NOTE: The content below is partially obsolete. I wrote it when this was an SE 1.0 site that I administered autocratically. However, the arguments I present in favor of allowing anonymity remain valid. To contact the moderators, chat is the best forum.
Here's how I see it:
Possible benefits of allowing anonymity
- It would be a great deal of work for me to prevent anonymity.
- Such a major restriction on users, however it's implemented, would prevent many people from using mi.yodeya.
The above two factors are big enough for me that I would have to see a very strong argument for preventing anonymous participation to even seriously consider how to do it.
The following philosophical point is nearly as important to me as the practical ones above:
- To underscore the point that if your argument is well-reasoned, founded properly in the sources, and well-presented, it really doesn't matter who you are in an informational (i.e. not for professional advice) forum like this one.
Here are some additional reasons that may be important to some users:
- As you suggested, to allow people to express [globally or locally] unpopular ideas that they believe in without it affecting their real-world reputations.
- To allow people to ask or answer questions about uncomfortable topics or about topics that it would be damaging for others to know that they're dealing with.
- To allow people to participate in the site even if they have a general fear of people spying on them, knowing their business, etc., as exemplified in YS's answer.
Why anonymous participation shouldn't be a big problem here
I agree with you that anonymous expression can lead to big problems on blogs, in blog comments, in discussion forums, and the like. Where the order of the day is free-flowing discussion, some people naturally gravitate toward things like attacking other people - either attacking others within the same forum or using the forum as a platform to attack people outside of it.
Using mi.yodeya to attack others
However, I don't see that as a big potential on mi.yodeya. This is not a discussion forum or someone's blog; it's a knowledge exchange. The point is not to discuss whatever's on people's minds but to ask and answer questions about Jewish life and learning. Sure, someone could phrase a character assassination as a question or an answer, but there's been almost none of that to date, and I don't expect much, as long as mi.yodeya remains active in its intended mode. Why shoehorn your attacks into the knowledge exchange format when you can just create your own blog or post on a more free-flowing discussion forum?
Attacking others within mi.yodeya
There remains the potential for attacks on other people within mi.yodeya. I suppose this could happen, especially within the comments on a question or answer, since the comment feature exists particularly for response to and discussion of questions and answers outside the main Q&A exchange. However, the comment feature was deliberately designed to be much lower profile than the main content, so whatever happens there is going to be seen by fewer people. In any event, this phenomenon, too, has also been mostly absent to date.
There are many built-in remedies
The bottom line on any potential harmful content is that we have a large menu of ways to deal with it:
Anyone can email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or using the "Contact mi.yodeya" link on the sidebar to bring issues to my attention. Those who've tried this can testify that I'm pretty responsive.
- Every user with at least 15 reputation points can click the "flag" button on a question or answer, marking it as offensive in their eyes and bringing it to the moderators' attention.
- Every user with at least 125 points can vote down content that they deem objectionable. When a question or answer has a negative score, it's likely to get less attention, and there's a clear message that the community doesn't like it.
- Every user with at least 2000 points can go in and edit out content they don't like. As I write this, only one user has attained that mark, but others will follow soon enough. You, for example, are almost halfway there after only 23 days of participation.
- Moderators (two of us, as I write this), can delete any question, answer, or comment that we feel warrants it and do anything else that it takes reputation points to do.
If you see objectionable content, I encourage you to carefully avail yourself of these tools to get it downgraded or removed.
I think we can agree that anonymous participation, at worst, isn't a problem in and of itself but a potential enabler of bad behavior. The bad behaviors it could lead to haven't been a big problem to date, and we have mechanisms in place for dealing with the bad behaviors themselves, should they crop up. Unless and until anonymous participation actually leads to serious problems that the community and moderators can't deal with, I don't see a pressing need to either ban it or ask my Rabbi about it. As always, I welcome feedback on this topic in the comments or via email.