Commenters: “Ungovernable as the tribal lands of Pakistan”

On Slugger, we’re currently in the process of packing down a tight set of rules which we hope to share with other political blogs who are keen on promoting civil engagement between their commenters. Top of the list of things we hope to capture is a clearer understanding of the difference between a breach of the rules of civility and and a set of politics you (ie, a complainant) simply don’t like, as Neil Swidey notes in a feature piece for the Boston Globe’s magazine, when he spoke to the head moderator at the paper’s website, Boston.com:

The crimson message at the top of his computer screen keeps a running total of the abuse reports that are awaiting action. Some complaints don’t ultimately turn up abuse – coarse language, ad hominem attacks, and the like – but rather just a political stance that the person doing the complaining doesn’t care for. So a mod needs to evaluate each complaint and decide either to remove the comment or let it stand.

He then goes on to document how certain stories press particular hot buttons of the readers and what starts as being informative quickly dives into bouts of mutual abuse, facilitated he argues by an apparent guarantee of anonymity:

Anonymous commentary is a push and pull between privacy and trust, and the implications extend beyond news sites to include Web reviews for everything from books to technology to hotel rooms. Online postings can sway political opinion and heavily influence whether products or businesses thrive or fail. They can make or break reputations and livelihoods. On one side, anonymous comments give users the freedom to be completely candid in a public forum. On the other, that freedom can be abused and manipulated to spread lies or mask hidden agendas. With all that in the balance, the thinking goes, shouldn’t we know who’s saying these things?

The kicker is the sliding ‘signal to noise ratio’, and the predominance of not just of barfly conversations, but the kind of premeditated ‘talking about’ fair gaming aimed (whether casually or systematically) at destroying the kind of genuine engagement between strangers the Internet has excelled at.

The value is still there but, he argues, labouring under the muggy weather of the demagogically simplified mob:

I’ve always loved finding the hidden gems in online comments – the surprising slice of data that makes me question one of my political assumptions, the pithy one-liner that makes me laugh out loud. But those gems seem increasingly rare amid all the yelling and hollow rage and predictable talking points [emphasis added].

So he went out to speak directly to some of those few heavy users (commonly not more than 1% of the regular readers of any given website) that contribute most of the comments. Many were happy to talk, some even happy to be named. The ones who weren’t were the:

…the screamers, troublemakers, and trolls (Internet slang for people behind inflammatory posts). Not a single one. The loudest, most aggressive voices grew mum when asked to explain themselves, to engage in an actual discussion. The trolls appear to prize their anonymity more than anyone else.

So back to anonymity. Howard Owens, publisher of The Batavian is agin it:

“My competitor allows anonymous comments,” he says. “We don’t. We get 10 times what they get. My users are more willing to engage in conversation, because they know who they are arguing with.”

Well, maybe. In truth, the digital age has seen ordinary folk willingly surrender to websites the kind of data sets that already makes them very readily identifiable. Perhaps, as Swidey concludes, “the best approach to getting people to behave better online is just reminding them how easy it is to figure out who they really are.”

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  • Brian O’Neill

    ‘keen on promoting civil engagement between their commenters’

    Hmmm correct me if i am wrong Mick, but are most commentators on slugger not 95% male and 90% embittered hacks?

    Not exactly a cross section of society.

    Generally I find slugger posts well written but the comments do tend to be very aggressive and gladiatorial.

    I know you are keen to broaden the scope of writers for slugger but I have friends who considered it but are put off by the hostile comments most posts attract.

    It’s a thin line between freedom of speech and abuse, not sure how you would improve things.

    Personally I am getting more despondent about the future of NI. There is massive negatively and hostility out there.

    Sure wrong doing needs to be highlighted, we have massive incompetence and waste in our society but it seems anyone who tries to do anything positive or constructive seems to get peed on from a great height.

    It does seem to be that the motto of NI is whatever you do, do nothing.

    What about a series of posts which ask for positive ideas on to improve things in NI? Or is our default state that change is bad and we should be suspicious of any ideas anyone ever suggests?

  • Oracle

    Mick I have visions of you and mod-mob deep in a coal bunker at McGregor’s gaff reading your electronic drones (McGregor does like to drone) to eliminate the internet warriors in the tribal regions of Slugger.
    Should we expect a pre-emptive strike anytime soon?

  • Henry94

    Online postings can sway political opinion and heavily influence whether products or businesses thrive or fail.

    I’d agree about products or businesses but not so sure about political opinion. I would definitely be influenced by comments section reviews for products. I trust them more than professional reviewers.

    But people coming to political blogs are usually coming with opinions already formed.

  • Peter Fyfe

    Does identifying themselves make them hold less extreme views or just not show their true colours? In northern Ireland many people express sentiments at home or with friends that you would not express in public. “work is not the place to talk of that stuff”

    I would assume anybody who uses their own name on here does so in the knowledge it could constantly be quoted in future disagreements or possibly potential employers could see it some time. It is not unsuprising therefore that non anonymous commenters provide in general a more rational and examined opinion. I don’t include include myself in either categorize here, it is just a general observance of other posters. So is it a question of who or what you are arguing? I would go with the latter.

    From this I would say those who use their own name tend to be more centre ground as they will possibly have to defend their views or reconcile them with somebody of a differing opinion in real life instead of the internet. It is easier to have a debate where you agree on some aspects as it providing a better base for an argument on the differing interpretations from commonly held views. Its not saying the IRA were at fault or the Brits were at fault, most who comment in there own name will recognise that serious wrongs were committed on each side I would guess and don’t play as much of the whataboutery game. They always are the most tiresome arguments. I try to engage with some to highlight there are always two sides no matter what the issue is, but that probably doesn’t come across to many. I never reply twice to them. Though I hope i’m not quoted doing so, lol. I hold pretty moderate views but I do hold views that I will argue. I have been in many places at my age where these debates are not welcome. Believe it or not many young nationalists don’t like hearing you challenging the Shinner version of events or just don’t care. Like wise in a previous job when I said it was not fair when three quarters of the staff stopped for a loyalist parade I was told to wise up even though that stoppage held all the workforce that night up. This wasn’t a formal complaint I made, just a remark when they made a remark about still being there. In all honesty that is half the reason I am on here is that you do get some rational debate about the subjects and a reasonable unionist response. I find their insights invaluable and they would certainly not be here if the comments were not policed to a degree, either I suspect would many other moderate voices. This site though is not anonymous and we all know there are many posters who can not be identified but still put forward great arguments in favour of what they think.

    In short I would say non-anonymity works well but a well policed comments sections is equally sufficient when trying to encourage some reasoned debate.

  • Peter Fyfe

    clicked on a few wrong words on the firefox spell-checker, it doesn’t recognise the name firefox, I am sure you can work out which words they are.

  • Peter Fyfe

    Very valid point as witnessed in the last elections but we are all pretty entrenched in our politics here. Maybe more so than many other places.

  • stewart1

    I doubt that 0.00001% of bloggers or readers on slugger are influenced in any real way by the topics discussed here.

    I think that the majority of those starting topics are so heavily involved in trying to push their own aganda that it simply stifles the possibility of any meaningful comment. (although i accept that there has been some improvement with some of the guest bloggers making a positive impact ).

    I don’t think bloggers or political blogs here have anything near the big influence that they think they have.

  • Cormac Mac Art

    Same here. Whatever other posters think, I am here to put my own views across AND to learn from those of others. Part of me likes to play Devil’s Advocate but only because I think points I put across are ones worth discussing.

    However, the difficulty arises when your posts are read in a manner different from that which you intended. This is a consequence of communication in a faceless enviornment, and usually results in a tiresome amount of sniping I find it all to easy to indulge.

    The reverse is also true. I’ve become hot and bothered about posts because I’ve read them according to my perceptions (predjuices), instead of the posters point of view.

    So, true discussion here is difficult, even among posters you find occupy at least some of your own ground. But I go on anyway, because there are people out there who make me think, and because there are people out there whom I want to think.

  • Granni Trixie

    I know I have made this point before but it seems appropriate to make it again: anonimity in the context of NI is essential to give freedom to comment without being boxed in by identification with a perceived cultural/religious or community background.

    Besides,its such fun eg when someone says of GT (as has been said here) “its good to hear the views of a moderate Protestant”.

  • Cormac Mac Art

    I agree. Mind you, I have been sincerely asking ever since I first came here for reasons to support a UI, and I can’t remember anyone replying in kind.

  • Alias

    The US Supreme Court has held that the First Amendment gives substantial protection to annonymous free speech, so the US sites are on a loser if they think they can force users to forego their right to privacy on any scale without the US Supreme Court putting manners on them in due course.

    The EU, of course, has no respect for the privacy of its citizens so it may well force an end to annonymous free speech in due course. How many folks in NI know that the UK police can as of January 2009 access their computer from a remote location without a warrant and that every other police force in the EU can also directly access their computer under the same EU law?

  • HeinzGuderian

    Ungovernable as the tribal lands of West Belfast,you say ?? Hmmmmm………..interesting. Very interesting 🙂

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Well indeed Granni Trixie. I have been identified as a well known Belfast journalist with SDLP connexions by two different people.
    Youre right. A screen name like Easter 1916 or CarsonWasRight (hopefully Ive made them up) inevitably antagonises the other side.
    I can understand that a person in private sector employment being reluctant to being identified with a political opinion. Likewise a business man ……a newsagent or chemist in a small town may be unwilling to raise his head above the political parapet…customers might be unforgiving.
    And of course the public sector has certain protocols about being overtly identified with a political view. Not to mention teachers.
    A simple way round the Anonymous/Known dilemna might be neutral but consistent screen names……0001 0002 etc.
    Means every post would be more likely to stand on its own without baggage.
    Im not sure why Slugger is actually doing so much soul searching over the past few months.
    Its not broke so why fix it.
    Its a historical fact that all progress is at first celebrated as a new freedom…then reigned in.
    Thus Freedom of Speech begets Censorship.
    Im not of course convinced by the Brave New World of the Internet & Blogging but if its to be celebrated then the logical extension of that belief is that it should be unhindered.
    The setting up of guidelines could be too easily interpretated as a form of censorship.

  • joeCanuck

    Got to be careful not to create a hierarchy of commenters.

  • Scamallach

    Is this true?? Not that, ahem, I have, you know, anything to hide…….but this seems like the law of a fascist state?!

  • Alias

    It certainly is true, and it certainly is a mark of a totalitarian state:

    THE Home Office has quietly adopted a new plan to allow police across Britain routinely to hack into people’s personal computers without a warrant.

    The move, which follows a decision by the European Union’s council of ministers in Brussels, has angered civil liberties groups and opposition MPs. They described it as a sinister extension of the surveillance state which drives “a coach and horses” through privacy laws.

    The hacking is known as “remote searching”. It allows police or MI5 officers who may be hundreds of miles away to examine covertly the hard drive of someone’s PC at his home, office or hotel room.

    Material gathered in this way includes the content of all e-mails, web-browsing habits and instant messaging.

    Under the Brussels edict, police across the EU have been given the green light to expand the implementation of a rarely used power involving warrantless intrusive surveillance of private property. The strategy will allow French, German and other EU forces to ask British officers to hack into someone’s UK computer and pass over any material gleaned.

    A remote search can be granted if a senior officer says he “believes” that it is “proportionate” and necessary to prevent or detect serious crime — defined as any offence attracting a jail sentence of more than three years.

    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/politics/article5439604.ece

  • Nice informative post, Mick, which advises all that there are no secrets and no right to expect secrecy either in a age where Non State Actors and Total Information Awareness together can dictate the Future and All Major Course Events with Media manipulating the Masses sublimely with their reporting/Mind Control.

    I don’t think bloggers or political blogs here have anything near the big influence that they think they have.” …… stewart1 says:
    24 June 2010 at 10:10 pm

    If they have something more intelligent and influential to say, they can easily be a catalyst or trigger and direct cause of major and catastrophic events. It would be a fundamental mistake to misunderestimate what a few simple carefully chosen words shared world wide, for that is what is available today, can do.

    Which is why there is always the pushing and pumping and pimping of the fact, which might be nowhere near the truth, that all Web Networking activity on Internets is monitored by Spooky Puppets and Muppets who would probably have no idea about what or who they are confronting.

    Indeed, the real fact may be, that such watchers are mentored and groomed to react to Master Pilot Great Game Plays which are fed into the Media Machine remotely from an Intelligent Information Space, which one cannot ignore because it shares pertinent and/or impertinent truths which cannot be denied. Then is the System truly hacked and under foreign and alien control.

    And one might then warrant the attention of Home Office snoopers [See Alias says: 25 June 2010 at 4:39 am] who will be well down the crack program coders’ list of interested and interesting powerful clients with player distribution control of obscene wealth, and who may not even register as either competition or opposition, worthy of mentored grooming/remote education/sucking dry.

    And having mentioned Mind Control and Media manipulating the Masses, does Northern Ireland have a CyberIntelAIgent Security Office to deal with Virtual Attacks and Cyber Vulnerabilities which so easily render Dodgy and Inept Administrations floored and needing specialist help?

  • Can I make a plea for shorter simpler posts. This in itself will encourage discusion and raise the quality. In for a penny, in for a pound. Having said the above I may as well start at the top. This is the opening piece

    Anonymity

    Here at Slugger we are constructing some rules on civility for use by political blogs. In particular we want to differentiate between incivility and hostility to a political standpoint. We also recognise that some topics generate more heat than light and this retreat from rational debate is often aided by allowing anonymous contributions. It is this anonymity which Neil Swidey discusses in a piece for the Boston Globe magazine. [hyperlink]

    In sum anonymity allows some people to be more candid. It can also be exploited and range from individuals personally abusing others to interested parties shaping an entire online discussion and debate. Therefore should we not know who or what are saying these things? Limited research among some anonymous heavy users of sites reveals that while only some are happy to lose their anonymity most are happy to discuss it, but that trolls prize their anonymity and are not even willing to discuss it.

    Another commentator Howard Owens, publisher of The Batavian [Hyperlink] argues on the basis of evidence from his own site, a ten fold increase, that outlawing anonymity increases engagement.

    In conclusion in the digital age we are all potentially identifiable as data privacy is not guaranteed. Perhaps, as Swidey concludes, “the best approach to getting people to behave better online is just reminding them how easy it is to figure out who they really are.”

  • andnowwhat

    Yeah Heinz, those south Belfasters that broke in to homes and slapped a woman a few nights ago are real civilised.

    Grow up and try posting something constructive

  • Mark McGregor

    One thing I’ve been thinking about and it is emphasised in the linked post – the ‘super heavy users’ are a minority of people reading a website (1% according to the above) and the vast majority comment rarely if at all.

    This can be seen in the stats report Mick forwards to bloggers, it records the 4 top threads and the traffice they get. Even the threads with many hundreds of comments rarely hit the 2% of a week’s traffic. So the super heavy users may drive the comments numbers but they don’t really impact on the overall numbers that read a blog entry.

    And personally I skim most comments from annonymous people occassionally stopping but more often than not will read a full comment from anyone giving a real name.

    There is no real reason for annonymity on the site (other than some hiding the fact they are using it during work hours) as the vast bulk of people commenting are just reflecting mainstream positions – those part of the establishment/government in the north.

    Not like there are many piping up with dissenting positions on either end of the spectrum. I can understand dissenters maybe thinking annonymity is the best option but for those with opinions held by parties in Stormont there is no need to hide an identity – they are establishment positions and the only reason I can think to mask who you are when giving them is you an unwillingness to stand over how those mainstream opinions are presented.

  • Alias

    Mark, those availing of their right to anonymous free speech are not second-class citizens because of that, despite whatever demonisation agenda is proffered on behalf of those (mainly the EU) who oppose such free speech.

    Someone who uses his real name instead of an alias online is not any more or less legally accountable for his actions online than someone who doesn’t, nor is he any more or less traceable because of it. Unless you register with a credit card, Mark McGregor is as likely to be an alias as Alias and it is verging on the hysterical to argue than the reader should attribute any greater vale to what you say because you have typed a few letters that look like a real name as opposed to someone who has typed a few letters that are not designed to create that impression.

    It’s true that anonymity is not the same thing as privacy (a lot of anonymous folks share intimate information) but it is a very good protection for one’s privacy. Personally, I think that anyone who reveal his or her identity via this medium is a little touched in the head. It is very easy to be defamed and harrassed by loons via this medium and for this to happened repeatedly and without resolution, and it is a far better policy to keep the real and the virtual totally seperate.

  • Mark McGregor

    This is where I completely disagree. I’ve used my real name for years here and other then a few isolated instances (long in the past) I’ve never experienced anything close to harassment.

    Those claimed fears are a flag of conenvience – I’m on the edges of broadly acceptable politics in the north and I’ve had no real problems by giving my opinion here.

    It is a pretence there is a need for annonymity in most cases. It is mainly a reluctance to stand over how arguments are being presented.

    Just like when the annonymous commentator turns up at a Slugger meet – suddenly their later comment mostly becomes very much more civil.

    I’m rude and dissenting online, I’m rude and dissenting in real life. I get the feeling a lot of the ‘super heavy users’ in the comments are just acting out as a result of not using a real name.

    Play acting. I’ve had enough of bluffers in real life, I’ll rarely entertain worse online.

  • Alias

    That is specfic to your circumstances and to this particular blog, neither of which define the principle that fold have a right to anonymous free speech.

    On the other hand, I could give you an example that proves the exact opposite (e.g. a man who upset a poster on a Usenet message board and spent the next 7 years sending e-mails to free hosting sites demanding that they remove ‘hate’ sites that had the purpose of protraying him as a child molestor, rapist, fraudster, et al) and plenty of examples about women harrassed at their home via the phone and at their workplace as a result of upsetting some of the loons of which the Internet is awash.

    Anyway, I see no reason why an anonymous poster is any less able to ‘stand over’ his arguments than a named poster. And if you regard this as a way of making friends, then that’s your dysfunction. I couldn’t care less if a poster has three tits, a back-to-front blode wig, and a lisp in real life since I have zero intention of ever confusing the real and the virtual…

  • Alias

    As regards ‘standing over’ what folks say, that all sounds like a threat of some sort. The only ‘standing over’ that is relevant is supporting the comment with evidence, and not agreeing to meet in a park with a baseball bat if some loon takes offence.

    By the way, Mark: does all this mean that you were talking shite when you used the alias Frank Sinistra? 😉

  • Anonymity has long gone hand in hand with publishing and in fact has an honourable tradition. Why set aside a practice which offers complete freedom of expression because a few people abuse it. It is not too difficult to imagine circumstances where say to adopt a particular lifestyle or hold certain opinions, and contribute to an online debate on same, is potentially problematical especially in parochial BTland. Nor is it too difficult to think of other reasons to choose anonymity for example fear of ridicule, fear of revealing one’s ignorance , straightforward inhibition or whistleblowing.

    There is a certain irony in journalists favouring the removal of anonymity from commenters when journalists on occasion will go to jail to protect the anonymity of their sources.

  • Mark McGregor

    articles,

    Indeed, when I used another name due to the nature of my job at that point anything I said had less value. And by god my crap under the Frank handle was of less value than even my worst contribtuions as me.

    Tis a cop out for most using a psuedonym. No real reason for it, I’ve yet to hear one….

  • Mark McGregor

    There are ludicrous examples taking place, the most pathetic yet was when ‘FitzJamesHorse’ demanded Mick stopped referring to him as ‘Fitzy’.

    What the fuck

    A guy hides his identity behind a nom-de-plume them demands it isn’t contracted?

    If you want your name to have value, use your bloody name.

  • Alias

    “No real reason for it, I’ve yet to hear one…”

    But you just gave a reason for it:

    “I used another name due to the nature of my job”

    Which is valid, and not something that you need to explain. Others may have a similiar or different reasons, and they too should exercise their right to anonymous free speech without having their speech discounted as being of less value, just as you exercised your right to anonymous free speech when it was expedient.

    Also, the argument that you proffered is that being anonymous means that the poster is less civil online, but you have stated above that you are “rude and dissenting online … rude and dissenting in real life” so this argument is also refuted since, in your example, you are not any more or less civil as a result of being a named poster.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    ah MMG I beg to differ.
    I made no such demand of Mr Fealty. I merely made a request and he readily agreed.
    I made the same request of another person and he didnt agree.
    A few weeks ago you requested that I stop calling you “Mr McGregor……….as we are not in a courtroom”.
    And I had absolutely no problem in agreeing to your request.

    In other words we have both made requests.
    Myself of Mr Fealty.
    You of me.
    Only good manners on both our parts to agree.
    I dont like informality and familiarity.
    Certainly in my case “familiarity” colours my judgement.

  • Cormac Mac Art

    But Mark, are you not in public life anyway?

    In any case, its not like any of us here are changeing the course of history, never mind influencing current events. We’re just a bunch of opinionated people being opinionated as loudly and cleverly as we can.

  • Alias

    Very true, and none of those in public life in NI can change anything anyway unless it is a change that their political masters elsewhere in the UK have initiated and instructed them to finesse.

  • How very odd and pathetically unimaginative for one to not imagine that this virtual space in which we work, rest and play is completely different from another earlier existence which relied upon a family name for identification and interaction whilst one grows into the dynamic sum of one’s being as defined by one’s personal store of universal information and expanding intelligence and the use to which one would put that knowledge.

    “If you want your name to have value, use your bloody name.” ….. Mark McGregor says: 25 June 2010 at 11:25 pm

    If you want your name to have value, say something of value.

  • Henry94

    One of the main reasons for using an alias was to protect ones inbox from spam. I wouldn’t have a problem using my real name these days but I have been Henry94 since 1999 and I’m a bit attached to it.

    But in my view you are obliged to be even more polite if you are using an alias.

  • Granni Trixie

    On one occasion through a technical error my actual name was used on Slugger and 2 blasts from the pasts contacted me as a consequence. No harm done but it was not my preference to catch up with my past.
    Besides,if someone wants to discuss any item further they can do so through Slugger directed to ones email address,cant they and then it is up to that person to ‘reveal’ their real identity or not.

    Identity is a multifacited construction. By taking a new name on Slugger you start off with a clean sheet. This applies even to people who use their real name eg Mark – I only know him from what he says on Slugger – but became aware that he thinks he has baggage in some peoples eyes from his ‘outside’ background.

    The one or two people I have recognsed through their nom de plumes, I note produce more nuanced and dare I say it ‘fair’ analysis on this site than is usual do in public utterances. This is evidence of some of the value of anonimity.

    Must say I was surprised when Mr dont-be-familiar-with me revealed SDLP aspect to his/her identity – lapsed I presume? And Mr McGregor,Mark,whatever, you are taking Mr Address-me-formally,much too seriously,a mistake I do not intend to make.

  • Rory Carr

    Alias thinks that “… a business man ……a newsagent or chemist in a small town may be unwilling to raise his head above the political parapet…customers might be unforgiving.” forgetting, I think that everyone will already know (or at least assume with a 99% degree of accuracy) that if they are Protestant they are also UUP (or whatever they’re calling themselves today) and if Catholic they are SDLP (and everyone will already surely know if they are Protestant or Catholic).

    However it remains the case that any individual might wish to express privately held views that he fears might damage him if publicly known. A Catholic SDLP chemist for example might well resent the profits on contraceptives being monopolised by his Protestant UUP competitor and might wish to express support for liberalisation of Catholic teaching on contraception without the danger of being tarnished as a bad Catholic and so losing business among his existing clientele. As, all good little sons and daughters of the petit bourgeoisie know too well ,it is absolutely vital that standards of hypocrisy be maintained if the health of business is to thrive.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Granni Trixie.
    Just for the record Ive never revealed any SDLP or hopefully any other identity.
    Just two people both with Alliance Party connexions assumed it. One adding he had been brought up on my newspaper column. While the other adding I was a failed politician in North Belfast.
    Its not for me to confirm or deny it.

  • Granni Trixie

    FJH:He thought you were MM? I cannot see the connection with your identity constructed from what you post here. Come to think of it I havae thought that you tend to be hard on the SDLP but then APNI is a target too although I sense your assumptions about the latter has taken a denting in recent times.

    Anyway, I think that enough has been said here to
    make a case for pen names being useful rather than
    abolished as a hinderance to “good behaviour”.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Rory Carr,
    Actually it was me who said that.
    And I in part based it on my own experiences of two years of living in a fairly large “market town”. in the late 1970s/early 80s.
    In my naive Belfast youth I would generally have believed that people shopped locally on Falls, Shankill, Ormeau, Newtownards Road for convenience rather than any sectarian motivation. And that there was no sectarian calculation involved in shopping in central Belfast (BHS or Woolworths for example).
    When I went outside Belfast I spent a Saturday trying to get my hair cut and felt a very uncomfortable 10 minutes with a barber who was too curious and gave the distinct impression that I was on the wrong side of town.
    Later as I got to know the precise geography of the town……it was evident that a newsagents or chemists was used by one section more than the other.
    Convenience is an acceptable reason. Even supporting the neighbours son…..a worthy enough tradition but it can become dangerously sectarian if it involves supporting “brethren” in a fraternal order or nakedly sectarian on any scale.
    Certainly we have had examples in the past of Belfast lord Mayors being connected to “wallpaper shops” or a Stormont minister connected to furniture removal or a leading loyalist politician connected to a chain of chemist shops.
    Could businesses suffer by the name over the door….is it reasonable to effectively boycott a business if you think its run by a person who holds “extreme” political opinions……ie one that is you believe would damage your kids future.
    Certainly at least one Drumcree protestor saw his business suffer as Catholics decided that they really didnt want to do business with him. Laughably he thought THEY were sectarian.
    And indeed theres anecdotal evidence of busineeses in the “quiet” west being adversely affected because the local Orange Order were cajoled against their better judgement to support Drumcree.

    The “English/Scotch/Irish Street geography of many of our towns dictates that the potential customer base for many business is limited…..either by the geography or the sectarianism.
    There are some customers who are quite prepared to ignore such things and go for service or value.
    But a businessman would be silly to take the risk of offending them by overtly taking a political stance.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    I cant possibly comment. But is MM a well known columnist?
    Youd have to ask both of them.
    Who knows they might be right.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Whether its a nom de plume or a nom de guerre is irrelevant because I cant see how “real names” would be effective.
    Its not like opening a bank account and there is a fear of money laundering.
    Try to open an account and you jump thru hoops ….photographic ID and a recent utility bill, maybe three recent payslips and your P60…..maybe an embossed stamp from the PSNI station and two independent references. (one a teacher and none that are family members)
    How can that work exactly?
    If most people choose to post under obvious nom de plumes how are they judged more credible by posting as the only slightly less obvious “John Smith”

  • Alias

    The modern political system is organised from the starting point that voters are not required by the State to ‘stand over’ the way they vote, so the role of secret ballot is important to the political process just as it is important to free political speech. The main purpose of the secret ballot in our democratic system is to ensure that people can vote freely according to their individual preferences without fear of detrimental consequences from those who do not want them to express such preferences and without the process being corrupted by bribery. The voter is not anonymous but his voting choice is. It amounts to the same thing: anonymous free political speech. So anonymity is guarantee that our democracy can function properly, and not something that is to be regarded by the (super)State as a vice that should be eradicated.

    In contrast to the EU’s contempt for anonymous free political speech, it is well respected by the US Supreme Court. While the EU’s MSN overwhelmingly endorsed the Lisbon Treaty the principle dissent to the attempt to create a superstate was to be found on the unregulated internet via a plethora of anonymous bloggers. That is why the EU is now attempting to control the internet as its means of eradicating dissent to its political agenda.

    The US Supreme Court has held that the First Amendment gives substantial protection to the right to anonymous free speech in a plethora of cases where the State has attempted to curtail that right.

    “Anonymous pamphlets, leaflets, brochures and even books have played an important role in the progress of mankind.” [Talley v. California]. Great works of literature have frequently been produced by authors writing under assumed names. Despite readers’ curiosity and the public’s interest in identifying the creator of a work of art, an author generally is free to decide whether or not to disclose her true identity. The decision in favor of anonymity may be motivated by fear of economic or official retaliation, by concern about social ostracism, or merely by a desire to preserve as much of one’s privacy as possible. Whatever the motivation may be, at least in the field of literary endeavor, the interest in having anonymous works enter the marketplace of ideas unquestionably outweighs any public interest in requiring disclosure as a condition of entry. Accordingly, an author’s decision to remain anonymous, like other decisions concerning omissions or additions to the content of a publication, is an aspect of the freedom of speech protected by the First Amendment.

    The freedom to publish anonymously extends beyond the literary realm. In Talley, the Court held that the First Amendment protects the distribution of unsigned handbills urging readers to boycott certain Los Angeles merchants who were allegedly engaging in discriminatory employment practices. Writing for the Court, Justice Black noted that “persecuted groups and sects from time to time throughout history have been able to criticize oppressive practices and laws either anonymously or not at all.”

    In a local example, Martin Ingram posted on Slugger under an alias and revealed important information about the level of control of the Shinners by the British state under an alias that would otherwise not have been available, so the right to anonymous free political speech and the importance of it is well established.