partisan politics that the particulars of a given policy didn’t matter at all.  And that, I think, is the story of the U.S. over the last 30 years. How do you dial down the partisan rhetoric to the point where thoughtful discussions about policies can occur?  This is the challenge for a host of issues, not just climate change and energy.
    btw, I hope you don’t mind if I make liberal use of your “Hopelessly stuck between SNAFU and FUBAR” 🙂
    The tragedy

  27. Marlowe Johnson says:

    bah.  need this blog needs a comment preview function Keith (or an editor)
    The tragedy

  28. Stu says:

    Keith 26 –  no worries
    Marlow 27-
    “the overriding message was that the country (at the national and state levels) was generally so mired in hyper-partisan politics that the particulars of a given policy didn’t matter at all.  And that, I think, is the story of the U.S. over the last 30 years. How do you dial down the partisan rhetoric to the point where thoughtful discussions about policies can occur?  This is the challenge for a host of issues, not just climate change and energy.”

    Super agreed. I think sometimes I’m almost ready to take out a newspaper ad… ‘disgruntled green desperately seeking right wing warmist…’

  29. BBD says:

    Moving, and to the point.
    Thank you.

  30. JimR says:

    I would agree with much of the above. I don’t want Anna Haynes coming to my house either. On a small forum I once had a person find someone named Jim with a last name starting with R that had a patent on some oil drilling equipment. Luckily it was a small forum as the name, address and phone number of this other Jim were publicly posted. The theory seemed to be I was being exposed for my ulterior motives. People passionate about their causes often lash out personally at those they disagree with.
    I’ve stayed anonymous where possible on the web since the days of CompuServe and Prodigy. I have an engineering degree and am now a project manager with a large company. In the past few years we have received guidance from the company on social networking and other public activities so anonymity is a wise choice, IMHO.

  31. kdk33 says:

    I am kdk33.  Now you know.

  32. DeNihilist says:

    I just think my handle is the best in the whole debate.

  33. DeNihilist says:

    Also, I see humans as natural as all nature, and our actions within nature. We seem to think that we have the ability to reason, so therefore are above all other species. This tends to allow some people to believe that therefore we, as humans, have a duty to protect the rest of nature.

    Nature has no feelings and could care less if we heat the planet another 20* or wipe out 2/3 of all life on this rock.

    In my opinion, like all other forms of life that have preceded us, our time here is limited, and eventually, we, the human race will be extinct also. So just get on with it!

  34. Pascvaks says:

    I’m sure most have Googled their name and found to their surprise that they are not alone in the Universe.  A name is like a rose, just another flower in a vast unending field of flowers and weeds and grasses and rocks and…

    Always thought the Chinese were a lot closer to the truth about the many faces people wear.  We’re the outer self to the world, we’re the middle self to friends and close co-worders, we’re the inner-self to intimates and family, and we’re even the hidden-self to ourselves.

    We’re all very interesting.  Everyone of us.  What’s in a name?  What’s in a picture?  Even a multi-volume auto-bioraphy is 95% dark matter and energy.  We don’t even know who we are.  Your curiosity is telling, it says something about you.  My response says a little something about me.  What’s in a name?

  35. anon says:

    It’s ironic, and telling, Keith, that the one user that labels himself anon you have kept in moderation for days and days on this.
    Well here is another point of view: Anonymity is not about cowardice, it’s about authenticity.
    You’re doing it wrong, Keith
    At South by Southwest Interactive 2011 in Austin, Texas this week, 4chan founder Christopher Poole (also known as “moot”) took the stage to talk about various online issues. One of these was how important anonymity is on the Internet and how Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t get it.
    “Mark Zuckerberg has kind of equated anonymity with a lack of authenticity, almost a cowardice,” said Poole. “I would say that’s totally wrong. I think anonymity is authenticity. It allows you to share in a completely unvarnished, unfiltered, raw way. I think that’s something that’s extremely valuable. In the case of content creation, it just allows you to play in ways that you may not have otherwise. We believe in content over creator.”

  36. willard says:

    Christopher Poole has a point, but let’s not overstretch it: 4chan would not last long if its festive threads were archived, as is the case with Keith’s blog.

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