Anonymous accusations: Why some comments have not been posted

Over the past two days we've received a couple of comments, on different stories, by anonymous commenters. We regularly publish the comments of folks who wish to remain anonymous, but in these two cases I have held the comments in the moderation queue. I want to explain why, and then offer some guidelines so that people who wish to do so can resubmit their comments.

There are some problems that comments that don't get posted tend to share. For one thing, they may contain accusations that are impossible to verify and because the accuser doesn't give a name, there is no way for the accused to address the claims against her. In the Chavez/UNM story anonymous accusations are part of what started the entire mess. There is a time and place for taking anonymous complaints seriously, though they must always be handled with a certain degree of circumspection and the utmost of care. I don't think this blog thread is an appropriate place for anonymous accusations because they can be seen and read by everyone, which is not the way to make sure they are treated with the utmost of care. I would certainly entertain posting information by a person who wanted her identity protected if at least I could verify the person's identity and credibility, but in this case all I have is a descriptor, "UNM Student," with no email address, no way to confirm the source, and that is clearly problematic.

Another problem with some comments that don't get posted is that they don't add anything new to the discussion. This may be a matter of simply restating what has come before but presenting it as if it is new (i.e., there is a difference between saying "I agree with the previous commenter," and simply repeating what the previous commenter has said). It may be a matter of sloppy logic or gross overgeneralization. It may be a matter of an ad hominem attack. It is amazing how people sometimes let their critical capacities rest when the subject is sex, as if somehow it is not as serious as other matters.

The anonymous commenter in the Chavez case does point out appropriately that we at Sex In The Public Square do not have complete information. We wish we had more information. But anonymous unsubstantiated claims are not a reliable source of information. For example, this commenter claims that "Most students feel completely disenfranchised (a tiny fraction were interviewed during UNM's limited investigation." I would very much like to know how many students were interviewed. I would hope that only students who had a direct connection to the matter at hand were interviewed. I have not seen the initial complaint letter, but if it centered on the outside work of Prof. Chavez and the photos on the PEP web site than which students count as "directly connected"? Certainly any student who was working with Prof. Chavez at PEP might be directly connected. Perhaps any student in a class of Prof. Chavez's with one of those students (if the complaint is based not on harassment of the photographed student but instead on favoritism or differential treatment in the classroom). Much depends on the nature of the complaint itself. In any case, I'm not sure any one student can claim to express what "most students" feel.

We welcome comments that add to the discussion, that provide more information, and we understand that not everyone is willing at this stage to be indentified publicly. But we will not contribute to irresponsible discussion of an important subject. If you want to comment but are concerned about your privacy please email Elizabeth (at) Sex In The Public Square (dot) Org and please make sure that if you are not willing to be identified you have some other way of corroborating your claims. If you want to comment anonymously on your own, please feel free to do so, but make sure that your comment is logically sound, is on topic, and substantiates any claims at least by reference to other published sources.