Anonymous commenters frustrate intermediaries

Sometime in the coming weeks, two men will meet at a local coffee shop or restaurant and just hang out. They'll talk about D.C. politics and related topics. In all likelihood, they'll enjoy the outing.

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Long story short

Never get in between two serial anonymous commenters.

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They won't say where or when it'll all go down. Nor will they let me use their real names for this article. They allowed their gender to be included, reluctantly. Secrecy is important to these men because they’re both serial anonymous commenters on a local news site. I helped put them in touch with each other; it's something I'll never try again.

The two men "met" on the website of Washington City Paper, one under the commenter handle "Truth Hurts," and the other under "downtown rez." The anonymenters flocked to stories on the site -- washingtoncitypaper.com -- about politics and social issues.

Both “Truth Hurts” and “downtown rez” are men with solid careers. One is a lawyer, the other isn’t. “Truth Hurts” is a fabulous raconteur; “downtown rez” has a superb wardrobe and claimed online at one point to have kids.  

Like all cloaked commenters, these guys don’t part with much information about themselves online: No ages or hometowns or other helpful identifying information. Some biographical details, however, occasionally leak out on the comments platform, like the fact that both men are old enough to have entered the workforce before labor laws kicked in. "Downtown rez": "my first 'real' job (other than yardwork/mowing lawns/walking dogs) was as a 15 year old. It was a sub-minimum wage gig at Baskin Robbins. I had no idea how hard it was to scoop peanutbutter-chocolate ice cream. My forearms burned an hour into it. I didn't last three months there." That comment came in response to a City Paper post on D.C. jobs situation.

"Truth Hurts": "Mine was as a 15 year old busboy/dishwasher at a rstaurant where we were told to return uneaten rolls to the bread warmer. $1.15 hourly."

In addition to their wage-slave origins, “Truth Hurts” and “downtown rez” share a disregard for Vince Gray, the D.C. Council chairman who knocked off incumbent Mayor Adrian Fenty in September’s Democratic primary. In reaction to a 2009 City Paper story about Gray's weighing a mayoral challenge, for example, "Truth Hurts" fumed, "Feel my gag reflex kicking in. Getting ready to puke. Vince 'one city' Gray has 'management experience'? Like his HHS directorship? When well-respected folks advocating for humane treatment of DC's homeless persons handcuffed themselves to his door..."

The assessment of "downtown rez" was a touch more optimistic, yet still dismissive of the challenger: "The practical choice before us is to move eagerly forward, or reluctantly forward," he wrote in a June 2010 comment.  

Compulsion drives the ubiquity of these men on washingtoncitypaper.com comment threads. Even when they try to stay away, they can’t. A good example surfaced in March, in reference to a City Paper post about Fenty and homelessness. “Downtown rez” starts out by saying that he was "homeless for a year. I couch surfed and worked my way up renting rooms from friends when I got a job working fast food in a mall."  But then the conversation turns nasty, and "downtown rez" writes: “Wow. What a productive conversation this is. Really makes me proud. Not. I'm imagining a bunch of people here would do better if they led by example and lived the change you expect to see from others. drez out” (Emphasis courtesy of drez).

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