Monday, I discussed a thoughtful column in the Miami Herald about anonymous commenters on blogs. Another one is here today.
The columnist set up a personal Facebook account to exchange views on issues. She required civility and the commenters’ real names and got them. But one guy couldn’t help himself. After starting out civil, he became more agitated and unhinged, and finally she “unfriended” him.
But she noticed similar language in comments on stories posted on her newspaper’s website (Cleveland Plain Dealer). There he was always vitriolic and anonymous. She confronted him online and he admitted he was the anonymous commenter.
What I find fascinating about this incident is that he behaved so differently when his picture and his name were attached to his opinions.
I have since added hundreds more "friends" to Facebook, and similar circumstances have unfolded only a handful of times. We get fired up, but we seldom lose sight of our mutual humanity.
Then why do newspapers allow comment anonymity, when they would never print an anonymous letter to the editor?
Some in the newspaper industry insist we have to allow anonymous comments to generate traffic on our Web sites, which in turn determines what we can charge for online ads. They worry that we’ll lose online readership if we require identities with comments. Discussion, they fear, will evaporate.
Reminds one of corporations that are only out for a buck. You know, they kind of companies some editorial pages pontificate about, which of course are totally independent from the publisher’s side of the enterprise.
Anonymous comments also alienate many thoughtful readers, who are the majority of people who read newspapers. [NC Editor’s Note: The minority, those not very thoughtful, read gossip columns while watching “Fox News”.] When readers complain to me about ugly comments, I urge them to weigh in, but most balk. It’s like trying to persuade your friends to visit a great tavern in a bad neighborhood: They want nothing to do with that side of town.
Others think anonymous abusive comments actually hurt the newspaper.
"You can’t monetize jerks," [a newspaper editor] said.
This editor apparently didn’t want to give his name because he was not authorized to talk about readers.
Most Americans believe civility matters.
They also believe it comes with a name.