The pros and cons of anonymity

Given the attitude of ‘the normals’ towards marketing and advertising, it’s fair to say the industry has a few perception issues. Before I started this job, I envisaged being in the eye of the wankery storm in Auckland, surrounded by people who wore shiny shirts, drove ridiculous cars and used business jargon with absolutely no sense of irony. That’s occasionally true, of course, and my Invercargill-based parents are obviously deeply ashamed at what I’ve become, but, in my relatively short time spent writing about the industry, I’ve found it to be, by and large, full of exceptionally smart, talented, creative, hard-working, hard-playing, competitive and often very opinionated businesspeople. For some, the fact that it attracts extroverts is part of the industry’s appeal. For others, however, some these extroverts—and their often anonymous views posted on websites like this—give the industry an air of unprofessionalism. So, as we get set to relaunch StopPress, we thought it was a good time to delve into the thorny issue of online opinions. 

Every other industry there is engages in a bit of argy bargy and slags off their competitors. Business, after all, is a competitive business. But most would agree there aren’t too many industries that do it as publicly as this one does. The powers that be are trying to deal with some of those issues in an effort to show that marcomms is more than just colouring in and is a serious business discipline that deserves its place around the boardroom table, so some of the commentary—and, occasionally, the behaviour at awards shows—probably doesn’t help that mission. 

The veil of anonymity certainly allows very harsh and sometimes unjustified criticism to flow forth (or, if your work is the basis of a story, it sometimes leads to overly fawning praise). But overall, we think the opinions of our readers add another element to our stories, bring new and interesting viewpoints and occasionally help point out mistakes. We get to see the email and IP addresses of the comments and many of them come from quite senior members of the industry. They have reputations to protect and client loyalties to consider, so in those cases, we understand that it’s important for them to keep their identity secret. Other comments come from unknowns who often offer intelligent commentary. And a small number come from those who put their name to their opinions.  That’s what we prefer—and respect—but we know it’s not always realistic. And we wouldn’t want to lose all the valuable input of the community by making it compulsory to post under your real name. 

We’ve had a couple of instances where the comment system has been abused, once a few months back where an aggrieved ex-employee assumed someone else’s identity and posted malicious comments under their name. We like to think that common decency will out. Perhaps that’s a naïve attitude, particularly in this rather outspoken industry. But we’re pretty confident the level of discussion on StopPress is generally more intelligent than that seen on some other sites, where it seems to be less about discussing industry issues and more about sticking the boot in. 

Anything we publish, be it from ourselves, from our readers or from our advertisers, we’re legally responsible for. As far as we’re aware, there have been no cases taken to court as a result of a defamatory comment, but our policy is to edit or delete comments that we deem to be defamatory or personal attacks. It’s still an inexact science and it’s based on gut feel, but, as a guide, we like what The Guardian’s done with its rules for community standards and online participation

As part of the new website we’re upgrading to the Disqus platform, which is used on everything from Fast Company to The Telegraph, and readers will have to agree to some basic terms and conditions before they can comment. Readers can also log in through their various social media accounts or create a new StopPress login. And while commentors can still remain anonymous—and game the system if the will exists—we think it’s a healthy middle ground. So by all means keep the discussion flowing (we’re media peeps after all and, without fail, stories with more comments are better-read). But try and keep it smart. And seemly. 

 What do you think?

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