Columnist Claims Anonymity Is Bad For Our Country

from the federalist-papers? dept

Connie Schultz, a columnist for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and a supporter of special copyright laws is back with another nonsensical column, this time weighing in on the recent debates about anonymous comments and her own newspaper's decision to reveal the name of a commenter. Her summary: anonymity is just evil and should be done away with. Not just evil, but bad for the country. Seriously:
Maybe that's the foolish optimist in me, but I want to believe that we will finally admit -- to ourselves and to the public at large -- that allowing people to hide behind anonymity has not been good for our industry, our culture or our country.
Apparently, Ms. Schultz is unfamiliar with The Federalist Papers, which were (*gasp*) written and published anonymously, and were instrumental in ratifying the US Constitution. Apparently, that was bad for our country. And, apparently, Ms. Schultz is unfamiliar with the concept of anonymous sources or anonymous tips that often drive important investigative reporting -- the same kind of investigative reporting she thinks will die without special copyrights to protect her employer.

No one denies that when anonymity is allowed people may abuse it. But getting rid of anonymity completely is going way too far and greatly diminishes and limits certain important conversations -- which are not bad for "our industry, our culture or our country." Instead of whining about anonymity, why not focus on providing incentives for people to better identify themselves?


Reader Comments (rss)

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    PopeHilarius (profile), Mar 31st, 2010 @ 10:30am

    I think her problem isn't actually with anonymity per se, just community management:
    It makes for many an ugly day, discouraging thoughtful discussions and repelling readers who don't have the stomach for the daily dose of vitriol. The Plain Dealer's John Kroll leads the heroic effort to keep the site civil, but it's an ongoing challenge.

    Some argue that allowing anonymity is a way of outing the bigots among us. But reading multiple posts, often by the same person using a variety of identities, amplifies voices and exaggerates numbers. The haters are small in number, but they are tenacious, and the resulting echo chamber fuels a growing climate of fear and rage born of false impressions.

    Her problem is that (allegedly) anonymity leads to trolling and sock-puppeting. Both of those are problems TechDirt has resolved quite well (in that trolls here just make poor arguments, instead of "u r retarded" Youtube fare).

    Mike, you ought to be referring to several of the great posts you've written about developing a good commenting community, not pointing out the Federalist Papers were written anonymously.

     

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      Christopher Gizzi (profile), Mar 31st, 2010 @ 10:48am

      Re:

      I believe the Federalist Papers reference was in response to the "not good for... our country" comment as our country might not have existed if it weren't for the anonymous publishing of the document. And we can thank the forefathers for valuing free speech and writing the First Amendment - which she (I assume) values as a journalist. I think the analogy is sound.

      Yes, there are management issues with anonymous comments that affect the quality of the conversation but without them, there's no real conversation at all.

       

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      ChurchHatesTucker (profile), Mar 31st, 2010 @ 11:39am

      Re:

      "Her problem is that (allegedly) anonymity leads to trolling and sock-puppeting."

      It could, but good mods will correct for that. That's a factor that tends to get overlooked. It's sort of like a business buying a fleet of vehicles and not budgeting for a motor pool. You can bitch about the break downs all you want, but it's your own damn fault.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 31st, 2010 @ 11:20am

    I agree!

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 31st, 2010 @ 11:24am

    Only anonymous speech is truly free.

     

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    NAMELESS.ONE, Mar 31st, 2010 @ 11:25am

    and ya know

    some people i wish couldn't have anonymity but then i like it
    SO sticks n stones right...

    poor columnist did someone say he was a fraking idiot moron pedophile

     

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    Skeptical Cynic (profile), Mar 31st, 2010 @ 11:25am

    Anonymity can be moderated out when it is bad

    Anonymity in commenting is not per se bad and because each site has usage policies in place just delete them.

     

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    Hephaestus (profile), Mar 31st, 2010 @ 11:30am

    "Maybe that's the foolish optimist in me, but I want to believe that we will finally admit -- to ourselves and to the public at large -- that allowing people to hide behind anonymity has not been good for our industry, our culture or our country."

    Talk about shooting ones self in the foot. Remind me to never go to this idiot with a story if I want to remain anonymous.

     

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    RD, Mar 31st, 2010 @ 11:46am

    yep

    I always love reading these stories about traitors to our country and humanity. If it were up to these short-sighted idiots, we would all be speaking German now and having to provide papers every time we leave our houses (which we wouldnt own) to get in bread lines or try to find some work for the day at the docks. Fascist scum like this are a greater threat than anonymity.

     

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      DJ, Mar 31st, 2010 @ 12:31pm

      Re: yep

      I agree with your attitude overall, but...
      Interesting thing about free speech: you have the right to rant and rave about stupid shit all day long if you want. So I wouldn't dare go so far as to brand someone a traitor for exercising their rights.
      And while the emotional rhetorical reference to WWII hits home, I must point out that here we are on the doorstep of all those things, because too many Americans have flat FORGOTTEN the events that occurred only 60 years ago.

       

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    Ima Fish (profile), Mar 31st, 2010 @ 11:47am

    Apparently Mrs. Schultz has never heard of a couple of journalists named Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. They broke a minor story back in the 70s. They brought a president down and changed journalism. All with an anonymous informant.

    They must not be teaching these historical trivialities where Schultz obtained her degree.

     

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      DJ, Mar 31st, 2010 @ 12:33pm

      Re:

      Mao Tse Tung and Joseph Stalin both committed attrocities that make Adolf Hitler look like a schoolyard bully.

      "They must not be teaching these historical trivialities"

       

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        slander (profile), Mar 31st, 2010 @ 3:08pm

        Re: Re:

        Mao Tse Tung and Joseph Stalin both committed attrocities that make Adolf Hitler look like a schoolyard bully.
        I wonder what the proper term for that would be -- "Reverse Godwin" maybe?

         

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 31st, 2010 @ 11:55am

    And yet Mike and Techdirt have from time to time revealed a posters identity.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 31st, 2010 @ 11:58am

    The future will not be kind to the control freaks.

     

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      Cabal (profile), Mar 31st, 2010 @ 2:00pm

      Re:

      Hahahahaha. The future is being designed by and for the control freaks. Without trying to sound like a paranoid teabagger (tea partier, whatever) the days of anonymity are rapidly approaching thier end.

      Today, most forms of 'anonymity' are public 'anonymity'. Unless you take countermeasures, anyone with a court order is likely going to be able to figure out who posted it.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Mar 31st, 2010 @ 3:11pm

        Re: Re:

        The future will not only apply to the online world.

        "No. They're not going to see this coming." - Mal

         

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 31st, 2010 @ 12:01pm

    some anonymous is bad some is good. it all depends on where you stand.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Mar 31st, 2010 @ 12:03pm

      Re:

      Some freedom is bad, some good. It all depends on where you stand. Me? All freedom is good.

      Why are you against freedom?

       

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        Ima Fish (profile), Mar 31st, 2010 @ 12:18pm

        Re: Re:

        You know our world is ficked up when it's impossible to tell the difference between Glenn Beck and someone parodying Glenn Beck.

         

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          Anonymous Coward, Mar 31st, 2010 @ 12:21pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          What I can't even fucking wrap my mind around is why you would question "some anonymity being good, some anonymity being bad" by commenting as an ANONYMOUS COWARD!!!

          I mean, really? What the hell is that?

           

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            Anonymous Coward, Mar 31st, 2010 @ 12:33pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            "What the hell is that?"

            TAM.

             

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            Trevor, Mar 31st, 2010 @ 12:35pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            It's like Orwell's Animal Farm: "all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others"...

            You can try to deny it, but once you start down this "this kind of anonymity - good, this other kind of anonymity - bad", then you've already crossed in the totalitarian crowd even if you're not aware of it.

             

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          DJ, Mar 31st, 2010 @ 12:36pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          You know our world is "ficked up" when people start bashing someone without realizing that they actually agree with EVERYTHING that person talks about.

          {I dare you to actually WATCH a show with an open mind}

           

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            Any Mouse, Apr 1st, 2010 @ 12:40am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            I have watched a show and tried to see his point of view. Personally, I find the man to be an idiot.

             

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    TheStupidOne, Mar 31st, 2010 @ 12:09pm

    Anonymity is bad for ...

    the government, and established athorities

    Anonymously giving opinion, or anonymously revealing facts is a fantastic way to avoid the consequences of your actions if what you say goes against an established power. You don't gather in front of the statehouse to protest the totalitarian communist government of the Soviets because they'd have killed you. You wrote papers anonymously to undermine the government without risking yourself.

    More relevant to my life I often have opinions that my employer wouldn't agree with. While I like to believe that my employer won't punish me for my opinions (so long as I do my job) I'd rather not risk it. Sometimes I like to argue a point that I'd rather not attach my name to because it is highly controversial and it really isn't important to me, but I feel like offering my $.02. Sometimes a reporter will flame people who disagree with what was written, so hiding your identity when making the points is the only way to go.

     

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      DJ, Mar 31st, 2010 @ 12:43pm

      Re: Anonymity is bad for ...

      Wholeheartedly disagree.

      This country wouldn't even exist if people had been afraid to stand up to an oppressive government. The Federalist Papers and, subsequently, the Bill of Rights to the Constitution were written specifically to prevent that situation.
      Or was the Declaration of Indepence not self-evident to you?

       

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        DJ, Mar 31st, 2010 @ 12:44pm

        Re: Re: Anonymity is bad for ...

        *Independence

         

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        slander (profile), Mar 31st, 2010 @ 3:17pm

        Re: Re: Anonymity is bad for ...

        IIRC, the Federalist Papers and other anonymous documents were written early on, in an attempt to inform, garner support, and what-not.

        Later documents, such as the Declaration of Independence, were written after there was enough support for an uprising.

        If not for the earlier anonymous speech, the later events might not have been feasible. My two cents, anyway...

         

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    Dark Helmet (profile), Mar 31st, 2010 @ 12:39pm

    Blah blah blah

    As soon as I read that she was married to a Senator that is notoriously on one side of the political spectrum (I won't mention which, because being notoriously on EITHER side equals danger bells), I decided I could immediately toss her "journalism" out the window.

    I strongly suggest everyone else do the same...

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 31st, 2010 @ 12:54pm

    Why, yes, of course!

    Apparently, that was bad for our country.

    She is apparently of the type who would think so.

     

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    senshikaze (profile), Mar 31st, 2010 @ 1:23pm

    me personally, I won't post at a site that doesn't allow anon comments. It is not because i want to "hide" (not anon here) but because I like testing the waters before I join a community. And frankly, if you require me to go through the pain in the ass for registering before I can comment, I just won't. It really isn't that important.
    (my view of trolls:http://xkcd.com/386/)

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 31st, 2010 @ 2:27pm

     

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    Geoff Samek, Mar 31st, 2010 @ 5:11pm

    Community enforced conventions

    We have found, during the short period our publication (sacpress.com) has been around, that pushing for complete transparency and rewarding that behavior is a good thing. This has led the community to chastise those who comment anonymously if what they are saying is venomous.

    At the same time we do allow for comments by people who do not reveal their real names (although they still must sign-up to comment, which only involves and email address, zip, username and password).

    By no means do we have the solution, but we have seen great success in our limited endeavors.

    For us the bottom line is no absolutes. We push what we prefer but leave a whole host of options available.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 31st, 2010 @ 6:44pm

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 31st, 2010 @ 7:05pm

    "Some of us deplore the hypocrisy of requiring that letters to the editor have verifiable identities, addresses and phone numbers, while allowing anyone with a keyboard and an e-mail address to post the kind of stuff they'd never say if they had to provide their names. "

    There is nothing hypocritical about this. Perhaps people want to hide their identity to avoid unjustified persecution or punishment (ie: by vandals who might start throwing rocks through your window or by a crazy hit man who might want to hurt someone). In fact, there are some psychos on the Internet, as the news media repeats ad nausea, there are some crazy and dangerous psychos on the Internet. I don't want everyone who reads my comment to know who I am or where I live. Some crazy psycho with nothing better to do might randomly stock people on the Internet. To force people not to be anonymous can be dangerous. But that doesn't mean I shouldn't be allowed to voice my opinion to everyone at large just because I want to avoid the crazy people that might hurt someone.

    In fact, it's hypocritical of the news media to constantly protest how many dangerous people are on the Internet and how these dangerous people could come after your children or your family or you and then for the news media to subsequently demand that no one who comments on the Internet be anonymous.

     

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    icedtea, Mar 31st, 2010 @ 7:14pm

    I strongly disagree. I think anonymity is great because it allows you to expose peoples misdeeds. If wikileaks is great for exposing corrupt governments, why can't there be a site like that for exposing drug dealers and thieves and corrupt people? New websites like http://www.dirtyphonebook.com and http://www.unvarnished.com allow anonymous commenting on people's personal lives.

    I think it's beneficial and entertaining.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Mar 31st, 2010 @ 8:34pm

      Re:

      "New websites like http://www.dirtyphonebook.com and http://www.unvarnished.com allow anonymous commenting on people's personal lives. "

      As Mike pointed out, I think there is probably going to be some conflict between free speech and privacy. Allowing absolute free speech might enable some doctor, for instance, to reveal private information about a patient. We need some degree of privacy laws but at the same time free speech is very important.

       

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    BearGriz72 (profile), Mar 31st, 2010 @ 10:10pm

    Plusmalquoted Duckspeak

    Connie Schultz, a columnist for the recdep, and a supporter of thinkpol laws is back with another goodthink column, this time weighing in on the current debates aboutanonymous commentsand a newspaper's decision toreveal the name of a crimethinker. Her summary:anonymity is ungood oldthink and should be done away with. Not just ungood, butbad for Oceania.

    upsub minitrue dayorder rectify above article, memory hole awaits.

     

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    Oh No!, Mar 31st, 2010 @ 11:30pm

    Anonymity is required sometimes

    I know of the case of a bunch of parents in an Indian International School in Singapore (that is, private school, not run by government) who tried to improve the school their kids attended. The school had quite a few problems or issues but they absolutely wanted none of it coming out through the internet (surely they must have had their own things to hide). However a bunch of parents went online using screen names in an internet forum. The school would have none of it, and even cried "defamation" for critical views and sharp comments. They were able to identify only one or two parents who had signed up or set up the forum (and therefore not fully anonymous) to and make life really hard for them and their children. Recently Singapore Attorney General has thrown out the criminal defamation proceedings started by the school but unfortunately much of the damage is already done. If anonymity was held sacrosanct, the parents and their kids would be protected from tyranny. I think this is a genuine case where anonymity is required.

    As users of the internet we should also develop a sense of what is frivolous and what is not, so that we can filter out the frivolous even if it is not anonymous !

     

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    Joel (profile), Apr 1st, 2010 @ 8:38am

    Too much attention..

    We are giving this person too much attention...please disregard her by not reading The Cleveland Plain Dealer.

     

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