The Impact of Anonymous Comments

There are a number of studies about consumers in the U.S. leaving anonymous comments online. Adam and Chad have talked about anonymity in the past and they wanted to revisit this topic once again to provide insights from a study that was conducted by Livefyre over the summer. It examined why people use anonymous profiles while online and the impact of anonymous comments on online communities. In this Daily Brown Bag, you’ll learn about online anonymity, statistics on where people make the most anonymous comments, and the motivation behind their decision to not use their real identities online and instead choosing to remain anonymous while leaving comments.

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Hello and welcome to the Daily Brown Bag. Today, we’re going to be talking about the impact of anonymous comments. I’m Chad Hill, and I’m joined by Adam Stetzer.

Hey, good afternoon, and welcome to the Brown Bag. In this issue of anonymity online, it’s one of my favorites and Chad, we used to talk about it a long time ago, way back six years ago, we were just getting started in the SEO reseller community. Surely the Internet has changed and there’s a lot less anonymity than there used to be, but it’s still out there. We had a Daily Brown Bag the other day and we were talking about Barry Ritholtz, who had just written 30,000, finished his 30,000th blog post, which is quite a record.

But one of the conclusions that we came out of the Brown Bag, Chad, was that comments have really lost their value and they aren’t what they once were. The mimes gone up, the levels of spam have gone up. There’s a lot of hate-filled rants out there. There’s a lot of politically charged comments that people are leaving, and maybe they’ve been hired, or who knows if they’re paid. Spam with comments is just out of control, as I mentioned. More and more sites are moving towards a verification process and several steps and hurdles you have to go through before you can leave comments.

Today, we’re talking about this issue. I want to point out a study here, Chad, from Livefyre. They asked 3500 adult consumers in the U.S. about some of their behaviors when it came to leaving anonymous comments. About 60% of those surveyed said they’d never left a comment at all, an anonymous comment or otherwise. That was 60% of the 3500. So over half just read and are out there seeking knowledge, but don’t really want to discuss and leave comments. Thirteen hundred people said they had made comments online when they were filling out this survey. A few other stats here: 40% admitted to using an anonymous profile or a fake name when leaving comments, although 88% of those people said they still used their real identity sometimes when they do leave comments. So I kind of guess it depends a little bit situationally. I’m interested in what we can make out of these results, Chad, what we think the motivation is for using real identities versus wanting to be anonymous online while leaving comments.

Well, yeah, it’s a great question, Adam and to continue with some of the stats here on anonymous comments. When you asked a question of what their motivation is for not using their real identity, 48% said that they felt that they could be more honest with an anonymous profile, 34% said it was for other reasons, things like protecting personal security, avoiding bias, and then 5% said that they did so because they wanted to say mean comments and didn’t want to say these comments with their real identity. I think that the same group said that the places they comment anonymously the most: 50% on news sites, 45% on political sites, 19% on personal blogs. I can attest it. If you ever read the Washington Post, it’s just amazing what goes on in the comments on each and every story in the Post.

But I guess the other question they asked was where people are most likely to use their real identity when leaving comments and 83% of people said that it was on sites that they frequent, where obviously there’s some connection or some feeling that they are a part of the community there.

So I think that where that kind of takes us is that 59% of everyone that was surveyed said that anonymous comments do have some value to them just as much as real names do. People are able to express their opinion and make valid arguments in their comments, even if they are not putting their name behind it. I know that’s certainly been the case I’m sure with you too, Adam, where you can read people’s responses to things. Even if it’s a silly name, you can still see the good, well thought-out argument, an intellectual argument that either supports or refutes something else in the comments or in the post. So it’s really still, I think in many cases, the content you can see through as real content versus someone trying to advertise or promote something else.

So I think that the question here is like, should you or should you not try to manage the comments in your website, and Barry Ritholtz that you mention said that his basically requirements for posting comments has grown from something from one or two paragraphs. I think in the article, it said that it’s up to something like six pages now of just how he has to go through and explain his moderation and what a valid comment is and what a valid comment isn’t.

I think that clearly comments are a great way to get some feedback on the effort that you’re pouring into these posts. Barry Ritholtz has his 30,000 posts out there. Clearly he wants some feedback and to sharpen your thinking, and understand what questions people might have. But I think the real trouble we all have here, Adam, is that you have to wade through 50 horrible comments for every legitimate one. It just is lot of work for not a lot of return.

Yeah, and the psychology behind this is also just fascinating, how people are more likely to be mean or negative to other people when they are anonymous, and that’s just fascinating. I’m not sure why that is, but people just need to do it, needs to be an outlet. But I do think it’s dragging the overall quality of the dialog down. So it is an interesting phenomenon, and the spam, of course, is just out of control. Anyone who has tried to manage a comments section understands without some sort of mechanical protections that there is just no hope.

So that’s our coverage today on the impact of anonymous comments. We’d like to hear your comments on our blog, and we also hope that you’d subscribe and share this video. We’ll see you tomorrow.