The debate surrounding anonymous comments

Today, I was pointed to a New York Times article about how news sites are rethinking anonymous comments. To be honest, I don’t exactly find this a compelling debate. As a journalist and a blogger, I both encourage comments (both positive and negative) on my stories and posts, and expect that anything said on the internet, even if it is posted under the veil of anonymity, can be traced back to an IP address. I fully support news sites requiring users to register with their full name and email address – this is a completely valid requirement and one that most sites should eventually adhere to. That being said, there’s no chance that every single user, especially on sites like the New York Times and Boston.com, will actually follow those rules.

In cases like the one involving Judge Shirley Strickland Saffold, in which more than 80 comments linked to the Judge’s personal email address were posted to The Plain Dealer’s website, I believe the editor had every right to expose the true identity of the commenter. This woman is a public figure, and the postings on the articles had to do specifically with the rulings made on cases she had faced in her court room. Just because she posted using a generic username “lawmiss” does not mean she is not responsible for the comments. As mentioned before, posting anonymously on the internet has consequences, and if you are willing to say (or type) things, you should be willing to own up to them – it’s as simple as that.

As journalists, we write knowing that we’ve got the first amendment behind us – the freedom of speech, the freedom to express ourselves and, more importantly, report the truth. That is what merits the exposure of Judge Saffold, and that is what merits all investigative journalism. Just because we as journalists have graduated from j-school and been hired by a publication doesn’t mean we are all knowing, and sometimes we need negative comments and the public eye to keep us in check. If we can write what we want, why shouldn’t commenters be able to do the same?

There will always be morons in this world, whether they’re yelling at us on the streets, at work or in the privacy of their own homes via the internet. If somebody has something particularly nasty to say, it’s their right to say it. Delete the comment or ignore it and move on. I hope you’ve got bigger and better things to worry about.

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April 12, 2010. Uncategorized.

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