It’s come to my attention recently that I’ve never actually written a comments policy, or stated what my privacy policy is on this blog. Even though very few people visit this tiny part of the internet, it may surprise both of you to discover that I have actually had to enact an element of my privacy policy before, and this makes me think that I probably ought to specify what it is for those of you who comment here. So here’s my privacy policy in (more than) three easy dot points:

  1. I don’t demand real names or identification of any kind, though you’re welcome to use your real name and of course I encourage interesting screen names. Furthermore, I don’t demand that you provide a valid email address (one of my friends posts here with a pathetically obvious fake email address, that he should be ashamed of)
  2. I will never reveal your identity publicly on the blog or privately, and no matter how much I disagree with your loathsome political views (let’s face it, you’re all worms) I won’t be cashing them in to your boss/wife/mistress/dog, because that kind of behavior is complete shit. If some neo-nazi gobshite turns up on my blog and gives the email address “[insert obviously real name]@metropolitanpolice.gov.uk”, that gobshite can rest assured that I won’t be telling the cops that they’re a nazi gobshite (though admittedly, giving that email address would be profoundly stupid – but if you weren’t profoundly stupid, you wouldn’t be a neo-nazi gobshite, would you?]
  3. I’m a curious and kind of voyeuristic guy, so I might do a whois inquiry or google you or something, but I won’t reveal that information to others on the blog or privately. Furthermore, I discourage commenters from referring to people using details that haven’t been revealed online. If you know that commenter neonazigobshite is a woman because you shagged her at the last End Apathy! gig (you poor bastard!), that doesn’t mean you should reveal her gender here if she is trying to keep it ambiguous (some chicks do that). I’m also not going to get pissed with anyone for obvious stuff-ups in this regard (let’s face it, you guys are pretty stupid)
  4. I see search terms that link to my blog, and if I find that someone is trying to identify you on google, or they have your identity and are trying to find out something about e.g. your political opinions or your online activity, I will do my best to tell you (I did this for someone once before)
  5. If you are looking for a job/partner/friend/drinking buddy and you are worried about them googling you and finding out that you wrote something stupid on my blog (because, let’s face it, you did), then contact me and I will do my best to delete it and/or everything you ever wrote (your choice). I’m pretty lazy, though, so if you wrote a lot your chances of scoring a clean record are pretty low, plus there’s the wayback machine (but anyone who is small-minded enough to google you is probably not clued up to that stuff). Also note in this regard that if I discover someone hunting you out on google and I’m worried that what you’ve said here might endanger your job chances, I may unilaterally delete you from the internet. You can thank me later!
  6. None of these considerations apply if you reveal that you have committed serious crimes, especially involving children. I’m not a priest!

Of course, a lot of this stuff is irrelevant because if you say anything really horrible I’ll just apply my comments policy, which is essentially: you’re free to say whatever you like, but I’m going to delete anything really nasty. I think if you review the comment threads on my Tolkien and Nazism or Tolkien and Fascism stuff you’ll see I’m pretty relaxed in my definition of “nasty.” I’ve never deleted a comment here before, but I’m sure one day I’ll have to.

I think it should be fairly obvious that this comments policy means I’m in favour of internet anonymity. I’m aware that this anonymity encourages rudeness but I have also seen a few situations where people online got into a lot of real life trouble – including losing jobs – because of the shitty behavior of other commenters and/or blog owners, and I don’t think that encourages decent debate (plus it’s really not very nice is it?). I don’t hide my identity, but I don’t flaunt it either, and that’s because I like to use this blog for exploratory or speculative thinking about topics related to my work, that I can’t do at work. I don’t want people thinking that what I say here represents either my fully-formed professional ideas (which are generally quite conservative) or my employer’s opinion of the same topics, and I also don’t want to make any claims to authority in what I present here. I think it’s better if people view me in terms of my nickname and treat my comments here with all the seriousness the nickname deserves (i.e. none). Also, a lot of what I talk about here blends sci-fi and politics and real life, and it’s easy for people googling someone to confuse that kind of speculative thinking with real opinions. I don’t want that to happen to me or you, so I’m happy to preserve your anonymity.

I know a lot of people on the internet think that anonymity is not one of its better qualities, but I disagree. I think debate can be enhanced by genuine anonymity, because people can say what they think without fear of work/loved ones/dogs discovering that they’re secretly an idiot. In general it hasn’t degraded the quality of debate here, there’s very little rudeness here and everything seems to be working out, but I certainly think that some of my commenters would be less inclined to, shall we say, engage in robust disagreement with me (you wankers) if they had to put their real names on the comments. So I’m going to preserve your anonymity. Although if the CIA come calling I’ll sell you down the river in a second – no one’s waterboarding me!

Oh, and on that note, I’m sure there are hundreds of people out there with great things to contribute who’ve been scared to on account of not knowing my privacy policy. So please, lurkers, delurk now! You are guaranteed anonymity! But not freedom from ridicule…

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