Skip to content

Real Names and the State of the Commentariat


In philosophy and other areas of controversy, like politics, we often come to adopt a view on a disputed matter. When this happens, then even if you recognize the reasonableness of contrary views, you can come to really feel that your view is right, to the point that it can feel as if you know that it’s true. And I think that taking such a strong stand on a disputed issue can be good. Those who take a strong stand may most effectively develop and defend their position. I don’t think it would aid philosophy or politics if we all quickly abandoned our positions whenever we hit significant resistance from well-informed opponents. Often, that’s just when things get interesting. – Keith DeRose

You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.  – Anne Lamott

The kingdom is to be in the midst of your enemies. – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

If you want to start a lively conversation within Adventist circles, bring up the comments on the Spectrum website. Who could have imagined when comments were first added to the articles that they could become such a polarizing topic? And the Adventist circle that can really get going on this topic is the Board of Adventist Forum. 

There are the idealists who want the comment section to model intellectual conversation at its best with informed participants offering well-thought-out responses to the articles that we post.

But how do you do that, the realists ask? While the tracking numbers show that many, many people read, it is only a few who comment – and the comments can be all over the place. Sometimes they move the conversation forward. But sometimes the commenters go off on a tangent and the conversation seems to bear no relationship to the article at all. And sometimes the comments are pointed and downright mean.

In January, when the Board discussed the current state of affairs, it voted to revamp the commenting system. In an effort to counteract the critical spirit and negativity, the idealists called for a vote to require real names be used by all commenters in the new system.  They reasoned that people using their real names would act more like they would if they were meeting someone face to face. No one brought up any technical difficulties to such a requirement.

Work on the new system commenced and was announced last week, along with the news of the Board vote for real names. We immediately heard from our commentariat (isn’t that a great word? That is how our web master refers to the commenters) about the problems created by requiring real names. In well-thought-out articulate responses they argued for being allowed to use pseudonyms. The Board listened.

And now we find ourselves stuck between an ideal and a real place. The Board continues to believe that encouraging people to use their real names will bring sunshine and more civility to the conversations. However, we also have learned from you valid reasons for pseudonyms, and more about the technical challenge that our policy sets up. In discussions this week, the Board reiterated its vote to require commenters on the Spectrum web site to sign in using their real names. However, it was further voted to allow for exceptions to be made for pseudonyms when absolutely necessary.  In the Board conversation, it became clear that the necessity for anonymity is a very personal, subjective decision.  

Therefore, the decision as to whether to abide by the requirement approved by the Board will be left up to each individual Spectrum commenter.  Those commenters who feel that they qualify for an exception are encouraged to sign up with a pseudonym that is not generic, because we believe it is more difficult to remember and relate to “anonymous01” than “Bob Smith.”  Commenters who write under a pseudonym with civility, respect, empathy, honesty, thoughtfulness, integrity, accountability, and demonstrate the ability to disagree without being disagreeable will have fulfilled the desired outcome of requiring real names, making that requirement unnecessary.  Commenters who are simply disagreeable and hide behind their anonymity to attack, misrepresent, denigrate, smear, make thoughtless comments or create an uncivil, hostile, negative, and/or angry commenting environment will be banned, having justified the requirement for commenting under a real name.

So we invite you, encourage you, request that you use your real names when you register to make comments. However, if some of you need to do otherwise we still welcome you to the conversation. 

We continue to want the Adventist community to be a big tent where all are welcome. And welcome to their own opinion.

Bonnie Dwyer is the editor of Spectrum.

Subscribe to our newsletter
Spectrum Newsletter: The latest Adventist news at your fingertips.
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.