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From AJR,   September 2010  issue

Anonymous Comments   


By Unknown
     

I can't tell you how much I appreciate Rem Rieder's piece on anonymous online comments (From the Editor, Summer). When I was the editor of a municipal newspaper, my biggest source of stress were auto-post comments. Down with them, to the very bowels of hell. I hope people listen. For what it's worth, I'm launching a new paper in New Jersey, and I'll be taking your thoughts to heart.

Scott Morgan
Bordentown, New Jersey

***

Rem Rieder's column seems to be sending people into quite the tweeting frenzy! Even though the debate over free speech is going to continue forever, this particular instance is a subject on which I am of two minds: Part of me agrees with your assessment that anonymous posts tend to be mean and vicious. Another part of me thinks that a reasonable person reading such posts can certainly have enough presence of mind to consider the source, and can spot a nutjob when we read one. I know that when I'm reading an anonymous comment filled with profanity and vitriol, I'm likely reading the ravings of some sad little troll with nothing better to do.

On his Twitter feed, Roger Ebert posted: "Prediction: If anonymous online posting is banned, the levels of violent crimes will go up." I've always loved Ebert's writing, and enjoy his sense of humor. My personal opinion is that if a Web site allows comments to be posted, it has the right to censor any such comments if they violate the Web site's terms and conditions. For example, a Web site can ban posts containing profanity or racial slurs, and have the poster's IP address flagged against future posts. If someone wants to write a bile-filled post to make himself feel better, he can still write it and submit it, but the site's moderator can decide if it's appropriate.

It's not necessarily the anonymity that's the problem. Sure, we will all tend to write or say things anonymously that we'd never say if our names were attached, but you gave the example of someone writing a letter to the editor being required to include his name, etc. In the end, it was the EDITOR who chose what made it into the evening edition. If a Web site chooses to run unrestricted comments, then c'est la vie. Unfortunately, you just can't keep morons from using the Internet.

In the end, I love that you are calling these people out and demanding they hold themselves accountable for their words, and that you're keeping the debate alive.

Steve Peconi
Corporate Account Manager
CDW Canada
Toronto, Canada

***

Thank you for Rem Rieder's column about anonymous comments in the online editions of news-papers. I am an opinion columnist for the Athens Banner-Herald, the daily newspaper here in Athens, Georgia. It did not take long for our online comments to degenerate into what is often a catalog of cowardice and contumely as people used the anonymity of cyberspace to take puerile potshots with no responsibility, substantiation or accountability, unlike comments in the print edition, which must be signed by the writer.

Newspaper editors should have enough to do without having to play "whack-a-troll" with people who lack the courage and commitment to sign their comments. As New York Times Publisher Arthur Hays Sulzberger said in 1955, "Along with responsible newspapers we must have responsible readers." Anonymous online comments do nothing to foster responsibility in newspapers or their readers.

Ed Tant
Columnist
Athens Banner-Herald
Athens, Georgia

***

I've been screaming around here for years about anonymous online comments.

As I've said so many times I'm sick of myself, "The men who signed the Declaration of Independence didn't use screen names, and they were putting their lives on the line."

Yes, I'm interested in your opinion (maybe), but certainly not if you won't put your name to it.

Stu Bykofsky
Columnist
Philadelphia Daily News
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania