Livefyre released a study on anonymous commenting last week. Their conclusions are generally in favor of allowing anonymity on your blog. They found that when you require a real identity, you also say good-bye to more than three quarters of people who would normally comment anonymously.

I spent a lot of time looking at the numbers, and before we discuss them, it’s important to understand the sample size. I found some of the information confusing, but Skyler Rogers of Livefyre was very accommodating in answering my many questions. Thank you, Skyler.

While the Livefyre infographic says they surveyed 1,300 U.S. consumers aged 18-65, that isn’t the full picture. They actually surveyed 3,496 people. They asked those people if they had ever left comments online on an article or blog post. If they said yes, the survey continued. If they said no, the survey ended. 1,388 said they had left comments online.

Who Comments and Who Comments Anonymously

This means that, by their own admission and definition, 60.3% of people have never left a comment on an article or blog post. Livefyre didn’t mention this number as their efforts focused on anonymous commenting, but I still found it interesting.

Of the 39.7% (1,388 people) who have left comments online, only 39.7% (or 553 people) have done so anonymously (including under a fake name). This means that only 15.8% of U.S. consumers admit to having left an anonymous comment online.

Among those who comment anonymously, 88% also use their real name at least part of the time.

Why People Comment Anonymously

The 553 people who said they have left anonymous comments online were asked why they do so. They were presented with some choices as well as a text field where they could enter a reason.

The most popular multiple choice option selected was “feeling I can be more open and honest than if I identified myself.” There were a number of reasons that people provided for being anonymous, including:

  • Concern that professional connections would judge them based on their opinion.
  • A desire to not want to be judged based on their identity.
  • The freedom to reveal personal and intimate information.
  • Being a public figure.

5% of anonymous commenters provided this as a reason: “making mean-spirited comments that don’t point back to my real identity.” In their infographic, Livefyre summed this up as bullying, although I would say that making a mean-spirited comment is not necessarily bullying. Of course, then you run into the issue of deciding how many people who actually bully would admit to doing so.

Not surprisingly, 50% of the people who leave anonymous comments say they do so on news articles. This is followed by politics (45%), personal blogs (19%), entertainment (17%), sports (12%), other (11%), travel (7%) and celebrity gossip (5%).

How Many Comments Do You Lose by Requiring Real Names?

This question is only partially answered. 78% of people who have left anonymous comments will not comment if they are forced to use their real identity. Extrapolating that number further, if 1,388 represents 100% of people who leave comments online, then you will lose at least 431 people or 31.1% of the your commenters by requiring real names.

This is a partial answer because it doesn’t represent what percentage of people you might lose amongst those who haven’t left anonymous comments (seems odd, but possible – requiring real names can lead to people who use real names taking different types of abuse). I suppose it also doesn’t include people you might gain from the group who don’t leave comments at all (likely a small number, if at all).

How Do Anonymous Comments Harm the Credibility of Your Site?

This is another question that is partially answered. Among those who have left a comment online, anonymous or not, 59% see anonymous comments as being equal to or more valuable than comments made with real names. But that doesn’t account for the larger web audience, including the 60.3% that don’t leave comments at all. This is really a question I wish had been asked for the 3,496.

My expectation is that if everyone had been asked this question – rather than just people who leave comments – the 59% figure would have been lower.

Moderation Makes the Dream Work

Livefyre’s Samantha Hauser makes the case that anonymity isn’t so much the cause of terrible comment sections as much as a lack of moderation strategy. I definitely agree with that. If you want a sense of community, you have to fight for it.