Anonymity Online: Behind the Mask

Edit: This blog entry was written by Anna Tauzin, the intern in the Ombudsman's office.

Recently, several listeners have written the Ombudsman about guidelines surrounding posting anonymously on They noticed that some people provide their real name while others use a pseudonym to leave comments.

NPR wants to engage listeners in discussion in the comment section following every online article, including the Ombudsman column. The preference is that people use their real names; we think this practice promotes a tone of civility and responsibility.

That said, NPR cannot outright ban someone who doesn't use their real name simply because there is no way to enforce it. Anyone can use a pseudonym. Raquel Smythe could, in reality, be Jennifer Jones.

When comments pop up from users with an obvious fake name, i.e. "CatLover42" or "Number One," NPR usually doesn't delete their account if they are playing by the rules. However, if someone uses the shield of anonymity to troll others, NPR's digital team will block his or her use of the site.

NPR is keenly aware of the issue of privacy on the Internet. There are times when a person should be able to contribute to the online discussion without revealing their identity.

Andy Carvin, a senior project manager in social media at NPR, said, "[It is] one of the reasons why we can't have a zero-tolerance ban on fake names, because sometimes that's the only way some people can participate. But it's definitely a double-edged sword."

When it comes to online commenting, you have to ease the rules a bit and accept the sometimes disheveled democratic nature of the Web.

What do you think? Does it really matter if someone uses a pseudonym instead of his or her real name?

Anna Tauzin



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