Who are you, Anonymous?

Requiring letters registration has cut down on trolls and drive-by insults, but lately we're seeing more complaints about "anonymous" writers.

Published July 26, 2007 7:59PM (EDT)

In early April, Salon required readers to register before posting letters to the editor and blog comments. We added the feature by popular demand; readers were increasingly irritated by anonymous, drive-by cruelty, to Salon writers and to other readers, and we believed requiring registration would cut down on some of that. And it did. In the last three and a half months, more than 15,000 of you have created active letters accounts. The letters section now averages 150,000 monthly unique readers, making it one of the most popular features on Salon.

We think the changes improved the quality of our letters, and the quality of interaction in the threads -- for a while, anyway. Overall, I remain proud of Salon letters and Salon readers. They're smart; they make us smarter. But lately we've noticed a slight uptick in nastiness and vitriol in letters, and we're again looking for ways to cut down on that. I've authorized editors to take a firmer hand in removing abusive letters -- if they merely attack a writer or another letter poster personally, without making a larger argument about the issue at hand, we'll try to remove them. And our registration system means we can block certain people's accounts, after issuing a warning. We haven't done that yet, although we've issued a couple of warnings. But we may have to take that step with a few people in the near future.

We're also looking, again, at the use of the "anonymous" option in letters. About 12 percent of letters are signed "Anonymous," and the feature is wildly controversial. Some of you using your own name or regular screen names resent the way the anonymous option limits real interaction and conversation. Some of you call it cowardly. (And over on Slashdot, they apparently agree, as anyone using the anonymous option is labeled instead "Anonymous Coward." We are not pondering that as a potential change.) But I am thinking, again, about limiting or eliminating the anonymous option. Anecdotally, the editors monitoring letters have noticed a higher proportion of off-topic and/or abusive posts signed "Anonymous." There's no doubt that the option limits engagement between readers.

I'm still undecided about doing this; when I've mentioned it before in my own blog comment threads, I've gotten smart, semipersuasive replies from readers who post anonymously. Please tell me what you think, and I'll let you know what I'm thinking about all of it next week. And share any other ideas for improving your letters experience, too.

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