Dear Forum readers,
This letter is written by Tess Hubbeling, outgoing Forum Editor-in-Chief (2014-15), and Shannon Miller, incoming Forum Editor-in-Chief (2015-16) with a note about our policies. We wrote this letter together to make it clear that both the outgoing and incoming editorial boards stand behind the following policies.
We’d like to address what you might call the third rail of Forum politics: anonymous commenting. Effective as of this post, for at least the remainder of the semester, we have disabled anonymous commenting. In a moment, we’ll explain how this will work. For now, we’d like to explain why we did it.
In our years writing and editing for The Forum, we have seen anonymous comments used in a wide variety of ways—many of which did not comply with The Forum’s comment policy (located at the bottom of our About page). The Forum has done an insufficient job of effectively moderating our comments section in years past, which has sometimes allowed comment threads in violation of our policy to flourish. We regret this.
We fully recognize that there are numerous real upsides to anonymous commenting. We have seen these benefits firsthand—for example, on articles about sexual assault, people have used anonymous comments to share their own stories of assault and express solidarity with the author. Other cases could arise and have in the past where anonymity proves valuable, such as critiquing the actions of a group of which you’re a member (an RA discussing the Dean of Students Office, a member of ASCMC discussing the Executive Board, etc.). We are fully aware that we risk eliminating these important forms of anonymous discourse by disabling anonymous comments, but, on balance, we concluded that it was the right thing to do.
As most Forum readers know—though perhaps not as intimately as The Forum’s writers and editors—anonymous comments have a tendency to become nasty, cruel, inappropriate, and unfair. We have seen dozens if not hundreds of people cowardly hide behind the cloak of anonymity in order to personally insult or attack an article’s author, a CMC student, or a CMC administrator. We have seen deans with unpopular stances compared to genocidal dictators. Countless times. Seriously. We have seen commenters express reactionary and counterproductive vitriol toward CMC, its students, and its employees in extreme and hateful terms they would never have the animosity to use to their targets’ faces.
At the end of the day, we have seen anonymous comments used to shut down and silence open discourse far, far more than we have seen them used to spark and encourage constructive debate. The Forum is a platform that provides content of, by, and for the students of Claremont McKenna, and readers have no absolute right to post content on our site, whether in the form of an article or a comment.
Anonymous commenting is not a right; it is a privilege. And, in our experience, it is a privilege that has been sorely abused.
How Comments Will Work
Since this is a new policy, we are learning on the go how to make this work in the best way possible. If you have suggestions for how we could better configure our comments system, we welcome feedback at [email protected].
The Forum uses a commenting platform called Disqus. Going forward, we have adjusted our Disqus settings so that all comments must be approved by a moderator before going public. Every commenter must use a real email address in order to comment, one that actually connects to an inbox you can access—no more bogus emails (sorry, [email protected] and [email protected], but this means you). Unfortunately, however, Disqus settings won’t allow us to directly prevent comments with fake email addresses, but since every comment must be moderated before showing, we will not approve comments with a fake email address. If you would like the opportunity to hear from us about why a comment of yours was not approved, and potentially how you can clean it up to repost it, you must use a real email address. Disqus also allows makes it very easy to comment through Facebook or Twitter so you don’t need to make a separate Disqus account if you don’t want to.
While we won’t approve an anonymous comment regardless of this, we ask you to use a real email address so we can contact you about your comments if we need to. For example, if we delete a comment, we can email the poster and explain why it violated our policy and why we took it down. If the violation can be easily fixed—for example, an otherwise coherent comment that ends with “Sieg Heil, [insert dean here]!”—we can send the poster the content of their deleted comment so they can repost a version of it that we will approve.
For the time being, we will require that you attach your full name to any comment you post. If we believe that you are impersonating someone else, we will delete your comment. We acknowledge that there might be cases where it proves difficult to verify if a commenter is who she says she is. To mitigate this, we are appointing a team of Forum staff to moderate comments and email commenters when clarification or adjustment is needed (such as identity verification or removing an unacceptable portion of a comment). Again, we welcome your feedback if you believe this process is not being carried out fairly, effectively, or appropriately.
Finally, we’d like to reiterate some basics that you should understand about The Forum. Publishing a piece with your name attached is an act of courage. You are inviting criticism, judgment, and blame; you are putting yourself out there in a uniquely concrete way. Anonymous commenting tends not to be courageous—in many cases, though not all, it is an action of downright cowardice. We ask our writers to put themselves out there, and it is unfair to hold commenters to a wildly unequal standard.
As many Forum readers know, we have in the past used anonymity to allow students to share articles about extraordinarily sensitive and personal experiences, such as a sexual assault. We remain open to using anonymous authorship for a limited range of cases—not for authors who want protection from backlash on a controversial argument, but for those who cannot share a story without disclosing incredibly personal (and, at times, traumatic) information about themselves. In these cases, we may deem that the importance of the article justifies the protection of the author from stark personal exposure.
As editors, we care deeply about The Forum and its role at CMC. If we didn’t, we would not devote the time and energy that we do to operating it. We hope that you will respect the reasons and experiences that informed this decision, and that as readers and contributors, you will continue to engage with The Forum so that it remains a place for vibrant and productive discussion and information for the students of Claremont McKenna College.
Shannon Miller ’16
Tess Hubbeling ’15