Anonymity, Pseudonymity, and a Reasonable Expectation of Privacy

Since the outing of one of reddit’s most notorious trolls last week, the internet has been buzzing with issues of anonymity, pseudonymity, and privacy. Joe Scalzi’s discussion of the larger issues of privacy is the best I’ve seen, so rather than rehash, I’ll just point you there. What I would like to do, is take a moment to review Southern Fried Science’s policy as it applies to our own community. We welcome both anonymous and pseudonymous commenters, and, of course, we post under pseudonyms (granted, our real identities are literally one click away). Our pseudonyms are a matter of convenience, consistency, and tradition, but we recognize that our commenters may have other reasons to use a pseudonym, including, but by no means limited to, protecting themselves from physical, social, and emotional harm as a result of voicing their opinions. Southern Fried Science strives to create a safe space for people to discuss science, politics, conservation, and any of a thousand issues related to our oceans, our planet, and our future.

As a commenter, you have a reasonable expectation of privacy while participating in this community. We will not reveal personal, identifiable information about any of our commenters provided you remain within the guidelines set out in our comments policy. Trolling, offensive, and mendacious comments will simply disappear from the site, if they make it through the moderation queue at all.  In instances where it does become necessary to link a commenter with information that is not provided on this site, we do so in such a way as to minimize the amount of personally identifiable information, while still making the relevant case. For example:

Last year, David wrote a post on turtle excluder devices. In the comments section, a commenter using the handle “CajunGuy” argued against TED’s in an increasingly hostile tone. Though he claimed to be a shrimp fisherman, his comments were wildly out of step with conversations the three of us had had with other in his claimed occupation. After numerous, increasingly curious comments, I decided to check his IP address and some other information, and discovered that, rather than being in a Louisiana fishing community as he claimed, he was a PR flack from ConocoPhillips. As my goal was not to personally out any individual, but rather alert the community to the fact that this commenter was being wildly disingenuous, I simply posted…

Curiously, it seems as though, instead of being in Louisiana, he’s writing to us from just outside the DC Beltway. Not terribly incriminating on it’s own, as perhaps he just got sick of the bayou. What’s more interesting is that he’s coming to us live from the ConocoPhillips web servers. If you’re going to shill for an oil and natural gas company, at least have the decency to mask your domain.


..and closed the thread. Note that, while I did present a reasonable amount of information indicating who CajunGuy isn’t, I presented nothing that would allow you to find out who he is.

I use this example as I hope that it illustrates what I mean by “reasonable expectation of privacy”. As long as you behave by our modest community guidelines, your personally identifiable information is safe at Southern Fried Science. Only in the most extreme cases, and the one above is the only example I have from recent memory, will the absolute minimum amount of information necessary  to make a case be revealed.

We want commenters to feel safe voicing their opinions at Southern Fried Science. This does not mean that your comments will be free from criticism–we encourage lively, sometimes heated, discussion–but that criticism should fall on the content of the comments and not on the individual.