We Know What You Said

For a while, the big question was whether it was appropriate for someone to write a comment when they were too frightened to put their name to it.  Ah, the good old days.  Then it was a question of the government gaining access to whatever it is you said, whether for its own account or on behalf of the person whose tush was hurting a bit.  Good times.

Quietly, however, we are doing to ourselves what no person, no government, could do to us.  Because of my lack of computer savvy, it took me a while to realize what was happening.  For those who know less about how this works than I, blogs (including blawgs) exist on a platform, a program created by someone else that makes the stuff we write show up looking cool (or not) on the internet. 

These programs include the part that allows a reader to comment, with whatever requirements the programmer decides ought to be included in there. Some programs allow the blogger to control the requirements, adding or deleting the information and/or verification needed of a commenter, or adding in some outside gizmo in place of whatever the program uses as its default.

As a reader of a few blawgs, I occasionally feel inclined to add a comment or two to what someone else has written.  In the old days, I could use my commenter name of choice, which has been my initials “shg” since pretty much the beginning, plus email and this URL. Sometimes there was a “captcha” requirement to keep bots away and limit spam, a problem far more troubling than most readers know.  You didn’t have to hear me curse as I deleted thousands of spam comments every morning.

Recently, this has started changing, with blogs refusing to allow me to comment unless I signed in through a service, such as a Facebook, Twitter or WordPress account.  The happy idea was that I could then broadcast the fact that I commented (Hey, everybody, look at me and my comment!!! How cool am I!!! Add me to your social network and follow me!!!  K+ me and I’ll K+ you back!!!) across my “social network.” 

This meant a few things, that my “name” as a commenter would be whatever name I used on the social platform on which I signed in, that my comments were aggregated via the social platform and that there was no easy way to be anonymous, if that was my intent.  But at least I realized that something stunk when I had to “sign in” to comment.  Signing in is a dead giveaway.

There was a more nefarious scheme afoot, however.   Kevin O’Keefe exalts its virtues.

Disqus is a commenting service for blogs, news sites, and online communities. Founded in 2007 by Daniel Ha (@danielha) and Jason Yan (@jasonyan), the platform includes various features, such as social integration, social networking, user profiles, spam and moderation tools, analytics, email notifications, and mobile commenting.

We’re using Disqus on all LexBlog blogs which have upgraded to WordPress, mine included. One, because it works pretty well (with some WordPress integration bugs) and two, because of our building an online network of lawyers from around the world (LXBN), which could be done in part through tracking comments and profiles through Disqus.

What he’s saying is that for those of you trying to create a unified marketing presence on the internet, where your every happy word and smiling face is available at a click for anyone to find, Disqus magically makes it happen.  After all, why comment in the blawgosphere, or really anywhere on the internet, if not for the purpose of adding to your carefully crafted internet persona so that other people can find you and love you?

Here’s my profile on Disqus. You’ll reach the profile when you click on my mug next to any comment I’ve left on LexBlog blogs which have been upgraded to WordPress as well on other blogs and news sites around the net.

Disqus profiles

So you can not only see what Kevin had to say on his own blog (RLHB), but all the other blogs that use Disqus as well.  One stop shopping for every comment you’ve written, regardless of whether you used your real name to comment or called yourself something else, like, say, Publius, Anon or Guest.

Not only are you unable to hide your identity on a comment, but you have provided carte blanche to every other blog at which you’ve commented and every word you’ve ever typed into the square comment block.  And you’ve given it away to everyone on the interwebz.

For some, with varied interests that bring them to different websites or blogs that have nothing to do with one another, and whose participants really have no reason to know about your various distinct interests, you now have no secrets.  Say you comment on legal blogs and happen to be a fan of My Little Pony (a/k/a a brony).  Perhaps you would prefer other lawyers and judges not being aware of your brony side, or any other peccadilloes that don’t involve them.  Tough.

For others, the idea that comments taken out of context (since clicking on our smiling face shows only our comments, not the post to which they’re directed or the other comments to provide context) could produce some unpleasant assumptions about us by those who may disagree with our comments or hate our guts.  Worse still, should we become the object of a nutjob, they could be copied and plastered across the internet with images of naked people. Never underestimate the damage a true nutjob can cause.

Whether you like it or not, you are now social, part of the grand and happy social network that promoters of the internet for purpose of marketing and selling believe will launch a billion businesses. In their eyes, this should make you happy, and happy people whose existence in the social sphere makes them want everyone to know and appreciate their internet existence and their every happy utterance, will love the new reality that anyone can find out anything they want about you because you have chosen to let a program like Disqus put it all in one place and make it all accessible to the world.

No government could compel you to give it up so readily, and yet we do so willingly because it’s the only way to get our little sliver of brilliance into the comment section of a blog.  If I don’t comment at your blog anymore, it may not be because your post wasn’t thoughtful and interesting. I just don’t plan to leave tracks everywhere I go.

6 comments on “We Know What You Said

  1. anon

    Just curious, does this comment reveal anything about me. I expect that it doesn’t since countermeasures were taken.

  2. SHG

    It does, even though it doesn’t. A quick and dirty check on your IP address shows: IP address location & more:
    IP address [?]: [Copy] [Whois] [Reverse IP]
    IP country code:US
    IP address country:ip address flagUnited States
    IP address state:Illinois
    IP address city:Chicago
    IP postcode:60604
    IP address latitude:41.8776
    IP address longitude:-87.6272
    ISP of this IP [?]:FDCservers.net
    Local time in United States:2012-04-15 07:23

    If you’ve covered your tracks well, this should be fictitious. If not, sorry for ratting you out (but you asked).  At the moment, your comment is inactive, meaning that you haven’t received and responded to the verification email. It may be that you’ve used a fictitious gmail address, or that you just haven’t gotten around to it or decided not to respond.  But your comment ordinarily wouldn’t post unless you responded to the email.

    And most importantly, I don’t use any of the programs that reject comments unless you sign into a social media service because I want to allow the anonymous commenter to remain anonymous.

    Using some countermeasures, you can defeat a lot of these services, but creating fictional accounts, emails, etc., but most people don’t, can’t be bothered and really don’t want to spend that much time screwing with the internet.

  3. Kevin OKeefe

    You are incorrect that my blog requires commenters to disclose who they are or where they go on the net. You want to retain your anonymity, you’re free to do so.

    Others are free to offer who they are and where they go and what they say so as to benefit from social networking. I view it the same as networking offline, with admitedly giving up more in the way of privacy. I trade that for being introduced to people and subjects I’d like to discover.

  4. Anon

    Thanks for responding. The information shown is that of a proxy and not my own. The server I’m using is not in the USA. As you mentioned there are countermeasures available but most people refuse to go to the trouble of using them. I did not validate the comment because the email address was fake as is this one.
    I love your blog.

  5. SHG


    I suspect that those who are busy strutting the internet in hot pants are more likely to want to “benefit from social networking” than those who discuss substantive legal issues while having other, distinct interests that they would prefer to keep separate. But then, we have different audiences, I suppose.

Comments are closed.