Cowardice or Valuable Internet Anonymity?

Insulting or vitriolic comments made in response to a provocative blog post in the legal academy are often made anonymously. Why is that? These comments are not whistleblowing comments or comments of the sort that should require anonymity. It seems to me that the only reason to avoid signing one’s name to an insulting comment is cowardice.

Particularly when commenting on a blog in the legal academy, where presumably people are acting in good faith, it is curious not to sign one’s real name to a negative or critical post. If one has the courage to make a negative comment, surely one should have the courage to sign one’s own name to it.

Some blogs have a policy whereby comments not signed will be deleted. I have never used that policy on But I will admit that I am always perplexed when faced with an insulting comment that is not signed by someone with a verifiable name. Why make the comment without actually owning it?

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5 Responses

  1. AYY says:

    If you mean the comments to your previous post, then of course people are going to respond with pseudonyms. They don’t want to get hauled up before the Character and Fitness Committees of their state Bars for expressing reactionary sentiments.

    I was critical of your post, but I’m not anonymous. When I comment here I consistently use the same initials. I’ll take responsibility for my comments, but I’ll do so by addressing the substance of someone’s objection to what I say, rather than whether that person chooses to be anonymous.

    You might find it interesting to know that George Eliot’s real name wasn’t George Eliot and Mark Twain’s real name wasn’t Mark Twain. Even Stephen King used a pseudonym. So did Nora Roberts. One of the bloggers on Volokh’s blog used the name Juan Non-Volokh. It turned out it wasn’t his real name. There are many blogs on the internet where the blogger doesn’t disclose his real name. So it’s not like using a pseudonym is something unheard of.

    There could be many reasons for using a pseudonym, especially when the subject is the one you chose in your previous post. One can be subject to retaliation for objecting to certain agendas.

    There was a situation a few years ago when a Canadian academic had a blog that among other things was critical of feminism. Someone expressed concern to his university. He immediately shut down his blog. You might also recall that Larry Summers was disinvited to speak before the U of California Board of Regents, after some women’s studies professors complained about the invitation to him.

    One would have hoped that rather than condemn the commenters because they use pseudonyms, you would have addressed their arguments.

  2. Anonymous comments are especially to be expected on law blogs: Lawyers *scare* people. They’ve got the power to impose costs, by suing you, and even if you win you may be ruined by the expense of defending yourself. I comment under my own name, and I’ve been threatened with such a lawsuit at least once, and the lawyer threatening it, (Ironicly, HE used a pseudonym.) was quite frank about it being a way to cost me a considerable sum even if the suit was meritless.

    I got stubborn, he backed down, but I can quite understand people who don’t view the risk as worth taking.

  3. Wanderer says:

    The Professor is essentially saying: if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear. The merits of this naive position don’t change, even if she casts anonymous speakers as “cowards.”

    Also, the Professor should respond to the comments on her previous post, which suggested that Character and Fitness audit students who offend the Professor’s sensibilities.

  4. Anonymous (I coudn't Resist) says:

    Even though this is an anonymous post (something I don’t normally do), it isn’t vitriolic, “whistleblowing,” or insulting. I agree with the comments above. In addition, I would hazard a guess that you would probably not object to anonymous comment which suit your sensibilities or aesthetics. So if you object to the content of the comments, then say as much. The problem is the content, not the anonymity.

    Of course, I think on a deeper level vitriolic anonymous comments violate a lawyer’s sense of fair play- if you’re going to do battle, then you should come out on the field of battle in formation, banners flying, wearing bright red uniforms. That’s how our system of litigation and discovery works, after all.

    But by commenting anonymously, it’s like waging a guerrilla war against troops in formation. It’s just not fair, is it? …except in the American Revolutionary war. It was fair then, because we were the good guys.

    I see a few solutions: 1. Suck it up and deal with the riff-raff. 2. Ignore the anonymous comments: If a person wishes to remain anonymous, they should expect that their comments will not be taken seriously, 3. Disallow all anonymous comments, which may be practically impossible, or 4. Stop blogging.

  5. AYY says:

    Anon 11:58
    But it’s not like going into battle. The role of the commenter is constructive–to add to the discussion by making constructive criticisms of the poster’s arguments. That’s what a lot of the anonymous/pseudonymious commenters are doing. So it’s what they say that counts, not what name tney go by. Are you going to ignore Iggy Pop just because his real name isn’t Iggy Pop?

    It’s actually like the Lone Ranger. He wears a mask so you don’t know who he is, but you know that the mask is on the side of the law, that it stands for truth and justice, and that he’ll get the job done and be there when you need him.

    As for disallowing anonymous comments, I’d say that when Prof K. agreed to blog here, she agreed to the comment policy. If the blog owners think that we get a more spirited discussion by allowing anonymous or pseudonymous comments, and have set up their comment policy accordingly, then she ought to follow it.