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Anonymity when posting on food and wine boards


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a couple of things: egullet has been in existence for at least 3 years now (that's how long i've been part of it) and this is the first time anonymity has come up and i do believe it has come up because of very specific actions by one anonymous poster in a very overheated thread. good behavior is always easier to argue for than to enforce, but it does seem like in this instance one poster was allowed to transgress the boundaries while others had much more innocent posts deleted on technicalities (full disclosure: a comment i made saying the thread had gotten silly was among them). if that poster's comments had been made under his own name, they wouldn't bother me nearly so much (i may not like robert brown calling me a bootlicker, but i'll defend to the death his right to do so ... under his own name).

second: carswell asked about "celebrity status". i'm certainly no bourdain, but i've been working in this field for 20 years. there are times when it might be more fun for me to post completely unexpurgated opinions under a nom de net, but would that be fair? one thing you learn when you hang your opinions out in public for a while is that it is always more comfortable morally to be able to stand up and defend what you've written.

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Does anyone know of any websites with boards where real names *are* required?

And if so, *is* there a greater level of accountability and/or credibility attached to the site in terms of reputation and content?

Robin Garr's Wine Lovers Discussion Group and Food Lovers Discussion Group used to have a real names policy (exceptions were allowed when circumstances warranted), and the feeling among participants was that it tended to create a stronger community and favour more civil discourse. Ironically, the policy has just been abandoned, as the groups have migrated to the Netscape community fora (where they're now collectively referred to as the Wine Lovers Community) and Netscape does not insist on real names. Some old-timers have stopped participating as a result.

I believe erobertparker.com also has a real names policy but, as I've always avoided the place (even back when it was Mark Squires' Wine Board), I don't have an impression as to its impact.

Edited by carswell (log)
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Folks, we're going to move this thread over to the Food Media and News board, where it started. And let's broaden the topic to anonymity on food and wine boards -- the original title, "The Downfall of eGullet", is a bit too dramatic, so that's going to change as well.

Jonathan Day

"La cuisine, c'est quand les choses ont le go�t de ce qu'elles sont."

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Although I am normally for full disclosure(see my username and sig) I think we would lose at least three members whom I know personally if they were forced to disclose their name. They are good people and have not been involved in any of the alluded to threads. They choose to be anonymous for work related reasons. I can not help but to be amused by the fact that as I type this the counter says "18 User(s) are reading this topic (0 Visitors and 4 Anonymous Members". Though I am new here and have only a few posts I am still amazed at the amount of folks who read eG, I have introduced myself to people and they think for a second and then say "wait do you post on that food site" happened at Blue Ribbon last night.

Edit: I must commend the staff for moving this thread. It is now on a forum where it can be read publicly.

Edited by M.X.Hassett (log)
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The importance of disclosing a name depends on the person involved.

If a person is a private individual, there is no value or legitimate interest in readers knowing that person's name. If a person is a big celebrity -- a movie star, let's say -- there may be plenty of interest but little actual value for the purposes of what we're doing here.

The only time it probably matters is if the person in question works in the food business or writes about it, yet for some people in the business, the arguments for concealing names are most compelling. As I noted above, if we can't offer pseudonyms to servers or line cooks in restaurants, we won't have very many of them posting here.

Jonathan Day

"La cuisine, c'est quand les choses ont le go�t de ce qu'elles sont."

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Names are not the issue; they're a distraction from the real point - as winesonoma pointed out, vested interests are.

At one time, it was discussed that vested interests should be mentioned in postings. I don't know if this was ever codified into the written rules/policies for eG. If not, perhaps it should be.

Knowing a name, real or not, won't necessarily do anything to solve the problem of undisclosed vested interests.

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I think one of Michael's points is that a media person might come on to a vitriolic thread, see that 'ianeccleston posted xxx on the influential egullet site' and have that make its way into a newspaper.

If you have been on egullet long enough, you you would know which members to trust by reading many of their posts over time. New members you might judge by their writing style. For entire topics, you might see where the consensus falls into place before arriving at an opinion about Doug Psaltis, or how you will go about making your boeuf bourguignon next weekend.

I suspect that many of the media members who write about food for magazines or newspapers regularly check in with egullet if they write about it, and have some sense of how egullet works, and probably wouldn't just arrive too quickly at a decision.

In any case, if a reporter were to pluck quotes or take things out of context from egullet, standard journalistic practices would have to apply. After all, it IS an Internet site with anonymous members. It would be fair to say that a large number of egulleters don't like Rachael Ray (and have been mentioned as such in the press). But chef / writer gossip? At the most it seems like any reputable journalist would have to dig a bit deeper than anonymous posts.

At its core, egullet is about the open exchange of opinions (and stories and so on). Anonymity facititates that, but is a double-edged sword: it either allows people to voice their honest opinion without fear of RL retaliation, or to demean or spew bile without RL repercussion (although these types of posts are generally not taken as seriously). Generally on egullet anonymity has been proven to be a good thing.

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The question of anonymity versus full disclosure and participation using real names is something we have discussed internally and agonized on over the years.

As of November of 2004 when we introduced the new registration and membership system we require that Participating Members (those members with posting rights) fully disclose their identity to eG Management. As a result, for anyone who has registered as of that date, we have their full profile info, including name, address and phone number. This data is not visible to other members obviously for privacy means, but it does mean that data is visible to the managers of the site.

It would become very difficult, however, to require full identity disclosure of all our members who registered prior to November of 2004. We don't really have a good solution for this and if we were to impose such a requirement it would likely alienate many members of the site.

I will add, however, that those old timers who have been with us for several years who do choose to voluntarily update their profile information are much appreciated by the management -- demographic information is always helpful to us, especially when approaching institutional donors and making decisions that require that kind of data -- such as creating new forums and content.

Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

offthebroiler.com - Food Blog | View my food photos on Instagram

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I've just deleted one post that used this thread to complain about another anonymous poster. As I said upthread, that's not on. This topic isn't a referendum on the Psaltis thread, or on any specific Society member.

The topic Michael Ruhlman raised is interesting and much broader either than eGullet or any single thread in our forums.

Jonathan Day

"La cuisine, c'est quand les choses ont le go�t de ce qu'elles sont."

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Ok. I'll tell you all a secret, I have a vested interest in promoting the City of Sonoma. I hate the Tourists and the traffic. But If you don't come all the great restaurants and wineries will go away. I'm outed.

Bruce Frigard

Quality control Taster, Château D'Eau Winery

"Free time is the engine of ingenuity, creativity and innovation"

111,111,111 x 111,111,111 = 12,345,678,987,654,321

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The question of anonymity versus full disclosure and participation using real names is something we have discussed internally and agonized on over the years.

As of November of 2004 when we introduced the new registration and membership system we require that Participating Members (those members with posting rights) fully disclose their identity to eG Management. As a result, for anyone who has registered as of that date, we have their full profile info, including name, address and phone number. This data is not visible to other members obviously for privacy means, but it does mean that data is visible to the managers of the site.

It would become very difficult, however, to require full identity disclosure of all our members who registered prior to November of 2004. We don't really have a good solution for this and if we were to impose such a requirement it would likely alienate many members of the site.

I will add, however, that those old timers who have been with us for several years who do choose to voluntarily update their profile information are much appreciated by the management -- demographic information is always helpful to us, especially when approaching institutional donors and making decisions that require that kind of data -- such as creating new forums and content.

Thanks for this public response. I hope everyone who can, will update their info. The more people who do this, the less influential anonymity will be.

Now, how about sending reasons to the person in question when deleting their post. I was really pissed. Not that it was done, but that it was done anonymously.

For instance, the title and subtitle of this thread was changed, why I have no idea, but it would have been appropriate to ask me for a revision, wouldn't it?

But then, here I've gone and asked you to behave more like conventional editors, and that's what you're doing! Fixing my copy!

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As I noted above, if we can't offer pseudonyms to servers or line cooks in restaurants, we won't have very many of them posting here.

It is also possible that a disgruntled server or a line cook could use the guise of a pseudonym to post misleading comments without bearing the responsibility of the act.

It would seem that even *if* a website requested users to register with their real names, the procedures neccesary to guarantee the veracity of the information would be quite cumbersome in any large website.

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I agree with munchymom and therese as well.  It's not a matter of remaining anonymous to argue and rant; it's purely a safety mechanism.  Don't you people ever watch CSI Miami or Law and Order SVU?!?  While those are usually extreme cases, identity theft, harassment, etc. can happen to anyone!

Me too. I don't want to be posting my whereabouts, comings and goings on the internet. "I'll be going to a three-star restaurant tomorrow! Please come over to my house and rob it/kidnap my kids while I'm out!" You think these fears are extreme until it happens to you or one of your friends.

I think people who are shilling or coming on the board specifically to jump into one particular controversy for personal interests usually are pretty obvious, aren't they?

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Thanks for this public response. I hope everyone who can, will update their info. The more people who do this, the less influential anonymity will be.

It is within the power of every member on the site to include a signature with their real name if they are using a "handle". I believe other members would appreciate it, and I am of the personal opinion it adds extra weight to the validity of said posts, but from a policy perspective its not something that we are going to enforce.

For those of you who want to include a signature with every post (which is also helpful if you want to promote your website or business in a totally acceptable manner) here is a handy link so you can add one right away:

Add your eGullet Society Signature (click)

Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

offthebroiler.com - Food Blog | View my food photos on Instagram

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...the title and subtitle of this thread was changed, why I have no idea, but it would have been appropriate to ask me for a revision, wouldn't it?

But then, here I've gone and asked you to behave more like conventional editors, and that's what you're doing! Fixing my copy!

Glad you appreciate it. But -- not to put too fine a point on it -- we don't regard thread titles as belonging to any individual poster, including the originator of the thread. We frequently merge duplicate threads and change thread names, almost always without consulting any poster beforehand. This is about ensuring that the forum indexes reflect what's actually in the thread.

On the other hand, we won't generally edit a post (e.g. deleting part of a post that violates the Member Agreement, even if the rest of the post is fine) without prior approval of the poster. Your posts are, truly, your copy.

Jonathan Day

"La cuisine, c'est quand les choses ont le go�t de ce qu'elles sont."

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It's interesting this thread came up now.

Someone who reads eGullet recently an anonymous comment on my blog about how eGullet "is very corrupt (yadda yadda yadda)" and then suggested I (and probably the 107 people who read my natterings) go to some other foodie discussion site. I debated removing the comment as I thought he/she/it was quite rude to do this (if you are going to use my space as a billboard, you should have the decency to use your name)... I decided to leave it on--the post is no longer on the main page and will, like the rest of it, be buried in obscurity. Removing the post may cause more problems than it's worth at this time.

Anyway re: posting anonymously...

I can easily see both sides of it--if you're going to say something, then say it with your own name—own up to what you say.

But I've had the luxury of a fan/weirdo dig through a volume of Usenet posts to piece together where I worked (I do commend the sheer tenacity of that), call 411 for my office number and then call me over and over again. The only reason he didn't get me at home is that I don't live in the city where I work, I never post my surname and my phone number is unlisted.

I am one of my company's spokespeople, so whatever I say under my own name might be seen as representative of the company stance, regardless of the subject, so I have to be aware of what I say, where I say it and when I say it.

Unfortunately, some people don’t understand the distinction between work-me and me-me, resulting in off-hour calls to my parents (their number is listed) from the public, looking for me, because the caller took issue with something at my office and couldn’t wait until office hours to ream me out. The caller then gets upset that my mum won’t give out my home number to some lunatic they’ve never heard of who calls for me.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

j.

blog: Confessions of a Cardamom Addict

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I see both points of view. I understand the point that egullet has become an influential part of the media. There are many members who post regularly who are part of the food industry including the media. At the same time there are probably an equal or larger number of members who are "lay-foodies" - people who are skilled cooks or food enthusiasts with no other direct connection to the industry. This latter group includes me.

I am a working, visible, member of a very different industry. I work very, very hard to keep my personal life out of my business life. Very few people I work with know about my family, hobbies, passions and problems outside of work. I like it this way. I want the people I work with focused on business, not me.

Unfortunately the same technology that makes the internet so interesting makes it dangerous too. Posting my name on a forum like egullet will likely make it searchable on the various internet search engines. This makes me uncomfortable.

Still, I think the point is strong enough that I will make an exception for this forum.

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There are so many related issues that make a discussion site more or less useful and more or less honest that I wouldn't know where to start. Sticking to anonymity, I will say that it's largely a problem when and if it's pertinent to the thread. I remember a post by someone who just happened to discover a wonderful new restaurant. Eventually it turned out she was the proud mother of the chef. Those things are sad.

Sometimes the anonymity issue takes perverse turns. Recently an anonymous member who posted that he liked being anonymous insisted I was being devious for not revealing information that is a matter of public record while he reveals nothing but a propensity for taunting. Hypocrisy knows no bounds.

Sometimes however, the dishonesty in a thread is not what's posted, but what's known and not posted.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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Let me ask a question:  suppose the North Southport Grill opens in a big city (NYC, London, Chicago).  An eGullet member whose real name is Susan Smith dines there and posts a negative comment on the place.  Let's further suppose that Susan is not in any way a public figure.

Does it make any difference whether she posts as Susan Smith, S Smith or TreeHugger?  Whitepages.com lists 244 names under "S Smith" and 9 matching "Susan Smith", in New York, New York.  Where does the additional accountability come from?

It might if there was a Smith of any kind who owned the restaurant across the street.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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eG's beauty, power and influence appear to stem in large part from the way it brings pros from the restaurant, food publishing/writing, and related industries together with a wide range of people who care about food but are not in those industries, while also providing opportunities for people to mingle, communicate and learn within their own tribe(s). At least that's why I love it.

The unfortunate Psaltis thread, was, for most readers, primarily a provincial and uninteresting (other than its train wreck qualities) debate among the pros. (Pros in the "part of the industry" sense of the word rather than the "behave with a level of decorum, restraint and intelligence intended to always move our work forward" sense of the word.)

There are already a great many rules, regulations etc. here -- most of which seemed quite comical when I joined last year, but which I must admit seem to generally help smooth things along. The Psaltis thread got out of hand, and there was some bad behavior, but the rest of eGullet went on in its glorious way. Outsiders viewing the forum will surely think poorly of the place, but there is plenty of good to counter that and it will fade. It seems that, on the basis of that evidence, unless eG wants to change its mission, the rules are fine as they are.

It would be a shame to see the problem made visible by the Psaltis thread (narrow provincialism, in the professional sense) made more likely by an action that reduced the variety and volume of eG members. Clearly, that's not the intent of the suggestion, but just as clearly it could be a consequence of its implementation.

Richard W. Mockler

Seattle

I will, in fact, eat anything once.

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Hmm, I have used my real name in various fora for years. The number of friends and contacts made this way have far outweighed the death threats, which are currently at acceptable levels.

Regards,

Michael Lloyd

Mill Creek, Washington USA

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I think the real issue is that anything you read on a forum like this (or indeed, anywhere) needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Posting under one's real name does not automatically guarantee the veracity of a statement. Which is certainly not to say that anyone here intends to deceive, but mom taught me not to believe everything I read.

One issue about the truth of statements arises when eG is used as one of the main sources for content published by the mainstream press. Reporters who rely heavily on fora such as this one for article fodder, without engaging in further research to verify statments, are engaging in lazy journalism.

I feel that anonymity is valuable. I've witnessed what are effectively public lynchings on other boards I've occasionally read, where the person's address and phone number are posted and members harrass other members in person. The instigators usually defend themselves by pointing out that the information is public and they are merely aggregating it. I'm depressed by the (seemingly recent) phenomenon common to blogs of 'snarking' about people, which usually results in a barrage of cutting remarks that far surpass what anyone would ever say face-to-face.

It's one of the reasons that I no longer really update my personal site. Who wants their photo to wind up on the latest site consisting of nothing but vitriol for people none of the posters have ever met, simply based on the fact that they've posted something others disagreed with, or they look 'weird' in a photo? (Arguably, anonymity might make it easier for the perpetually-adolescent to take potshots at people, but it does make it harder for them to dredge up information about their targets.)

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I agree with many of your points Michael and egullet certainly is a wonderful place for many, many cuisine related issues. The support and sharing of knowledge shown in the Pastry/baking threads is fantastic.

But grain of salt too. Television Without Pity is an interesting place. One can say the most heinous of things about television personalities,etc, but piss off "fellow poster" and you're doomed there. Oy!

B

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Requiring full names would be a great way to make this into an all-male organization. The sad fact is that the preponderance of stalking incidents -- and yes, we have had to deal with several in our more than four year history -- are directed at women. A full names requirement is not going to happen here, and shouldn't.

In any event, it is not exactly accurate to say we allow anonymous posting. We allow pseudonymous posting. We know who our members are. Our members are required to provide us with name, address, phone number and other personal information. We use various systems to confirm this information, and we probe deeper at the slightest sign of trouble with from a member. We also have technological records, such as IP addresses, that aid in identification. While there are some members grandfathered under the old system, where they were not required to provide as much personal information, they are allowed to do so only on good behavior.

We do allow the use of a single pseudonym for each member. We know who our members are, but we don't require that they post their real names on a publicly viewable website that gets three million plus views a month. That would be irresponsible. Everyone is entitled to make that personal choice until such time as he or she joins us as staff.

Pseudonyms are a time-honored tradition in literature. Mark Twain isn't the guy's real name. Likewise, most actors, singers and the like use pseudonyms. The important thing is that there be one real person per pseudonym, as we require. That way, "Chocokitty" becomes an identity, a character. We don't care if Chocokitty is actually named John Smith, do we? If I told you Rocketman's real name, let's hypothetically call him Bill Magruder, what difference would it make? What difference would it make if he signed his posts that way? It would only matter if Bill Magruder was an identifiable culinary figure. In this case, he is not. Were he an identifiable culinary figure, we'd be leaning hard on him behind the scenes to disclose that.

Now, if it's Daniel Boulud using a pseudonym, we have a different sort of issue. But we accept that provided the pseudonym is not used disingenuously.

Nor does the use of real names seem to deter trolls and flamewars. A preponderance of our most toxic members ever had no problem at all making asses of themselves while posting under their real names. Likewise, we have many long-standing pseudonymous members who have been wonderful contributors. Most of our staff posted under pseudonyms without identifying information in their signature lines until the day we made them staff.

The real name issue just doesn't hold up when examined. Take my wife for example. Say her username is "Sea Turtle" but she has to change it to "Ellen Shapiro, New York, NY." Assume she is not a "public figure" -- in other words she is not the author of any books or articles and doesn't work in the food world; she is, say, a legal assistant at a large New York law firm. Let's look her up in the phone book:

E. Shapiro

New York, NY 10001

212-249-5772

E. Shapiro

120 Fdr Dr

New York, NY 10002

212-362-0874

E. Shapiro

484 2nd Ave

New York, NY 10016

212-679-9850

E. Shapiro

343 E 30th St

New York, NY 10016

212-679-0621

E. Shapiro

36 W 75th St

New York, NY 10023

212-787-2732

E. Shapiro

150 W End Ave

New York, NY 10023

212-769-0903

E. Shapiro

101 W 81st St

New York, NY 10024

212-580-5191

E. Shapiro

350 Central Park W

New York, NY 10025

212-866-5957

E. Shapiro

353 E 83rd St

New York, NY 10028

212-249-0214

E. Shapiro

75 E End Ave

New York, NY 10028

212-570-2366

E. Shapiro

333 Pearl St

New York, NY 10038

212-233-2029

E. F. Shapiro

280 1st Ave

New York, NY 10009

212-533-1248

E. K. Shapiro

315 W 106th St

New York, NY 10025

212-866-5948

E. M. Shapiro

324 E 52nd St

New York, NY 10022

212-832-9691

E. M. Shapiro

180 W End Ave

New York, NY 10023

212-580-0578

E. S. Shapiro

150 E 37th St

New York, NY 10016

212-889-8040

E. V. Shapiro

350 Bleecker St

New York, NY 10014

212-645-0930

Ellen Shapiro

150 E 32nd St

New York, NY 10016

646-825-6326

Ellen Shapiro

550 Park Ave

New York, NY 10021

212-888-3555

Ellen Shapiro

98 Riverside Dr

New York, NY 10024

212-580-4412

Ellen Shapiro

315 W 106th St

New York, NY 10025

212-864-1039

So which one is the real Ellen Shapiro? Actually, none of the above. Like a certain percentage of the female population of the United States, she has no telephone listing because the phone is in her husband's name.

But why are we looking up her phone number and address anyway? Is this what people will do if they don't like a members' posts: look them up and call or visit them? Is the idea that if people use their real names they'll be deterred from engaging in misconduct by the threat of harassment and violence at the hands of other members? Isn't that the theory under which prisons are administered?

People have names of varying complexity and uniqueness. There are a lot of E. Shapiros and S. Shaws in the New York phone book. There are probably not as many Michael Ruhlmans in Cleveland. There is also varying value to knowing a person's name. As Jonathan Day explained above: If a person is a private individual, there is no value whatsoever to knowing that person's name. If a person is a movie star, there is plenty of interest but little actual value for the purposes of our organization. The only time it probably matters is if the person in question works in the food business or writes about it, yet those are the cases in which the arguments for concealing names are most compelling: if we can't offer pseudonyms to servers in restaurants, we won't have very many of them posting here.

The problem, as has been observed already, isn't the lack of use of real names. It's member conduct in general. The name issue is a distraction.

It's also inappropriate to badger any member about using or not using a real name. We've set a clear rule and that rule says people are allowed to post under pseudonyms so long as they are not anonymous to management. This tiered system of identification is the most sensible one we have been able to devise, and we think it's a good one. The current plan is to keep pushing that system to be more airtight, and to work on member conduct problems in general. And, having set the rule, we can't then allow ad hominem arguments based on use or non-use of a real name in public posts. We can't allow members to say to other members, "Your argument has no worth until you tell us your name." It's harassment and we have to delete all such posts.

Nobody even gives the pseudonym issue a moment's thought until a member gets aggressive or disingenuous. At that point, some folks mistakenly attribute it to the pseudonym, when it's really a conduct problem.

Michael Ruhlman started this topic by suggesting that "I wonder if [eGullet's] moderators ought to begin functioning a little more like conventional media editors in how they manage information, and its posters ought to behave more like contributors to conventional media."

While I can understand why some print journalists, who function in a certain world all day long, might suggest this, it's clear from the comments of most of the rest of our members that the idea just wouldn't fly. And we certainly have no intention of trying to make our forums mimic conventional media. We have a journal, the Daily Gullet, that is appropriately similar to a traditional print publication. The forums are a new medium, one that we, as one of the premier discussion communities out there, are helping to shape.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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