News Sites Take Issue with Anonymity - A Not-So-Uncommon Controversy
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The Cleveland Plain Dealer, Ohio's largest newspaper, recently uncovered a troubling story pertaining to their own newspaper, which dealt a tremendous blow to those in favor of keeping comments anonymous.
The paper discovered that anonymous comments on their website, many of which disparaged a local lawyer, were made using the e-mail address of Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Shirley Strickland Saffold, who presided over many of the lawyer's cases. Since the story erupted, the judge's own daughter has come forward claiming she was the one who used her mother's e-mail address to create the online moniker "lawmiss" to post inappropriate comments on the Cleveland.com site, but many aren't buying it.
The paper discovered that some of the 80 comments were made directly from the judge's computer, and when questioned, Judge Saffold's daughter couldn't recall what her comments said. Recently, the judge sued The Plain Dealer for "violating her privacy."
According to the New York Times and other news sites, similar cases have been documented before, but what's so unusual is that the Ohio newspaper decided to report the story. Since printing the scandalous story, The Cleveland Plain Dealer has admitted that it was unusual for them to break with the tradition of allowing their commenters to remain anonymous, but the paper's editor Susan Goldberg said that "it served notice that anonymity was a habit, not a guarantee." In an interview she gave to her own newspaper, Goldberg said, "the paper should not have investigated the identity of the person who posted the comments, but once we did, I don't know how you can pretend you don't know that information."
Monitoring and Censoring Comments
Though news sites are making waves because of their goal of making a user's identity less than anonymous, many news publications have been monitoring, censoring, and even ranking their user comments for years. For example, one of the most popular features on The Wall Street Journal's website enables readers to decide whether or not they only want to see subscriber comments. Apparently, the theory is that the site's more dedicated readers would be less apt to post inappropriate or off-topic comments.
Many news sites, such as The New York Times, have a staff solely dedicated to reading each and every comment before it gets posted online, so they have a chance to weed out "personal attacks and bigoted comments." Some prominent online writers, such as Andrew Sullivan, don't allow comments at all. Conversely, other news sites review comments after they're posted, but often sites don't have the funds or the manpower to constantly police the comments section of each and every news story posted. Under these circumstances, many sites rely on other readers to flag inappropriate or objectionable comments for removal.
It's Huffington's opinion that these new policies being explored won't result in much of an uproar because the younger generation of today has grown up online without anonymity. " There is a younger generation that doesn't feel the same need for privacy," she said. "Many people, when you give them other choices, they choose not to be anonymous."
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