I noticed that there seems to be some well-intentioned silliness in R. Scott Clark's new blog commenting policy (link to his discussion of his policy). The new policy requires those commenting to provide their real names, so as to take responsibility for their comments.
Before I get to the silliness, let me acknowledge that there are small number of vocal folks who abuse what they perceive to be the web's anonymity. That is to say, there are a number of folks who post anonymously to harass, annoy, inflame, or otherwise act as trolls. This is irritating and it leads to blog-owners requiring some additional barriers to commenting to deter these trolls.
Nevertheless, imposing a policy that says those commenting must provide their real names fails to make people responsible for their comments. First, the current policy only requires that a part of the person's name be provided. There's no requirement that the whole name be provided. Unless someone has a rather unusual (for the blogosphere) first name (yes, Thabiti, I'm thinking of you) then even using a real name wouldn't help. Same, though perhaps a little less so, for family names. Even when we combine first and last names, there are still many common combinations. Adding a middle initial or perhaps a full middle name would be helpful in further reducing the number of possible people a particular might refer to.
Such measures, however, fail to provide full responsibility for two reasons. First, as the tax folks know, there are plenty of cases of people with identical names. Second, even if your social security number of passport number were provided (we have to keep the blogosphere international, after all), simply identifying a person's name doesn't tell you much that permits you to hold that person responsible. We would also need an address, some sort of physical description (several people can live at the same address), and for church discipline purposes, membership information.
Furthermore, in the U.S. and South Africa, as well as some other places, gun ownership is rather common. Thus, if we really want to keep folks who comment on blogs responsible, we need some ability to get to them. Thus, they would need to be required to post some sort of bond with a neutral third party (such as a bank), that the blog owner could seize if the blog commenter violated the bounds of proper behaviour - at least as an initial form of responsibility. Hostage giving by blog commenters would be another way: who is going to write mindnumbing screeds in your comment boxes if you have their firstborn child?
And, of course, not only is the mechanism proposed by my dear brother in Christ, R. Scott Clark, not enough to ensure responsibility, it is a way that's easily foiled. I would not be shocked if Clark started to see a lot of the John Smiths and Jane Does of the Internet start commenting (in surprising volume) on his blog.
In fact, the only people who Clark's policy will adversely affect are those morally upright folks who don't want to reveal their real names. They are the only ones who will not intentionally violate Clark's policy (some may unintentionally violate it, based on not carefully reading the policy, or not noticing that the policy exists), while the unscrupulous will easily beat his safeguard.
When pseudonymous comments are outlawed, only outlaws will comment pseudonymously.