Sunday, February 11, 2007

Whaddya think?

Overheard on another local blog:

When you make accusations, you should at least have the decency to let people know who you are. [Anonymous commenting] is a very cowardly approach. I do believe you have a right to your opinions and I also believe strongly that you have the right to express them, but to do it without revealing yourselves is the height of poor form.
Me: Whenever I think about ways to improve discussions on my blog, anonymity is a central issue. In it's favor is my belief that the ideas matter much more than who said them. And when we weigh the value of an idea, it's source can affect our judgment. One of the reasons I remained anonymous as Hayduke for so long was that I didn't want other things about me (age, employment, other community activities) to influence others' assessments of my thoughts; I wanted my ideas to stand on their own, without my own personal baggage dragging them down (or, charitably, raising them up).

On the other hand, with anonymity comes a clear lack of accountability. This is usually not a concern, as most commenters -- anonymous or not -- conduct themselves with civility and respect for others -- as I think has been the case in the discussion that prompted the above comment. It is only on the rare occasions when comments become vile, insulting or simply unseemly that anonymity becomes a problem.

Regardless of where you stand on the anonymity continuum, I think you need to be consistent with your position and policing, regardless of the content of particular comments. Condemning those you disagree with while letting vile words from someone on your side slide, strikes me as transparent ploy to tilt the discussion in your favor.

So, what say you?


Anonymous said...

Asking a blogger to identify himself/herself if a copout used by those who want to discredit the anonymous message without addressing it directly.

If the blog does not want to allow anonymous comments, they can block them.

The worst are the blogs that say anonymous comments are allowed, but then threaten to "out" the identity of the commenter when they disagree with the comment. That type of entrapment also may be illegal, unless the privacy policy is clearly posted on the site.

Anonymous said...

It IS a copout, not "if" a copout

wordbones said...


I wish I had read your blog before posting my own thoughts on this. As it happens I just finished my post when I found your comment.

I also share your belief that ideas are more important than who said them.


numbers.girl said...

I agree. My only complaint against anonymity is that the lack of accountability gives commenters license to be rude and insulting, as we have seen on this and other blogs. However, as long as the discussion and comments are respectful and productive, who cares about the identity of the poster?

The use of "outing" commenters as a way to threaten or silence opposition to an argument is abhorrent. And it shows an inability at the very least to accept another's opinion. It also shows an inability to argue a position on the merits alone.

Anonymous said...

Two choices:
1. Allow and respect anonymity based on the understanding that some do not feel free to contribute without this scant protection, and
2. Require IDs and forgo free discussion.

I'd be remiss if I didn't thank our British policeman for the final paragraph wherein he makes the point that 'outing' someone who opposes the blog host's view amounts to the same constraint on truth as requiring IDs, except without the honesty.

Signed: Anonymous (or, not so much)

Anonymous said...

In this latest round of discussing anonymity, one important distinction to make is it was not specifically commentors' anonymity being questioned.

It was instead, the anonymity of the blogger themself being questioned, in response to a post some could perceive as something akin to swiftboating, albeit poorly, several people active in the community.

A response in kind, not unlike the original post in focusing more on the messenger than the message, wielded a broad brush impuning all anonymity.

Directly responding to issues and ideas serves us all better.

Anonymous said...

Agreed. I've been guilty of impaling the source, but am trying to learn from prior mistakes.

Anonymous said...

I’ll start focusing on the message and not the messenger just after posting these awards for the Howard County Host Bloggers of 2006:

Most informative Blogs:
Steve Fine (#1)
Dave Wissing (#2, takes a hit on the global warming thing)

Most Handsome and Patient:
Ian Kennedy

Most Toxic:
David Keelan

Most easily irritated and misinterprets posts:

Most secret, jury still out on patience but could be a contender:

Anonymous said...

Best Analysis on Election night:

Evan Cohen

FreeMarket said...

Easily irritated? Me? Pack sand hippie! (Tongue in cheek)

seldom seen smith said...

(cross posted at tale of two cities)

As an anonymous poster I do think there is one additional factor that hasn’t been brought up. The group of folks generally and specifically affiliated with the Coalition are so convinced that their stance is the only true stance of the community – hell it even says so directly in their position paper. They continue to talk to each other and then use those conversations as proof that they represent the community “Everyone I talk to believes as I do.” Of course there are also their laughable 200 signatures. So, while that position may be sanctimonious at best, it is their use of it as a weapon that is far more nefarious.

Because in their minds they are the community ANYBODY who takes a different stance must be either ignorant or taking the side of something NOT “the community.” Therefore they must be discredited, alienated or defeated.

Two quick superficial examples: In the Flier article about “Bring Back the Vision” Mr. Knowles’ immediately calls them a developer front group even though the Davis’ and Emily Lincoln have been integral parts of this community for as long as I can remember. To him it just isn’t possible for people in the community to have a different stand.

Second example – for those of you who subscribe to the HCCA listserv you no doubt noticed the message from a prominent member of the Coalition – revoking her membership contribution because HCCA is having a joint meeting with Howard County Tomorrow and Jud Malone. To me (and the people around me I talked to) – her message read as CRAZY. That one joint meeting, not a HCCA position change or policy decision, but one freakin’ meeting, would cause her to take her ball and go home. To those in the Coalition it makes perfect sense – Malone’s anti-community stance is as infectious as it is repetitive and wasteful.

So what does this have to do with anonymity in blog posting? The truth is many of us are interested in being active in our community, and have seen what happens to those who disagree with the Coalition. The carnage on the side of the road of those who disagreed or, worse in opinion, those that simply didn’t agree enough is staggering – Malone, Santos, Feldmark, Greenwood and I suspect we are about to add Maggie Brown to that list. Even more staggering are the public figures that are scared shitless of this group and find themselves bullied into corners – Sigaty, Ulman, and Terrasa.

I have heard enough from the likes of Bobo, Klein, Pivar, Coren, etc to believe that this action isn’t truly intentional. I do actually believe that they don’t see how their actions stifle good public dialogue. Ignorance of the ramifications of their behavior seems like a week excuse to me though – as they wander about much like white people blissfully unaware of their privilege and the power they wield.

I have a friend who lives in Takoma Park. As I was telling her our situation here in Columbia she kind of laughed and had a theory. She said that the folks that run the community groups are of a very similar ilk and she connected it to that generation of liberals who, with no sense of the irony, generally deplore and show disdain for new visions, young voices, and have made it generally impossible for any other generation to get a foot hold. They worked way too hard to create their Utopia for some rascally kids to come and f it up.

They say all the right things about wanting young people involved (mostly because that’s what their ethos tells them to say) but really only want their involvement if the young folks are “smart enough” to regurgitate all their same crap. Apparently they even have one women who is in her early thirties who serves as their go to young person since she will echo everything they say and give them an escape to their lack of generational diversity. I wonder if we have someone similar here in Columbia (Stockholm Syndrome indeed)?

With some light searching I found similar musings in three communities – Ann Arbor, Santa Fe, and Boulder. Apparently, based on my superficial research, this is the SOP for communities of over the hill hippies desperately trying to hold onto their power.

I’ll end with this – Dennis Lane in his Biz Monthly column rambled a bit about some old theme park proposal in Columbia back in the day (actually pretty enlightening and I love the great acronyms) and ended with this:

The main lesson is that no one group can – or should – claim to speak for the community at large.

If the Coalition could understand and appreciate that, it would be a hell of a start. Maybe they could even go on to understand and admit that there is a distinct community voice saying some things quite different from them and that those folks actually do have the communities best interest at heart so that maybe crucifying anyone in that “camp” is not great for community spirit and participation. Maybe those who have been on the wrong end of their wrath could stand up and say NO MORE – your accusations be damned we will start counter-organizing and pushing you to the margins where you pushed us. Until any or all of these things happen though, I find myself woefully unable to do anything but post my rants anonymously and remain unapologetically –

Seldom Seen Smith

Anonymous said...

"Seldom" makes an excellent point. Note that Ms. Coyle accused wordbones of having only a monetary motive for his opinions, but did so with no facts to back her statement.

Also, her remarks indicate that she is not a careful reader. For example, she had to read wb's bio to find out that he doesn't live in Columbia, even though he specifically states that in the comments to which she was responding. Also, she says we "all" know who wordbones is, even though only one commenter indicates that s/he does. (I for one don't.) Also, although wordbones did question what gives Liz Bobo so much stature in this debate (a reasonable question that I'd like to know the answer to myself), he did not attack her. Indeed, he said he admired and respected her record of public service.

So it would obviously be easy to get in trouble with this group simply because they don't understand what you are saying.

I resent the CDC for saying that they and only they represent "the community." There is no one voice for the community. That was very apparent in the focus group, which could not come to a consensus on many of the issues.

Maybe this is not the proper outlet to make this observation, but another thing that bugs me about the CDC position is that they keep talking about the first day of the charrette as if there was complete agreement among everyone who was there. There wasn't. There were some common themes, but I certainly wouldn't say that the table I participated at saw the same vision as that being pushed by the CDC as "the community's vision". Besides which, many of the people participating really were just grasping at straws, trying to imagine Columbia 30 years from now. It was an interesting and useful exercise, but not the writing of the Bible of Columbia's future.

Whew! I feel better now. And I value my anonymity because I represent an organization, and I don't want it to be "tarnished" by my personal remarks and opinions.

Anonymous said...

Seldom Seen Smith

More of the same focus on impuning the messengers rather than addressing the message.

"Of course there are also their laughable 200 signatures."

Has another group come forward with a longer membership list? If not, I would take their group's size being the largest of the groups involved in this issue thus far as an indicator (obviously not categoric proof) that there is considerable support for the group's loose, but common, positions. A community-wide referendum would be a more accurate indicator of the community's position as a whole, but until then if an opposing group can't muster a roster of greater size, it would be foolish to postulate that the Coalition is in the minority.

"In the Flier article about "Bring Back the Vision" Mr. Knowles immediately calls them a developer front group even though the Davis' and Emily Lincoln have been integral parts of this community for as long as I can remember. To him it just isn't possible for people in the community to have a different stand."

The article actually said Mr. Knowles was suspicious that BBV was working with the developer. It did not say, as you claimed, that he called them a front group for the developer. He didn't say he was convinced, just suspicious, indicating it certainly in his mind can be possible for some people in the community to have a different stand, despite your subsequent assertion to the contrary.

Dennis' trip down Memory "Lane", while admitting difficulty remembering some things, unfortunately, I believe, also blurred some things regarding that theme park. He said at the time that there were no jobs for Columbia teenagers. There were jobs for teenagers, but the economy had slowed somewhat and there was more competition for jobs for teens due to the baby boom. Park supporters claimed jobs, economic stimulus, amusement, and tax revenue. Park opponents claimed pollution, drugs, crime, transient seasonal populations, little economic stimulus, noise, traffic congestion (I-95 then was 3 lanes each way), sewage capacity, and other concerns. He said it was proposed to be built where Rivers Corporate Park is, south of 32. Marriott was not coming to Columbia proper. Wasn't the proposal actually for a site adjacent to I-95, near Columbia? Marriott also tried to site this park in the '70's in Manassas, VA, but were rejected there, too. Disney encountered the same fate in that part of VA for a theme park in the '80's.

The opponents prevailed repeatedly, both here and in VA, because they better represented the more commonly held views of their community. For Dennis to say "For every pro, there is bound to be a con. I have found that most folks tend to fall somewhere between the two." nonsensically paints every issue as equally balanced and misleadingly paints the majority as typically somewhere between a pro and a con. That is not reality. Would the same hold true for a prison, a waste dump, or gridlock traffic being brought to Town Center? Of course not.

Was that just an attempt to diffuse opposition? I'll leave that to the community at large to decide.

"she connected it to that generation of liberals who, with no sense of the irony, generally deplore and show disdain for new visions, young voices, and have made it generally impossible for any other generation to get a foot hold. They worked way too hard to create their Utopia"

"They say all the right things about wanting young people involved (mostly because that’s what their ethos tells them to say) but really only want their involvement if the young folks are “smart enough” to regurgitate all their same crap."

"SOP for communities of over the hill hippies desperately trying to hold onto their power"

It sounds like you're blaming a previous generation of hippies (far more often referred to as lazy than, as you did, "worked way too hard") for whatever difficulty you face in life. I think that's the first time I've ever heard anyone express anything similar to "Help me, I'm being oppressed by liberal hippies."

It would be refreshing to get back to discussing the actual issues instead of diffusing the ancillary attention on the messengers.

Anonymous said...

Now that takes the cake.

I have all the disadvantages of "privilege and power", and all the disadvantages of non-privilege and a widely perceived lack of power. But none of the advantages.

Jessie N. said...

"Help me, I'm being oppressed by liberal hippies."

(You'd have to have read the posts above to get that comment.) :-)

Ian's post on blogger anonymity and the ensuing stream of comments here is one of the sanest and most calming conversations I've yet to read in such a community discussion. (Thank you to all!)

I just launched yesterday a blog for my generation (26-46 year olds) to speak into -- and about -- the conversation of Columbia's direction, either 1) toward a more energized place with at least one slightly urban core, or 2) continuing as we've been on a path to utter glory as a rich suburb.

The blog is, as I said, brand new, and as of today, it is just sparsely populated. I invite all of you here to tell 26-46 year-olds you know to speak into this conversation, on this new blog.


Anonymous said...

Wait, wasn't Hayduke threatening to expose the "bear" - didn't the bear refer to anonymous bloggers?