Real Names and the State of the Commentariat

(system) #1

In philosophy and other areas of controversy, like politics, we often come to adopt a view on a disputed matter. When this happens, then even if you recognize the reasonableness of contrary views, you can come to really feel that your view is right, to the point that it can feel as if you know that it’s true. And I think that taking such a strong stand on a disputed issue can be good. Those who take a strong stand may most effectively develop and defend their position. I don’t think it would aid philosophy or politics if we all quickly abandoned our positions whenever we hit significant resistance from well-informed opponents. Often, that’s just when things get interesting. – Keith DeRose

You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do. – Anne Lamott

The kingdom is to be in the midst of your enemies. – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

If you want to start a lively conversation within Adventist circles, bring up the comments on the Spectrum website. Who could have imagined when comments were first added to the articles that they could become such a polarizing topic? And the Adventist circle that can really get going on this topic is the Board of Adventist Forum.

There are the idealists who want the comment section to model intellectual conversation at its best with informed participants offering well-thought-out responses to the articles that we post.

But how do you do that, the realists ask? While the tracking numbers show that many, many people read, it is only a few who comment – and the comments can be all over the place. Sometimes they move the conversation forward. But sometimes the commenters go off on a tangent and the conversation seems to bear no relationship to the article at all. And sometimes the comments are pointed and downright mean.

In January, when the Board discussed the current state of affairs, it voted to revamp the commenting system. In an effort to counteract the critical spirit and negativity, the idealists called for a vote to require real names be used by all commenters in the new system. They reasoned that people using their real names would act more like they would if they were meeting someone face to face. No one brought up any technical difficulties to such a requirement.

Work on the new system commenced and was announced last week, along with the news of the Board vote for real names. We immediately heard from our commentariat (isn’t that a great word? That is how our web master refers to the commenters) about the problems created by requiring real names. In well-thought-out articulate responses they argued for being allowed to use pseudonyms. The Board listened.

And now we find ourselves stuck between an ideal and a real place. The Board continues to believe that encouraging people to use their real names will bring sunshine and more civility to the conversations. However, we also have learned from you valid reasons for pseudonyms, and more about the technical challenge that our policy sets up. In discussions this week, the Board reiterated its vote to require commenters on the Spectrum web site to sign in using their real names. However, it was further voted to allow for exceptions to be made for pseudonyms when absolutely necessary. In the Board conversation, it became clear that the necessity for anonymity is a very personal, subjective decision.

Therefore, the decision as to whether to abide by the requirement approved by the Board will be left up to each individual Spectrum commenter. Those commenters who feel that they qualify for an exception are encouraged to sign up with a pseudonym that is not generic, because we believe it is more difficult to remember and relate to "anonymous01" than "Bob Smith." Commenters who write under a pseudonym with civility, respect, empathy, honesty, thoughtfulness, integrity, accountability, and demonstrate the ability to disagree without being disagreeable will have fulfilled the desired outcome of requiring real names, making that requirement unnecessary. Commenters who are simply disagreeable and hide behind their anonymity to attack, misrepresent, denigrate, smear, make thoughtless comments or create an uncivil, hostile, negative, and/or angry commenting environment will be banned, having justified the requirement for commenting under a real name.

So we invite you, encourage you, request that you use your real names when you register to make comments. However, if some of you need to do otherwise we still welcome you to the conversation.

We continue to want the Adventist community to be a big tent where all are welcome. And welcome to their own opinion.

Bonnie Dwyer is the editor of Spectrum.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

(Carrol Grady`) #2

I can understand why people who are church employees and hold views on a certain topic or topics that do not reflect denominational stands, might need to comment under a pseudonym. But it seems to me that the ones using pseudonyms are most often the ones who object to anyone straying from the straight and narrow path marked out by the denomination - so why would they need pseudonyms? To me, it looks very much as if some of them are hiding behind false names so they can attack others with impunity. What are some of the other reasons people feel they can’t use their real names? If the moderator will really ban the disagreeable pseudos, maybe this will work.


I very much appreciate the compromise considered by the ‘webertariat’ in favour of the ‘commentariat’, with a view to getting polite and genuine conversation.

Given that I am among those subject to Carol’s customary gracefulness, I would appeal to colleagues to have the courage to speak in their own name. They get the platform, committee room or classroom to themselves, why now the fear? Protecting people with privilege sits uncomfortably with me.

That we should allow ourselves to become a vindictive community is a disgrace.

I would be concerned if the majority of anonymous conversationalists were employees, such that anonymity almost implies a particular status. (Equally, I accept anonymity around issues, that relate to a persons intimate experience)

If large numbers of employees have reservations or a balance of doubt on a position, it should be apparent. If it is the case that Adventists advocate Vegetariansism, but only 50% of Pastors practise it strictly, for example, then we should be open about it.

I asked an attendee at Annual Council why he did not speak up. The response was to the effect that, one does not spoil the party! This mind set does not serve us well, and leaves us with indecent governance.

On balance, each person will have to speak as they are comfortable, but I still appeal to colleagues to have the courage to speak their truth with grace, and for those who require anonymity to respond and act with grace to those who have the bottle (or stupidity) to be identifiable.

We must be a people of courage. How else can our witness be authentic?

(jeremy) #4

well, being gay could be one reason some people might want to use a pseudonym…or perhaps they’re in an abusive relationship where the abuser could feel threatened by evidence of intelligence on the part of the abusee, and increase the abuse…other people may have no particular reason for anonymity other than a heightened desire for privacy…perhaps they feel freer to get personal and express the way they really feel about things, knowing no-one reading their comments knows who they are…if it’s true people are less likely to be rude using their real name, it is also true they’re less likely to let go of inhibitions they feel is proper in a situation in which they’re known, in which case the content of comments can only suffer…as for banning disagreeable pseudonyms, what’s the point…someone who can invent a first pseudonym can easily invent another…they can even use a second computer or ipad to hide their ip address…

in general, i’m not really convinced pseudonyms are the cause of incivility…after-all, is it the proven case that people using their real names are never dismissive or rude when their opinions are crossed, or their arguments out-witted…i know advindicate went from using positively no pseudonyms to a free use of pseudonyms…this was due to the fact that some people simply wouldn’t comment under their real name…now there are quite a few people with pseudonyms who weren’t there before…but the other obvious problem with restricting pseudonym use to certain situations is the assumption from others that the people using detectable pseudonyms are from these certain situations, in which case the use of the pseudonym may not really be effective…

i tend to think there’s a certain nature-of-the-beast element to online blogging…people get caught up in the spirit of the moment, and lose it - that’s just the way it is…part of blogging is learning how to take things without unraveling…i have certainly seen far worse sarcasm, venom, and even profanity and personal, physical threats on many non-adventist sites that i used to comment on years ago than i have ever seen on spectrum…perhaps we’re all just getting worked up over nothing…


I agree that Pseudonyms or identifiable names are not to the primary determinant of civility.

For me. the creation of Trust and Transparency is an objective in itself, not just for the well being of our community, but society at large.

Maybe we need a convention, that I largely follow.

I discount, even ignore those who attack from the safety of a Pseudonym.

I refrain from engaging with those whose only campaign objective is to put the rest straight.

People whose goal it is to be anti-social, get frozen out.

I am more comfortable with independents being anonymous.

Today there was an ordination service, where one of the themes was for for Ministers to have the courage to speak the truth, regardless.

The hymns were: Now to heaven our prayers ascending, God Speed the right… and God is with us… A mighty fortress… all bearing militant sentiments along the lines of courageous speech.

We are talking about people, who feel empowered with a microphone to express their views with incredible certainty, sometimes over intolerable decibels, they invite the whole town to listen to them, they will cross continents to express themselves, yet squeal for self preserving anonymity when presented with a ‘pen and a blank sheet of paper’ and an alternate view.

In our conversation we do have to take into account who we are speaking to. Surely conversation is better when we understand people’s experience, context and circumstance.

Far more important than fretting over the nuances of esoteric belief, ridding ourselves of tyrannical practices somehow needs to creep up the list.

One of my summer reads was a book called ‘The art of conversation’. Beyond recognising my own weak spots, it occurred to me, that many of us are actually poor at this skill, and we would do better for its development.

(Shining) #6

i use a pseudonym tho i do not work for the church, I have always tried to be kind and constructive. I am here to exchange ideas not names. Sorry that this is so distressing to you.all. Victor, I would go one step beyond your ignoring those who attack from the safety of a pseudonym. I ignore those who attack, period. :smile:

(Tongkam) #7

Here’s a vote for letting the users remain anonymous. If I am not allowed to remain anonymous, I will not be able to participate here. My IP address and the fact that it is not a proxy should tell the story well enough. For readers who see that as too cryptic to catch on, get out a globe and study the 10/40 window for a few minutes…I think you’ll soon understand.

Thank you for allowing me to remain a member of the commenting community here!

(Interested Friend) #8

Ah yes – the big tent. However, is that metaphor applicable to the SDA church? Maybe this will clarify it a bit:

I found your comments to the commentariat interesting, Bonnie.
In The Grip of Truth

(Rohan Charlton) #9

So why not use your real name IF?

(Sirje) #10

“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

Those of us who have been here for a while would recognize who we’re talking to - eventually; but that’s not the point, is it. We’re here to share thoughts on issues that purportedly are important to our faith journey, individually and corporately. Why anyone needs to remain anonymous is obvious - they need to hide their thought from anyone who has set themselves up as the thought police. It would be refreshing to learn that we are able to disagree with the establishment and still retain our jobs, but that’s not reality.

A more important need to hide true identity might be to shield people in our lives from disillusionment. A sainted grandmother might be deeply hurt to learn that her favorite grandson thinks the universe is more than 6000 year old. :frowning:

Ultimately we’re here to share thoughts on issues no matter who we’re talking with. It would help to know more about the recipient of our angst or praise, but in this venue it shouldn’t matter.


As a commentarian, and in the spirit of reluctant_member, and construe_dat, my previous incarnations, I will strive to adhere to the new posting guidelines.


I think the issue does start from the way Spectrum selects its authors as well. I’m thinking about a recent article which expressed gratuitous and sweeping judgements on the ‘triumvirate’ Andrews-ATS-BRI/GRI and the assumed role of this ghost entity in the recent Creation conference in Utah. Insulting an entire institution as if it was entirely corrupted and to the service of president Wilson, or any single member of ATS (which is a diverse body of people, some certainly not happy about the course taken by this leadership), or any other groups is just unjustifiable and prejudicial. Still, it has been published. How it has been the allegation that the people chosen to speak were there because of familism (no further explanation added). I’m really not involved in any of these groups, but I would say that if Spectrum wants more balance, it should start being attentive to the tones used in its articles. I can quote more examples. If the author of an article wants to denounce a problem then he should try to be specific and nuanced, and not throw hundreds of people in the same basket. As for the use of pseudonyms, the current climate does not allow for much else, unless of course you want to lose your job or you are well protected by your board of trustees - sadly.

(George Tichy) #13

This is good. It sounds like a big vote of confidence, expecting people to act responsibly. Another demonstration of Spectrum’s stand for freedom.

(Beth Again) #14

Thank you Bonnie and Spectrum staff for listening and thoughtfully considering our feedback. I like this compromise and will do my best to make the moderator’s job an easy one!

(George Tichy) #15

Shouldn’t it be “WebEdtariat?”… :slight_smile:

Also, since you are encouraging disclosure of everyone’s name as much as possible, I understand that you have some limitations yourself and that’s why you are not using your name, right (II mean, full name). Are you a Church employee?

(George Davidovich) #16

In principle it would be nice if everyone could use real names, although we are not here to exchange names but ideas, as someone here said, it is ideal to know we are exchanging opinions and beliefs that are important to us with someone who is willing to take an equal risk on personal vulnerability, such as being harshly criticized or unfairly ridiculed, target of sarcastic remarks, Etc, Etc. - this is the general basis for any and all human communication.
I do see the real need for some to remain anonymous given the global nature of cultural/religious issues of the world we live in, and as much as I feel this situation represents e a minority of the participants at Spectrum, I would not want to be the anonymity police, real or perceived.
So that leaves us with an open identity forum as before, we can deal with it - the question that remains and it is more important is how Spectrum will implement civility controls in an “objective” manner given the impossibility of this task. Without going as far as proposing a solution I would hope that the process you choose includes the community of participants.

(George Tichy) #17

The only way to avoid incivility is to always remind ourselves that we are here to discuss IDEAS and not those people who speak out their ideas.

I had a teacher in college who used to say it well,

“Wise people talk about ideas and principles.
Common people talk about objects and material goods.
Mediocre people speak about people.”

(George Tichy) #18

Great! I hope you feel better being part of the “Commentariat” using your real name.
Just be careful with the WebEdtariat… They are all around sniffing every post… :slight_smile:

(Sniff. - webEd)

(George Davidovich) #19

Sherlock - Great idea! - I did not read the specific article you are referring to (past the first 4 or 5 paragraphs for the very reasons you desribe) but having read others, such as one titled “Hollowmas” in October of last year, I could not agree more with you. Yes, the publication of some articles (tone and agenda) is where Spectrum can most clearly demonstrate their commitment to stated goals.


Hi George

I thought Webetariat slightly better than blogatariat, since the Secretariat insist on labels. :slight_smile:

When I introduce myself as a person, I use my first name, in the office that’s all I use, no title, no surname. Most people in this part of the world know me by that name. My surname adds little to those who don’t know me anyhow.

For years, since the blogs earliest days I have made it known that I am an officer of the church, with a view to offering a balancing perspective. I try not to disclose privileged information, speaking rather to ideas.

When I left college many years ago, some of my close friends who live not far from you, said in youth parlance when they learned I was going to work for the church: "Pilmoor the 'bu**ers will get you. " to which I responded, forget it, they will get more than they bargained for. Those of us who grew up under the cosh of Calvinism have to stand up to crazy authoritarianism, it should not be perpetuated. I refuse to be intimidated.

To be honest, my experience is that people prefer those who say what they mean, wysiwyg types.