Should anonymous online comments be banned?
Anonymity has turned Internet message boards into “havens for a level of crudity, bigotry, meanness and plain nastiness that shocks the tattered remnants of our propriety,” writes Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts Jr. With no requirement “to own what they’ve said,” Pitts says, anonymous posters are free to “vent their most reptilian thoughts.”
Editors at the Cleveland Plain Dealer recently unmasked an anonymous commenter using the alias “lawmiss” to post “provocative comments and scathing personal attacks” on the newspaper’s website, including disparaging remarks about a local lawyer. After the Plain Dealer ran a story revealing that the comments came from the email account of a judge who was presiding over some of the lawyer’s cases, the judge sued, claiming the newspaper had violated her privacy.
Anonymous commenting is “under attack from several directions,” The New York Times reports, with news sites in particular grappling with ways to force commenters to act more responsibly. “If commenters were asked to provide their real names for display online, some would no doubt give false identities,” The Times said, “and verifying them would be too labor-intensive to be realistic.”
“Enough,” says columnist Pitts. “Make them leave their names. Stop giving people a way to throw rocks and hide their hands.”