What are the true implications of Bamford’s campaign?

Jon Cudby

I “write about a profession I know nothing about”; I am “spectacularly wrong”; “OMG! How naïve can I be?”

None of these are my own words, but all have been said about me in the comments at the bottom of my various opinion pieces online. Admittedly in one I was trying to argue that Hector Sants deserved his knighthood so that may have been fair criticism.

I mention this in light of a recently launched campaign to restrict “anonymous” comments on personal finance websites, which appears to be steadily building support without anybody questioning the true implications of what the campaign is calling for.

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First, the background: prompted by some fairly unpleasant bile directed at him via the comments section of a trade website, and some other nastier stuff written falsely in the name of another adviser, Martin Bamford, managing director of Informed Choice, has begun to lobby for the ending of all anonymous comments on online stories.

He has launched an online petition looking to generate support. You are free to add your name to support his cause. Ironically, given the medium Mr Bamford has chosen, you are also free to add a made-up name to support the cause. I haven’t added my name – or anyone else’s – for several reasons.

The great thing about the development of online publishing is a true democratisation of the media. In the old days, Money Management was a monologue, preached down to readers who were given one page of the mag to voice any dissenting views. There’s an old saying that the secret of successful journalism is to make your readers so angry they write half your paper for you, but the truth was always that readers’ points of view would only be heard if the editor deigned to publish their letter.

The internet on the other hand is a conversation. Today all advisers can make their views known, not just those with the right journalists’ phone numbers.

Just because some abuse the new-found privilege of a ready made audience, that does not mean we should deprive everyone of the platform.

Even if we did choose to, regulating all commenters is a logistical impossibility. FTAdviser can insist people register, link their log-in to a valid email address or a profile on Facebook or any other social media platform, but that will not stop those who are prepared to jump through sufficient hoops from doing so. It is just as easy to set up an email address in a fake name.

Moderation of comments is a clunky process too, consuming man hours and delaying the speed at which debate can develop. It is better to remove any comments that are libelous or offensive – which we do – as soon as they are reported. But if they are simply hurtful, we live with them.