Don't Read Huck Finn or Should Anonymous Bloggers be Taken Seriously?

Samuel Clemens AKA Mark Twain

Just recently I read here about a local reporter’s less than flattering view on blogs. The title of her story, “Indecent Expression” tells a great deal about her slant on one of my favorite forms of communication. She argues that blogs “are dangerous.” She rightly points out the problems with unsigned comments and anonymous blogs but she fails to note the power of and opportunity afforded by this form of discourse.

I felt compelled to send a letter to the Journal and thought I would keep the conversation going by offering my submission to you. In the print media, a letter appears to the editor and rarely receives a response (although I got a very nice personal email from Hank already) but online the dialogue can flow back and forth for days between many people with a variety of views. I would especially like to hear opinions about the blogsphere’s use of anonymity and how that has affected discussion. I have been interested in this subject for awhile.

Editor,

Blogs, as portrayed in the recent piece by Marcy Burstiner, come across as vitriolic playgrounds. In fact, at moments, the blogs (mostly in their comment sections) can degenerate into nasty word wars. But, many, if not most, local blogs are either not anonymous or are so lightly disguised that the authorship is known to the community. For instance, Fred’s Humboldt Blog, ( mentioned in the article in close proximity to the comment “[w]ithout names attached, people have less fear of ramifications”) in fact, has his picture (as well as his name) prominently displayed.

The largest blog, to my knowledge, in Humboldt County is one written by well known local lawyer Eric Kirk. His pieces are eagerly followed by many–including local journalists. He does allow anonymous comments and thus that area of his posts is not for the faint of heart. His political and legal knowledge, however, gives him insight into local topics. And he often posts within hours of something happening–which is impossible for print media to duplicate.

Like Eric, most other local bloggers have to face our neighbors and friends after we have published pieces. I, myself am a mostly non-political writer posting mainly small essays about the beauty of our local area. However, occasionally I express controversial opinions–most recently about the environmental problems of growing marijuana with the aid of diesel generators. Subsequently, I have sat around the kitchen table and talked in front of the post office about my opinion with people who believe differently from me.

Blogs provide a wonderful place for conversation to start between people of widely opposed viewpoints. We find areas we agree on and areas we differ. Taking the time to write down opinions makes us more careful and forces us to check our facts more closely than we might if we were just blabbing them out to like-minded friends.

The wonderful blog that this North Coast Journal puts out is a daily read for me. Hank Sims, especially, writes elucidating and interesting reports. Because the blog is put out on WordPress (a blogging platform) which I also use, I can see that hundreds of people from all over frequently read some North Coast Journal stories posted about our area. And, my blog also is read by people from Japan, Australia, Texas, Chicago etc. On the internet, we reach an audience who cannot easily access local print stories.

I agree that both posts and comments are stronger when backed by a name and a face to match. But, discarding blogs and the wonderful information and conversation between disparate elements in our community because of some nasty anonymous posts is tantamount to not reading Huck Finn because it was written under a pseudonym and used some politically incorrect language.

Kym Kemp
(Redheaded Blackbelt)

In the interest of full disclosure, in posting this letter, I made a few slight changes that make me look the intelligent English major I actually am –rather than the grammatically challenged fool my disgraphia and my limited time to self edit can make me appear.

Update: The Humboldt Herald has more to say on this article.

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17 comments

  • Well said… I hope this doesn’t mean that I have to start treating anonymous commenter’s like they were real people, does it? They all seem like a flock of mean sheep to me, bleating their hate and discontent while hiding behind their cowards wall of; “I have a good reason to be anonymous”.

  • Nice letter, Kym. Only problem I see is that it contains 459 words. That might be over the NCJ’s word limit, assuming they still have one. Maybe they’ll publish it as an op- ed?

  • Nice letter, Kym. I agree that using your name makes people more respectful – instantly. Using a pseudonym does also, though to a slightly lesser degree.

    On the political blogs, the anonymous comments are pretty well balanced between the vitriolic and the truly interested and informed. I find people with information are more willing to impart it from the safe place that anonymity represents. Very few are willing to stand forth. And I think that allowing the free speech to flow is the best way to go, with all its faults.

    The way I see it, newspapers are the ones who really have to deal differently with the anonymous phenomena. I truly believe that comments on the official newspaper articles and blogs should adhere to the same standards as letters tot he editor, that is, the people should be identified as real people. Newspapers are a record of our time, and should be accurate.

    But it seems the newspapers love the back and forth, vitriol and all, even while they rail against it.

    Love your blog, by the way. Love the photos. The peace of it.

  • Ernie, I don’t mind anonymous comments. After all I started out somewhat anonymous myself. I needed to reassure myself that my family and friends wouldn’t be somehow injured by what I said.

    But I hate how some people use the anonymity to say ugly, unfounded things. (And, I cackled when I read your description of the flock of anonymous as mean sheep.)

    Fred, I’m so embarrassed, as a teacher, I’m always saying, “Read the instructions.” They have a 300 word limit and I just blew by that information without taking it in. I was so hot while I was writing that I screwed up grammatically several times, too.

    Rose, I think a consistent pseudonym helps keeps differing commentators separated. I love beginning to discern Humboldt Blue’s personality and what s/he likes as opposed to Auntie Mame’s preferences. If people have to remain private, I like them keeping a consistent name. Also, I think having even an anonymous name, keeps people trying to be civil in order to keep their faux reputation intact.

  • Great letter, Kym. Nicely crafted.

  • I cannot speak to the question of anonymity regarding the posting of blogs or comments to others. I’m too proud of what I have to say to be anonymous!

    (did that sound completely conceited or what?!?)

  • Thanks, Chris.

    Forkboy, Why shouldn’t you be proud? You’ve got a great site.

  • Historically, anonymous publication and/or protest has been a big factor in oppressive societies in which governmental, religious, and/or social reprisals for speaking out are extreme. We are pretty much there, with approximately one out of every one hundred adult Americans behind bars: See here. If that head count is not indication of an oppressive situation, I do not know what is. And, historically, the only people who find public commentary, anonymous or otherwise, “dangerous” are the oppressors. So me, when I see someone saying forums in which general citizens may speak their minds are “dangerous,” I squint a little harder at the person saying so. And wonder, dangerous for whom?

  • Oops, that link messed up. Oh well, I will send it to Miss Kym and if she wants to paste it in, it will show up.

  • Link fixed.

    And a great one it is!

    Also, I believe with so much of our economy in this county underground, anonymity gives people a safer way to discuss issues that directly to relate to them.

    I’d like to know more about legal issues regarding comments. Anyone know anything?

  • You are like a ninja.

  • Last year I had a hater show up on one of my blogs.
    He worked for law enforcement.
    He used City Equipment ot send his e-mails.
    It is NOT something you want to get caught doing.
    a.m

  • Anita,
    Somehow I have a feeling you helped him get caught. Not only do you write scary stories but you have a bit Max’s ninja in you.

  • Well, as I wrote on Eric’s blog, I disagreed with the Media Maven’s idea that people who get paid to write are wary of people who don’t. It had never occurred to me to be wary of people who don’t write “professionally,” especially since I’ve written my whole life – but have only written for pay for about five years.

    The issue of anonymity is very difficult to deal with, because while it encourages honest discourse where none would be possible otherwise (for example, discussions about the local marijuana economy), it also brings out the absolute worst in a certain percentage of people (as evidenced by the Reggae war threads and even, this week, the vitriol aimed at my partner when he dared make an honest, well-thought-out criticism of a certain candidate for 2nd District Supervisor).

    As much as I would like to say, “We have First Amendment rights in this country and should always be able to exercise them,” I wouldn’t hesitate to delete a comment on my blog if it was hateful or included personal attacks. Fortunately, there isn’t that much traffic on it, and the haters haven’t migrated over there.

  • Very Nice letter. It is true though that when making a blog, it opens the writer to a whole world of comments that are unnecessary or downright nasty. People have the prerogative to be anonymous if they want to but as to taking them seriously? Well… the problem there is more often than not, anonymous writers write flames or angry articles which if they truly stand behind their convictions wouldn’t hide behind anonymity. There are exceptions but…

  • I, too, wouldn’t hesitate to delete an unsubstantiated or just plain rude comment. Eric has a greater tolerance than I would. But, like you Cristina, I’m much smaller and don’t have the haters here. And unlike Eric I am less likely to bravely put my opinions out there so that cuts down on the haters, too.

    Neo, it has been my experience that people who want to remain anonymous to the general public but use a consistent Pseudonym are less likely to flame others. Even the pseudonym has a reputation they are trying to protect but remove even that small amount of accountability and a larger number of people than I would like to think would behave that way seem to go wild.

  • Kym,
    I’m a Humboldt County writer (I wrote for the Journal back in the mid-90s). I have a friend who wants to put together a documentary about the possible legalization of pot, and the effects this will have on this county. He wants to interview you. His name is Dan Crane, and his number is 514-254-1275. If you want to get in touch with me, my number is 707-839-3777. We’re looking forward to talking with you.
    Best,
    Tim Martin

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