Friday, June 5, 2009

Blogging: Legal and other problems of ‘anonymous’ comments

This is in continuation to my earlier post, Bloggers, beware of legal implications.

Every blogger normally welcomes comments on what he writes. These comments are something more personal than letters to the Editor in the print media. Blog comments generate active interaction between the writer and the reader. Sometimes there is severe criticism of what is written; if objective, they should be appreciated. Occasionally mistakes are pointed out. For that too one has to be grateful. Most of the comments are of an appreciative nature.

Vast majority of the commenters prefer to use an identity. That is how it should be. Sometimes, however, there are valid reasons to assume anonymity – for instance, a government servant commenting on a controversial subject.

Anonymous comments could also be from a person trying to be helpful but prefers to remain unknown. One of the sweetest moments in my blogging life was when an anonymous commenter saved me from a faux pas. While writing about a VVIP, I wrongly gave his father’s name instead of his. Shortly after the piece was published I received an alert from the anonymous benefactor and the mistake was rectified.

On the other hand there are people who consider that anonymity grants them the license to state any rubbish that they want. Sometimes this happens when a person gets emotionally upset over views that are contrary to his own. In such cases the reader shifts gear from objectivity to subjectivity. I had this experience on my posts about the Sr. Abhaya Case.

The worst type of commenters are the ones who are just being cantankerous, speak without any basis, assume an air of infallibility, and take long paragraphs to state what could be said in a few sentences. They forget that a good comment should be succinct and rational.

I attracted such an anonymous character with my post J.J. Murphy: An Irish Jewel on the South Indian High Ranges. I was writing about a man who was a family friend and about whom I have done extensive research; it is an ongoing project.

Enter Mr. Anonymous (according to the information that I have, a retired teacher from S. India who now lives in London). For some reason, he wants to establish, without an iota of evidence, that the Murphy family might have escaped to Scotland during the Potato Famine in mid 19c. They were very much in Dublin at that time.

That I responded to those comments was my mistake. But there is a legal angle to it. The descendants of Mr. Murphy (some of them are in touch with me) could claim that I allowed the commenter to use my blog to discredit the family. I hope they don’t take this as a prompt.

Recently, an Anonymous (the same one I assume; I did not check the IP code) had the temerity to ask for third party information!

I have these suggestions to bloggers who receive ‘Anonymous’ comments:

1. Reject the comment straight away if it seems suspicious

2. Note down the IP number of the commenter.

Related posts:

How I write Blog posts

Blogday thoughts


Maddy said...

good post. I had a couple of cases like that where a know all mr anonymous started to become abusive when he saw his 'rubbish' comments were not appearing.

BTW you can delete the comments that had previously been approved, as well. you can see the trash can next to the comment after you sign in..

meerasworld said...

I agree 100% with youn on this matter. I wish every blogger should use the comment moderation facility to avoid unwanted comments.
After all we write what we feels like writing and what we want to write.I remember reading the comments on Sister Abhaya on your blog.

kallu said...

A very relevant post. I found the links very interesting.:-)
That you approach your blogs in such a disciplined manner is amazing and something we could follow.
Your daughter is really beautiful. And your blog posts charming.

Kariyachan said...

Even I had a bad experience from a 'clever' individual who posted some baseless allegations about myself and my startup concern on a blog.
He even left some comments under a pseudo-name on my blog.

Lucklily I was able to trace the person's IP to Andhra Pradesh, and now am pursuing their identity legally.


I too had experiences of unpleasant and rude comments on some of my blog posts. Mostly they were from someone who had some violent feelings on some topics I had written about. And did sound as though he had it in for me - including something about uninteresting old ladies! :). Fair enough, I left them in - they were his opinions. But once the comments crossed the bounds, I did delete them.

You have done a neat representation of facts, problems and solutions in a very detached manner which will help us to deal with this unpleasantness.

Abraham Tharakan said...

Maddy, Meera, Kallu, Kariyachan, Raji,
Thank you very much.