The following, for those who may no longer read the Standard-Times, was printed there June 13. With the kind permission of the S-T, we reprint it here. The points have really been made in other articles here, hope I am not being repetitive, but for the record. I am going with the full submission, some few phrases were deleted by S-T in interest of space, but nothing which changes the substance of the letter, in my opinion.
Keep anonymity on Web postings
6/08/08 (published June 13)
Saturday, June 7 edition of the Standard-Times, since the usual exerpts of online comments were non-existant by decree, printed an opinion by Mr, Griffin, congratulating the S-T for banning anonymous comment, if and when the online comments are reinstated.
Mr. Griffin, I dissent, and not for personal reasons. Anonymity in public comment has a long and noble history. For my part, though I used the handle “barkeep” out of habit, I have self-identified for nearly as long as I have posted.
America exists in part due to anonymous writing. Prior to the Declaration of Independence, many of the “Founders” published screeds under psuedonyms, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Franklin, etc. Most of what are now the Federalist Papers, (I call them the user's handbook to the Constitution) were originally written under false names to insure the ideas, not the personalities were foremost in the readers' minds.
To this day, our society recognizes the utility of anonymity. “Whistelblowers”, be they governmental or corporate, are protected from disclosure and potential retribution. Most states have press “shield laws”, giving reporters protection from being forced to disclose sources. Rape victims are protected from public disclosure of their identities when they testify. Do these grants of anonymity sometimes result in exaggeration, even false accusations by the protected parties? Sure do, and I'd hate to be on the wrong end of such an accusation, but we have decided as a society that there is more value to encouraging those “in the know” to speak out than demanding all public comment be for attribution.
I agree, there was a problem with the gosanangelo comments. Especially as to the FLDS matter and the Police Chief race, many comments went “over the top”, were either slanderous, unsubstantiated, or just plain “Yeah, well your Mother dresses you funny” silly.
I have looked at the Scripps-Howard policy as to anonymity and breach of privacy. As best I can discover, of the 19 newpapers in the chain, only the Standard-Times found it necessary to put its readers in a “time-out” corner by suspending comments. Only the Standard-Times suffered a wholesale release of user profiles in the closing days of a hot political race. Any open online forum will attract loons, limiting them is the job of the online moderator. Enforcing the rules already written would be a good start. We might try limiting to one or two posts per day, I prefer two. That's less than a chatroom, but allows a post, look at the response, then reply specifically.
My point here is that this suspension is more the fault of the sponsor than of the participants. Any sports referee will tell you, don't “let them play” for three quarters and then try to regain control of the game in the fourth.
Honestly, my opinion, we have a pretty good local paper with some outstanding reporters. This episode has been poorly handled, and as some of the comments on our www.conchoinfo.org Blog show, it will take some time to regain trust. It would help if the newspaper took full responsibility for its part in this mess, and treated its readers like adults.