Friday, June 1, 2007

A viewer criticizes us for allowing anonymous comments

One of our Web viewers took us to task today for allowing anonymous comment posting to our Web site:

"I think it is a shame that you let everyone post comments anonymously on your website, something you never have allowed in letters to the editor, and for good reason. If people were forced to leave their true identities when commenting then maybe there wouldn't be all this terrible, ugly, sickening trash talk stinking up this website. People will say anything, mindlessly beat up anyone with their words, if they don't have to take any responsibility for it. I imagine you allow it just so you can show that you have people interacting with your site. It's a sad trade-off which I think does more harm than good for our community. Don't you agree?"
_ David Ciaffardini, Oceano

To be sure, anonymity and the use of psuedonyms are widespread across the Internet. We are no different than most media sites. The prevailing theory is that it is more engaging to have a lively debate, even if it means letting people hide their true identities.

As to whether that causes more harm than good, that is open for debate. To be sure, ugly commenting does occur on our site, like most any Internet site that includes controversial topics. But there is also a lot of nastiness on talk radio, TV talk shows, etc.

I commend David for being up front about his identity with his comments. He has also been the most regular participant on this blog since Sandy Duerr and I launched it earlier this year. It would be great to have more participants, especially those who are willing to be recognized when they post.
_ Tad Weber

1 comment:

David said...

The login procedure for commenting on the Tribune Editors' Blog is significantly different, and more difficult, than the comment procedure for the news stories. Perhaps that accounts for less commentary and interaction here.

As for anonymity, yes, I realize it is the way of the internet these days and that The Tribune is simply following along in its effort to engage readers. It is quite understandable even if unfortunate.

People speak of fostering "lively debate", but when the "debaters" choose to be anonymous and thus unaccountable for their words, they have little incentive to weigh either the logic or ramifications of their statements and thus we are left with little more than noise piled upon more noise to the point the debate, and anything of value in it, comes out more dead than alive.

Anonymity fosters passion at the expense of reason; passion that on the internet is more often spiteful or violent rather than helpful or soothing.

Abraham Lincoln in one of his early speeches told his audience "Passion has helped us, but can do so no more. It will in future be our enemy."

On the internet that future has arrived and the enemy skulks and heaves its anonymous word bombs with impunity.

David Ciaffardini
Who Would Frequently Prefer to Be Anonymous