Anonymity and Comment Wars: Facebook vs. Blogging

When people talk about the reasons for uncivil behavior on the internet, anonymity is often mentioned as a culprit. If no one knows who you are, the theory goes, you’re less likely to censor yourself. And it certainly is ridiculously easy to find people posting under pseudonyms and tearing each other apart. (Just check out the comment section of most newspapers.)

Given that, if I didn’t know much about Facebook, I think my assumption would have been that it would be a place where people were less snarky to each other than in most online communities. Because unless you’re breaking the rules and using a fake name, there is no anonymity. You’re posting as yourself, which might make you feel more accountable for what you say.

And yet, I’m not sure that Facebook is all that much more civil than blogging, even though large numbers of people use pseudonyms on the blogs. You can still find name-calling, personal attacks, and spectacular fights. The lack of anonymity doesn’t make as much of a difference as I would have thought it would.

I can think of a few reasons why this might be the case. For one thing, it’s still the internet, and people post about controversial subjects that they might be more hesitant to bring up in live conversations. Another factor perhaps is that (at least if you’re participating in a private Facebook group, or you have your wall limited to friends) it’s less public, which might make it feel safer to speak in a less censored manner. And if I’m comparing Facebook to the bloggernacle specifically, it’s probably worth noting that most bloggernacle blogs are moderated (at least to some extent.)

This isn’t meant as a criticism of Facebook (I’m a total addict). And I’m in no position to throw stones–when the bloggernacle FB group first got started, it wasn’t long before I found myself in a 500+ comment thread about feminism which involved plenty of snark. But I am interested: if you post about controversial issues on your personal FB page, or participate in FB groups, do you feel that you are more or less likely to censor yourself than if you post on a blog? Are you more comfortable in one venue than another? Do you find that you participate in different ways in the different settings?


  1. I try not to post anything controversial on Facebook. I’m afraid I would lose a lot of friends if I was more forthright with my opinions – I feel that most of my friends disagree with me on most everything, and not all of them would forgive me for being different. I had a bad experience just this week when I responded to a Facebook post of one of my friends with a contrasting opinion, and then was personally attacked by someone else who I thought was a friend. Lesson learned – facebook isn’t for being honest, it’s for being nice.

    Twitter, on the other hand…

  2. Yeah, on Facebook I feel like I have so many friends from so many different places that I rarely post much that could be controversial. I posted something recently that I didn’t think was particularly difficult, and someone responded negatively to it. The thing that surprised me was that I was surprised by the reaction, because in my mind I wasn’t ‘speaking to her’. But obviously by posting it, I was speaking to her since she was included in all my friends (yes, I know I can limit the audience of posts, but I’m too lazy to do that). Facebook feels like having all my friends and family members in one room at one time, which is great for some reasons and not so great for others.

  3. on my own wall on facebook i carefully ignore friends who share posts from Liberals are Hypocrites ( i think we are all hypocrites) and those who share posts saying that Libertarians are people who believe that oppression should be privatized. i ignore those who come to praise Obama and those who’d like to bury him, but i will vote for him again. I am a liberal independent. my son is a libertarian. most of my siblings are probably right wing republicans. best keep my mouth shut about politics. in the group discussions i will mix it up because we are there to discuss…

  4. Guys, I totally suck at this. I forget that my sister who posts criticism of Catholics (when they objected to the health care requirements about providing care contrary to their beliefs) isn’t a blogger and is going to take my defense personally. I’ve been uncivil with bloggers, too, but I’m learning to just leave facebook friends at a superficial level. I post positive stuff and try to keep my mouth shut otherwise. Truthfully, facebook hasn’t been a great experience for me but I love seeing updates on my grandkids. Also, stories of Inez.

  5. Facebook is a mess when it comes to exchanging ideas. Imagine a blog where anybody in the world could post whatever they wanted, and anybody in the world could comment, unmoderated. That is FB in a nutshell. Consequently, I use it almost exclusively as a place to build friendships (an important thing, when you think on it), and goof off.

    I use blogs more for learning and thinking, if you can call paragraph size exchanges thinking. But for me, that’s as good as it gets.

  6. Facebook and the Bloggernacle are like two totally different worlds. I helped establish a mission page for RMs who all served under one particular president and it has been a fantastic way to catch up with old friends and to organize a reunion.
    But I think I like posting anonymously on blogs, although I am very new to it. I feel like I can ask stupid questions without being told “I” am stupid.

  7. I find people tend to take their Facebook as their personal space. Have a different opinion? Stating so is invading their personal space.

    On the bloggernacle, I think it’s understood that it’s no more personal than a billboard unless you have your thing set on “private” (which is stupid).

  8. Hmmm. I occasionally post things that could be considered “controversial,” but honestly I think there are about 5 of my friends who actually care to look/read them.

    It does bother me when people post something incredibly opinionated/controversial and then get mad when people respond to it negatively. You’re kind of asking for it when you put it in a public space.

    Mostly though, I prefer having conversations on blogs because people don’t get hurt feelings so often. I can’t tell how many times someone has gotten offended over something I said on the FMH facebook group that no one would bat an eye at if I said it on a blog somewhere.

  9. I also keep fb totally uncontroversial. It takes some restraint for me not to comment on my friend’s provocative political comments, but I do resist.

    I recently heard thirdhand that some general authority said he thought it was bad that people post anonymously on blogs. My thought was, “he is clearly not a blogger.” Sometimes people use pseudonyms to get away with being snarky, but more often I think it’s to protect privacy. There’s nothing wrong with that.

  10. I think like others who have commented, I’m less serious on Facebook than I am on blogs. I’m also less likely to get into arguments on Facebook. Facebook just doesn’t seem conducive to arguing to me. The smaller font and the comment boxes that require that you do something odd (control-enter) to get a new line seem to clearly say that it’s not a place for extended discussion.

    So I guess I match the theory that when people are anonymous, they’re more likely to be nasty. I try to rein in that side of myself even on the blogs, though.

    I think you might be right about how comfortable we get on Facebook in groups, though, Lynnette. I wonder if it’s like how researchers who video record people say that they (the people being recorded) might put on happy faces for a little while, but they quickly appear to go back to their normal behavior and forget that the cameras are even there.

  11. A man in my ward friended me on facebook; I’m uncomfortable with him, but felt pressure so I accepted his friendship.

    This last Sunday I was sick and stayed home. This man spoke to Bill about my facebook page and asked if Bill knew what I posted on there. Then he said something about a comment I made in response to a (silly in my opinion) story about a woman whose husband wanted a divorce. She had him carry her to bed every night and he fell back in love with her. I said “Bill could never pick me up” or something like that.

    Well, that bothers me. For many reasons. Anyway, I went back and posted something about maybe having sex every night instead. I’m playing with his head.

    Wonder what he’ll say this Sunday. You know, I really hate facebook, but I feel trapped into it.

  12. I guess it depends on the personality of the person posting.

    Case in point: I was friended by a popular, outgoing person. I didn’t know her well, but thought, “Sure. Why not?” Except that she is very politically conservative, continually posting jibes as liberals, and singing the praises of Mitt. All of which I generally ignore. Most of the time I read the articles she links to just to be able to understand the opposing view.

    Then, she posted something about a very famous female politician. Something that didn’t sound right. I asked for clarification and sources in what I thought were polite terms. There might have been a few exchanges. She then proceeded to take down anything connected to my comments, and emailed me that she couldn’t find the sources, and had taken down my comments because she doesn’t like to fight in public. ?!?

    Lesson learned. Some people can dish it out. Some can take it. The two groups are not always the same. And “friend” has really become a loose term …


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