March 24, 2010

Allow Anonymous Comments?

Story Lab and the Washington Post are taking another look at newspaper comments and asking: Should people who file comments to online stories be required to identify themselves? This follows a post from Story Lab considering the effect of open comment systems on news sources.

I think the answer to the question is yes and no.

Here’s what I’ve said before: I think the time has come to offer different levels of service based on different levels of anonymity.

Such a system rewards openness — a virtue in the online world — and still allows people who want to remain anonymous to spout off as they please.

One last thing: The current Story Lab entry starts off with “We’re all about the First Amendment here at The Washington Post…” Hoo-ray for that. But this is hardly a First Amendment issue. No newspaper owes any citizen a voice. Blocking, editing, moderating, limiting, and banning comments? All of this is well within the rights and ethical responsibilities of a newspaper. None of that has anything to do with the right to free speech or the right to a free press.

7 Responses

  1. Jason 

    Right on, Andy!

  2. Tim 

    re: “But this is hardly a First Amendment issue.”

    But … the First Amendment belongs to newspapers and pro-jos! It’s the only occupation specifically mentioned in the First Amendment. Everything journalistic is in furtherance of, and defense of, the First Amendment!

    Citizens don’t have any First Amendment protection, so if newspapers don’t inform their “right to know” and give them a voice, democracy will DIE!

  3. acline 

    Tim… hahahaha! Very funny 🙂

  4. Tim 

    COMMENTARY: ‘Plain Dealer’ in Ethics Breach Over Identifying Anonymous Poster?

    “You can argue we should not have uncovered lawmiss’ identity,” Plain Dealer editor Goldberg told Gomez, “and maybe we shouldn’t have. But once we did, I don’t know how you can pretend you don’t know that information. How can you put that genie back in the bottle?”Simple: you can’t. And in this case, the public’s right to know outweighs the “protection” granted to those who would disparage others.

  5. Tim 

    If you can’t manage comments well, don’t offer comments at all

    If, after all these years publishing online, you still can’t manage the trolls in your comments, don’t offer comments at all. Shut down that functionality. Leave online community to bloggers and other publishers in the community who can manage them responsibly.

  6. Tim 
  7. acline 

    Tim… That Sowell case is particularly interesting. Thanks for the links.