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May 14, 2007


Tom Grubisich believes that every commenter who wants to use a pseudonym should have to apply for the privilege on every blog she visits. "This would require sites to make decisions on a case-by-case basis," he continues. "How often would such intervention be required? Not enough to require most sites to hire extra staff." Of course not. In my free time, I totally have the resources and energy to verify the backgrounds and personal stories of hundreds of commenters. That makes perfect sense. If by perfect sense, you mean "it's quite possibly the worst idea I've ever heard."

But look: It's time to call a spade a spade. Grubisich thinks the public square has become too open, and he wants to erect some new barriers to entry. That's what the pseudonymity discussions are always about: Privileged members of the media feeling great anxiety that they're no longer set apart simply by access to microphones and looking for ways to keep the barbarians off the stage. But whatever, I'm willing to meet them halfway. I'll start running background checks on my readers if Grubisich and his colleagues consents to some symmetrical constraints: If they write something stupid, inflammatory, or wrong, they will lose their jobs. If what you want is for new entrants to the public sphere to feel more vulnerable when participating, it's only fair that you do the same.

May 14, 2007 in Gaze at my Navel! | Permalink


Grubisch is absolutely right. Pseudonymity is the refuge of those who refuse to take ownership of their words. They desire only a protected area from which to make unfounded attacks, without consequence to themselves. I can think of any number of ways that such a system could be feasibly implemented, and only the overwhelming majority of them would tend to suppress political speech.

Posted by: Mr. Guy | May 14, 2007 11:41:55 AM

Mr. Guy -- if that is your 'real' name -- you have proved my point. Q.e.d.

Posted by: Tom Grubisich | May 14, 2007 11:45:50 AM

Hamilton, Madison, and Jay disagree with Mr. Grubisich.

Posted by: Seitz | May 14, 2007 11:54:58 AM

pseudonyms = cowardice

Be a man and use your real name!

Posted by: mrbubbs | May 14, 2007 11:55:21 AM

Excellent Ezra. You summarized the entire quite well.

I'll agree to post everywhere under an easily identifiable and verfied identity as soon as each and every mistake a "real reporter" makes costs them their job.

Fair enough?

Posted by: ice weasel | May 14, 2007 11:56:00 AM

Free speech for me, not for thee!

Ezra, are you implying that paid pundits don't self-police those who are always wrong, offensive, etc. Shocked, *shocked* I am! But I think you are wrong -- only those who opposed the war are now given the prime spots in the MSM.

Posted by: Gore/Edwards 08 | May 14, 2007 11:56:27 AM

Mr. Klein, I'd be willing to go even farther (not that I have a blog of my own, let alone readers). I'd cut them slack for being occasionally stupid and/or wrong if they'll just *admit* to it when it's pointed out to them. Essentially, they just have to admit being human. Save firing for having a clear history of being wrong and/or stupid more often than being right and smart.

As for being inflammatory, hell, I *want* pundits to be inflammatory, as long as they're also right and smart.

Posted by: Snarker | May 14, 2007 11:58:07 AM

Let's also end the practice of granting anonymity to people who only offer up spin. And let's see journalists who are willing to out sources who lie to them. And it would be nice if pundits would always let us know about their ties to certain candidates and causes, especially when they receive compensation.

Mostly, I'd like people like Grubisich to stop being idiots.

Posted by: Stephen | May 14, 2007 12:01:10 PM

Irony: Tom's email addy posted on the article is [email protected]. Why could he possibly want to use an anonymous email address?

I guess he wants to know who called him a wanker. Why he wants to know, and what he will do with that info isn't real clear.

Could it be he wants to trace the commenter's employer through the realname, so he can inform the employer what the employee is saying in public places? Or is it that he just wants to be able to mobilize a retaliation team to go to the commenter's house and break some knees?

TomEditor is a wanker! A pathetic one too.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | May 14, 2007 12:09:03 PM

"Hamilton, Madison, and Jay disagree with Mr. Grubisich."

As does Ben Franklin. Not that he knew anything about jounaminimalism, or publishing, or anything related to them.

And firing for one mistake might be a bit harsh. But "three strikes your out" might have appropriate application!

And while we are into transparency, why not force all journaminimalists to annually publish the portions of their tax returns (including W-2's and 1099s) that indicate all sources of income for them for the past 3 years or so. Then we can really see if any journos or pundits are getting paid to take positions or not.

Posted by: bubba | May 14, 2007 12:19:41 PM

Heh. Nicely done.

My real name, by the way, is David Broder.

Posted by: Pachacutec | May 14, 2007 12:20:05 PM

At a minimum, the moniker should provide some insight into the interest of the commenter in the issue or dialogue. It should clearly demonstrate the poster's ideology, connection to any candidate, corporate affiliation, or, ideally, occupation.

Posted by: John Q. Monkey-Fucker | May 14, 2007 12:24:07 PM

Anything to maintain your illusion.
It's all the fault of the anonymous little people.

Posted by: Northern Observer | May 14, 2007 12:24:09 PM

"Could it be he wants to trace the commenter's employer through the realname, so he can inform the employer what the employee is saying in public places?"

Such an idea as this is simply beyond belief. If you'll note, TomEditor is a **FORMER** WaPo employee (unlike Sue Schmidt, who invented and pioneered this novel approach to journalistic accountability), and corporations like the Post tend to lock up their IP rights to such innovations.

With kind regards,
Dog, etc.
searching for home

Posted by: Ghost of Joe Liebling's Dog | May 14, 2007 12:32:05 PM

I always use a pseudonym when posting.

The problem with the MSM, is they value the name of the pundit more than the opinion. Using a pseudonym when posting is like giving a violin audition behind a screen.

Posted by: Tom Grubisich | May 14, 2007 12:33:23 PM

You know, this would be a whole lot more persuasive if journalists didn't so frequently use anonymous sources.

In any case, it's bizarre that this guys is writing about this issue now as if it's some kind of revelation. The question of permitting anonymity and moderating content in on line discussions for as long as such groups have existed. There are those, myself among them, who believe that providing real names leads to greater civility and more thoughtful discussion. That's why I post using my real name. But I've known a number of people, who, for professional or family reasons would feel unable to express themselves clearly and forthrightly.

The folks at the Well resolved this by requiring users to post real names. On compuserv, some forums required the provision of real names, others didn't. That the Post (Li'l Debbie just had a column on the same kinds of issues) didn't understand that this part of the business of managing online discussions seems disingenuous beyond belief. The first thing you work out when you're design an online discussion area is how it is going to be moderated.

Posted by: jayackoryd | May 14, 2007 12:42:47 PM

Grubisch's column was silly in so many ways that it was hard to get through it. His example of why anonymity was bad was particularly egregious.

"Imagine going to a meeting about school overcrowding in your community. Everybody at the meeting is wearing nametags. You approach a cluster of people where one man is loudly complaining about waste in school spending. "Get rid of the bureaucrats, and then you'll have money to expand the school," he says, shaking his finger at the surrounding faces.

You notice his nametag -- "anticrat424." Between his sentences, you interject, "Excuse me, who are you?"

He gives you a narrowing look. "Taking names, huh? Going to sic the superintendent's police on me? Hah!"

In any community in America, if Mr. anticrat424 refused to identify himself, he would be ignored and frozen out of the civic problem-solving process.

1. If your local school board meetings consist of "clusters of people" discussing things they should start serving alcohol and just call them cocktail parties. (It might generate more interest in school board meetings, however.)

2. Loons are identifiable as loons not by any particular desire to remain anonymous but rather because their ideas don't make sense. In my limited experience, cranks are actually quite eager to identify themselves. When aggressive individuals get frozen out of local discourse it is because they are nuts, not because they are anonymous.

3. Unfortunately anticrat424's suggestion would probably be embraced by most low information voters. Grubisch's solution is to force anticrat424 to identify himself. Perhaps anticrat424 is the chair of the local business association, or the chair of "Citizens Standing for Stronger Schools and Against Terrorism." Now he has been identified but that gives his assertion no more value. In any case his assertion must be countered by information and the identity of the individual that collects the information need not be known. What matters is that the information can be verified.

All-in-all a wretched piece by Grubisch.

Posted by: rk | May 14, 2007 12:47:13 PM

I think I need to write op-eds for the WAPO. The NYTimes just so doesn't get me.

Posted by: Ann Althouse | May 14, 2007 12:50:05 PM

Grubisich: 'These days we want "transparency" in all institutions, even private ones. There's one massive exception -- the Internet.' Actually, there's another exception: the secret ballot. He got a problem with that one, too?

Posted by: K | May 14, 2007 12:51:14 PM

Pseudonymity is often the first refuge of the misogynists. Right thinking feminists hate pseudonyms by patriarchals.

Posted by: Jessica Filopovic | May 14, 2007 12:51:43 PM

Seriously, how many asshole men are posting in pseudonyms at my blogs and have to be banned? Pseudonymity is how these women beaters and rapists and pedofiles get their power. And then they post in pseudonyms at those fucking godbag MRA sites. And then they post in pseudonyms attacks against wymyn that get ignored by Kossacks.

Our female power sites are made of sugar and spice. We don't support hate speech from anyone! Fucking patriarchy!! Goddamn I hate them. A patriarch once bit my sister.

Posted by: Jessica Filopovic | May 14, 2007 12:56:29 PM

I'm semi-eponymous. You want a piece of me too, beotch?

I no longer comment on Washington Post stories because I registered on the site using my real name and primary email address and don't want to be bombarded by spam culled that spambots cull from the Washington Post forum. I also read the Washington Post less since you've stopped BugMeNot from working on your webpage. I don't want to be a 'Nielsen family' when I watch TV and I don't want to register to read websites. I just want to consume and interact on my own terms - not be told by some corporation I'm not using their product properly.

The Washington Post gets my eyeballs on the site, an IP address, and the right to count my eyeballs to determine advertising rates. Other than that you can piss off. Who writes the Washington Post editorials? Somebody named 'Washington Post'?

Your argument is ridiculous Mr. Grubisich. I send civil, signed questions and notes to Washington Post reporters all the time. I occasionally send signed notes to Fred Hiatt calling him a wanker. Do you know why I send civil notes to some and wanker notes to Hiatt? My default mode is civility. I grant it to diner waitresses, reporters, and astronauts. You have to EARN wanker mode, and Hiatt has earned it in spades - in part from his anonymous warmongering under the pseudonym 'Washington Post'.

Posted by: joejoejoe | May 14, 2007 12:56:46 PM

School Board meetings should be conducted as masquerade balls.

Posted by: The Scarlet Pimpernel | May 14, 2007 12:59:52 PM

Tom Grubisich
Santa Monica, California
I'm a screenwriter, based in Santa Monica, CA, but, from my earlier incarnations, maintain a close interest in print and online journalism, especially at the community level. This is my third survey on citizen journalism for Online Journalism Review. So far, I don't see a lot of evidence of "CJ" living up to its sometimes grand expectations. But I believe we need citizens to be fully empowered contributors to what we call community news. How that should be done is still evolving. Editors and citizens and everybody in-between will have to work it out.

Earlier in my career, I was managing editor of news for Digital City/AOL and before that co-founder of the free-circulation weekly Connection Newspapers in Northern Virginia. Earlier yet, I was a reporter and editor at The Washington Post. For more information, consult, Who's Who in America (2006 edition). I'm reachable at [email protected].


Name witheld because I can

Posted by: Scaramouche | May 14, 2007 1:03:47 PM

The Attorney General of Connecticut is pushing legislation (HB 6891) that would require social networking websites (in a definition that would include blogs) to verify ID from users. The push is historically ignorant and technically illiterate, much like the good Mr. Grubisch's editorial. From much more on the push to legally require verified ID to participate on social networking websites check out the good folks at My Left Nutmeg including somebody suspiciously named "mattw" (come out of the shadows!).

Summary of faults of requiring ID for social networking and commenting in the form of a letter to the CT State Legislature.


Rocking 13 minute slideshow/video explained why required verified ID for social networking is teh unconstitutional and teh stupid.


I'm not sure I would have ever learned as much as I did from the likes of highly credible sources like Emptywheel and ReddHedd if they were initially required to post as Marcy Wheeler and Christy Hardin Smith. If you don't know who Emptywheel and ReddHedd are then you probably shouldn't be commenting on how to run blog comments. Finally how do I know it's really "Tom Grubisch" that wrote that piece in the Post? I didn't see his ID.

Posted by: joejoejoe | May 14, 2007 1:18:55 PM

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