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What should Pulse do about anonymous comments?

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Pulse has always been an open forum for GPs. We take pride in being a place where the profession comes to take stock, debate and share ideas.

I am often pulled aside at conferences by someone who is eager to tell me how much they enjoy reading our website. And that includes the active discussions below the line, where GPs often astutely cut through the artifice of management speak and baldly ‘say how it is’.

Rambunctious and amusing, I often find the comments section on PulseToday more informative than the articles themselves. They are a vital way for the profession to show its strength of feeling, when policymakers often only listen to ‘yes-men’. With such a diverse profession, the comments often bring multiple perspectives to an issue and have a wildly anarchic logic that ensures a wide range of opinion.

However, there is a dark side. Occasionally the comments section can turn sour. This is not just a problem for Pulse’s website, but I have had GPs refuse to write for us, because they are concerned about the reaction they will receive. Others have complained that they can be attacked anonymously. 

The facility for anonymous comments on PulseToday is there for a good reason – to enable GPs to express themselves without fear of reprisals. As public figures, and in order to protect patient confidentiality, GPs sometimes need to be able to voice an opinion without being identified. But sometimes it can feel like a wall of faceless criticism being directed at those who put their heads above the parapet. It can have the effect of stifling, rather than helping, debate. As with the rest of the internet, there is the potential for more moderate voices to be drowned out.

At Pulse we are constantly looking at how we can improve the experience of GPs on our website, and as part of this we are looking at how our comments section works. But before we make any changes I am keen that we listen to what you think. How do you think the quality of debate on PulseToday could be improved? Do you value the option to be anonymous? 

It is really important that we know who is on our site and that we preserve it as a place for GPs to debate and express opinions, but some of you have asked us to deal with the issue of non-GP commenters skewing debates on the site. Do you see this as a problem? Would you like comments to be restricted just to GPs, or do you find other voices valuable? Should all users be validated?

Please leave your comments below or email me at editor@pulsetoday.co.uk. And please be assured that whatever happens, our aim is to extend the discussions on Pulse rather than restrict them. Now – perhaps more than ever in Pulse’s history – GPs need the freedom to express themselves and debate the future of the profession. 

Nigel Praities is editor of Pulse

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Readers' comments (61)

  • This has always intrigued me;
    Are general practitioners generally unhappy, or is there one extremely unhappy GP, who blogs prodigiously?
    Is he even a GP?
    Are comments made genuine, or simply intended to stir everybody up?
    Annoyingly you may see an interesting comment, with which you agree, but have no idea who made it
    Anonymity has the advantage of allowing people to let off steam, but it can add nothing constructive

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  • definitely should have a system where anonymity can be guaranteed, but a continuity of debate could be had - eg a username system, like that in the Guardian BTL comments or something like Disqus

    I would also like to see an overhaul of the comments system so that we could make specific replies to people or have discussion threads.

    It would help to have some kind of internal reputation system too.

    Just having "anonymous" seems to be a bit too easy for pointless flame wars, eg in the latest "partners vs locums" discussion

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  • Use a disqus style system with replies/threads, to confine conflicts to a single thread that can then be managed - instead of inflicting the negativity on the comment section for that article as a whole - and make it easier to have a username that is essentially anonymous - so an individual can be identified between articles, in responding to replies to their output, and if they are essentially trolling, they can be dealt with as such. But also this protects them through a pseudonym from confidentiality breaches, personal attacks etc. And like previous comments have identified, would help audit and assess the number of individuals expressing various opinions.

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  • I think a username system is a good idea, so that the site knows who has made the comments, but with visible usernames that are not reflective of the actual names of the person posting, so that they can reply with some degree of anonymity (the anonymity required from the outside world, as im sure we have 'journalists' from the likes of the DailyMail on here looking for stories/scandal).

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  • We should not be afraid to post under our own names. We are, after all, supposed to be living in a democracy. At least those of us who are not doctors are supposed to be living in a democracy. I also strongly feel that non doctors,and probably non GPs, should only be allowed to post using their own names.

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  • Vinci Ho

    Thanks Nigel, it is interesting only after so many years(as I can recall back to the days of your predecessor) you bring along this debate . Perhaps , that just demonstrates how popular Pulse has become . The arguments really go back to the question of what is the telos , purpose , of this platform :
    (1) If this is a site to cherish freedom of speech , there is no need to distinguish between anonymous or non-anonymous comments , especially there is a motion to stand up against some system of injustice and corruption.
    (2) Internet is a wonderful discovery because it has made everybody a 'writer' , a content provider . But I suppose the readers always want to know who is the content provider . The fact one can keep himself/herself anonymous and raise harmful attacks on others is only a virtual reality . The IP address can always be traced back if an authority wants to do so. So the virtual security one can feel anonymous remains virtual . Everybody has to be responsible for what he/she said or wrote. Of course , one has to think about own security before fulfilling the duty of candour , totally understanable .
    (3) The downside , sometimes , associated with anonymity is 'infiltration by our enemies' as far as war strategy is concerned . The fact that this platform is wide open , allows anybody representing any 'anti-GP group' to post on here . You can argue I probably belong to some anti-government organisation !!
    (4) After all , Pulse remains the owner of this webpage and has the right to wipe out/moderate the comments . As I said in the past , a private party.

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  • Peter - with a username system there is nothing stopping you from sharing your real name either as part of the username or in your biography or part of your signature

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  • I would not comment unless I was able to comment anonymously. I worked as a Locum for a number of years across many practices and I would have concern about my job prospects if my name appeared every time I posted. Patients also read this stuff, Google my name and my comment would be there to read out of context..for ever and ever. No thanks. Is my argument less valid just because my name is absent? Is so can I ask why?

    I do take issue with non Drs/nurses posting here though, or folk pretending to be Drs who obviously aren't. Why not require a valid GMC/nurse reg number to post, and why not give posters a stable nickname, at least then you can see who's posting over and over again and correlate what they've posted before.

    In summary;
    anonymous posting - yes yes!
    Non Dr/nurse posting - no no!
    Nicknames - mais oui!
    BREXIT?....can't decide

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  • I wouldn't comment either, unless anonymously.
    I too have other roles that prevent my making attributable comments which may appear critical.

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  • Another vote for a username system. Personally I wouldn't make a comment that I wasn't prepared to put my name behind, but can understand why others may prefer not to use their real name.

    The prevalence of anonymous comments makes it difficult to follow some threads and sometimes raises suspicion that one of two parties are posting negative responses en masse.

    If you can use a nickname or alias, I don't see a need for anonymous comments at all.

    Also agree that formatting the comments to allow replies to specific comments would be beneficial.

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