Privacy is not the same as anonymity, which I believe many Pagan bloggers have given some thought to. Whether or not a particular blogger allows people to comment anonymously is actually just one layer of the privacy question. There are now many commenting systems that follow users around the internet, and I’m asking bloggers in the Pagan community to consider offering alternatives to them.
What’s the problem? Blog comment hosting services offer the ability of blog owners to accept comments through social media. That’s got some sincere advantages, but it’s yet another way for companies to collect data about our habits.
What are these services? The list includes companies that specialize in comments, and companies that specialize in following you around the internet, like:
- Disqus (which allows you to log in via other social media services, which is not actually much of an alternative),
- Google (which has gotten so much creepier in recent years that I stopped commenting on blogs Google controls, and eventually moved this blog to WordPress), and
- Facebook (which never had an unofficial “don’t be evil” motto like Google used to).
Pagans often have a strong desire or need for privacy, and being asked to use these aggregating services undermines it.
What blogs are using these services? It might be easier to ask who doesn’t, but let’s be clear: it’s not always easy to avoid them. I had to jump through some insane hoops to make sure that my blog, when it was still hosted at Blogger (a Google property), did not force people to comment using Google Plus. Some platforms don’t give their bloggers any options. That being said, Pagan blogs that don’t provide an alternative to these services include:
- virtually all the blogs hosted at blogger.com, a Google property;
- The Wild Hunt (with a codicil, see below); and
- The Patheos Pagan channel, plus countless others that I have never read myself.
What are the alternatives? Some believe that one should never point out a problem unless one has a possible solution at the ready, but I disagree. That silences people who should be part of the process, and in this case, that includes me. I don’t have an easy answer, but I think we should put our heads together. Some blogs I have read have a comment form that allows me to sign in with a name and an email address — for example, Gangleri’s Grove, hosted by Weebly. Perhaps bloggers hosted by creeper services have no options but to leave that host, which is asking quite a lot. I hope not.
A codicil regarding The Wild Hunt: Unlike Patheos, The Wild Hunt’s comment section includes an option for “I’d rather post as a guest” by simply putting in a name and an email address. This is a good start, but I don’t know what Disqus is doing with that information, so it still bothers me. Better to include OpenID as a way to protect both the blog from spam and the commenter from privacy intrusions.
But blogs services that are self-hosted can make that choice, PaganSquare did. Yes, you need to create an account to comment there, but that information does not follow you around. I can protect my privacy, while the bloggers on that site limit my anonymity. It’s a good balance.
To all Pagan bloggers, from media outlets to those writing in obscurity like myself, I ask you to join in this conversation. How can we protect the privacy of the members of our community better, without sacrificing too much of our online work? What systems can we develop to support the creation of alternatives to the big creeper services, for those who prefer to avoid them?