Sunday, June 15, 2008

Anonymity Redux

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 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.
Jim Ryan


  1. I was very disappointed in the comment you made at the Feb 18, 2008 SAISD School Board Meeting concerning Black Americans are to be expected to vote for a Black candidate. We need to move beyond these type of racial stereo typing and accept everyone as and an individual and an individual as not required to a representative of their race.

    As for the SAST’s time out, time will pass. A new editor is coming in the near future. The SAST should not be relied as the only source of information and debate in the community. In San Angelo it is hard to get people to speak out. I disagree with most of what you say but I will defend your right to say it. I have tried for years to get my web to have more input, perhaps in time it will.


  2. Steppenwolfe; Sorry if I disappointed. I was not speaking to stereotyping, indeed was speaking of the nation's move from that. I was speaking to political demographic reality.

    In the time since I made the comment, a few black conservative columnists have confessed in print to being personally conflicted in this race. Frankly, if I were black, I would be also.

    I recall, though it was before I could vote, I was more idealogically in synch with Nixon (who later betrayed many of my values) than Kennedy. Still, an Irish Catholic with a real chance of winning... I honestly don't know which way I'd have gone in the privacy of the voting booth.

    The only comment I have received from an actual black person regarding that appearance before SAISD did not mention the comment you found disappointing, but supported my call for polling on the bond issue, that being my real point.

  3. What is "an actual black person?"


  4. After allows us to respond to news items and letters to the editor we should all wait for about a week before posting any responses. China is the oldest contiguous nation in the world. China is 5000 years old. China has been invaded numerous times in its history. The Chinese have always used patience to over power and drive out invaders.