Who Are You People?

By Dan Bertolet May 13, 2010

This post, originally published yesterday morning, has been updated with a letter from the anonymous commenter who believes he started this whole thing.

I'm kind of a dimwit. So perhaps someone can help me out here. I want to know why there are so many anonymous commenters on PubliCola.

Granted, a handful of you probably have legitimate reasons for not revealing your identities. In some cases something may need to be said that is just too sensitive for people in certain positions. Understood.

But as for the rest of you, what gives? Most of you are well-informed, witty, and prolific writers who appear to care a lot about the issues. Why are you hiding?

You know who you are: Mr. Baker, Giffy, morning fizzy, sarah68, soapboxin, gloomy gus, Good Grief, Sparky, Barleywine, Trevor, MudBaby, kirisu, gomez, Seriously?, Edog, Zander, Nemo, Jesse, Greenwood Progressive, West Seattle Waiter, Mr. X, ivan, Selma, Excuse Me?, Mr. Mike, hmmm, tikka, fattailed, Wells, and all the rest.

Good people, if you have opinions that you strongly believe in, ideas that are worth articulating, why are you afraid to put your real name to them?

Some of you anonymous commenters have been out for years littering the local blogosphere with your thoughts, and we still have no idea who you are. It's really kind of whacked.

So why do I care, you ask? Because anonymity debases the dialogue. Because, as Mark Morford put it,

"Anonymity tends to bring out the absolute worst in people, the meanest and nastiest and least considerate. Something about not having to reveal who you really are caters to the basest, most unkind instincts of the human animal. Go figure."

For example, it's kind of hilarious to be accused of having no credibility by a person not even willing to reveal his or her true identity.

PubliCola totally appreciates the energy that commenters bring to the site, and we are grateful that our comment threads are relatively smart and civilized as opposed to, for example, the pits of despair you tend to find at Slog or The Seattle Times. And we absolutely love it when high profile public figures like Deb Eddy and Ross Hunter have the guts to comment using their real names.

Imagine how cool it would be if PubliCola broke the mold and became known as the place where real, identifiable people have meaningful discussions about issues that matter. The caliber of debate would be tremendously elevated, and that would make it all so much more worthwhile, so much more likely to lead to real progress.

Even those of you who think you have valid reasons for remaining anonymous, I would challenge you to push yourselves. Is there a way you can wordsmith what you're saying to the point where you'd be comfortable using your real name? Are you really contributing, and is it really worth it if you're not even willing to associate yourself with what's being said? Life's too short, is it not?

Of course neither PubliCola nor any other media site is going to lift a finger to stop anonymous commenting any time soon. Because the more the comment chatter---no matter how inane it may be---the more the page hits, and the more the page hits, the more the ad revenue.

In the original draft of this post I thought it would be fun to provoke all you anonymous commenters by calling you out as "punk-ass bitches" for being anonymous. That idea was wisely vetoed by my editors. We'd prefer to hope most of you need no such provocation to share your thoughtful anonymous comments about anonymous commenting.

UPDATE: Via email:
Mr. Bertolet,

I am responding to your recent blog entry on PubliCola entitled "Who are You People?" I enjoy Publicola and read it frequently, but I have only rarely responded to a blog entry.  I did, however, respond as a "guest" to your review of new Ballard buildings entitled "Oh Ballard, I'm so Sorry".  I fear that response may have been a trigger for your "Who are You People?"  I am "marc".

To be honest, I felt an anonymous response was justified because of the caliber of your report.

I admit I have vastly fewer qualifications as architecture critic than you, but I was rightly suspicious of your experience and motives when your very first sentence in a review of architecture north of the ship canal was  "it takes a lot to get me north of the ship canal".

Although not explicitly stated,  it was clearly understood that you do not venture north of the ship canal because there is little of interest to you there, and not because you have physical limitations or lack transportation. That is not exactly an unbiased objective observer's opinion of life north of the ship canal, and almost certainly should disqualify one as a critic of architecture in that area .

Can you imagine, for instance, Ada Louise Huxtable beginning a review with "it takes a lot to get me to Brooklyn"?   It is an expression of superiority and smugness and has no place in a review of architecture.  It sends a very strong message of reviewer bias in the very first sentence of his review.  And it demonstrates that the reviewer is parochial in his view of the city.  I  believe an architecture critic needs to go everywhere in the city, and not just to the areas where he feels most comfortable.

I was also troubled by your generally positive remarks about Leva, the building constructed by your own firm.  I don't think principals in an architectural firm should review their own work, either in print publications or online media outlets such as PubliCola that strive for legitimacy.  And yes, you admitted you could be accused of "shilling," but I think a more honest admission would have been that you had a clear conflict of interest in reviewing Leva, and you should not have included the positive remarks about it.  Instead, you should have cited the creative use of color on a building not designed by your firm in order to keep your credibility as an unbiased critic in this blog entry.

Clearly your review was in need of a strict editor.  And until PubliCola professionally edits all of its entries and the quality and integrity of those entries is of the highest caliber uniformly, I feel others are justified in responding anonymously to those entries as guests.

I do apologize for implying you suffered from agoraphobia.  Please forgive me for that lapse in judgment. It had no place in my response, and it should have been deleted.   I guess we are both in need of a good editor.

My name is Mark Cullen
I am a physician
I am 52 years old
I live not far from your office in downtown Seattle
I am gay
I have a partner of 12 years
I have 2 adopted mutts
I am no longer "anonymous" to you
You may publish this on PubliCola with my name attached if you wish, so I will no longer be anonymous to those who read my response
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