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?

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Comments on “Columnist Claims Anonymity Is Bad For Our Country”

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55 Comments
PopeHilarius (profile) says:

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.

Christopher Gizzi (profile) says:

Re: 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.

ChurchHatesTucker (profile) says:

Re: 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.

Hephaestus (profile) says:

“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.

RD says:

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.

DJ (profile) says:

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.

Cabal (profile) says:

Re: 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.

Trevor says:

Re: Re: Re:2 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.

TheStupidOne says:

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.

DJ (profile) says:

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?

slander (profile) says:

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…

senshikaze (profile) says:

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/)

Geoff Samek (profile) says:

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.

Anonymous Coward says:

“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.

icedtea (profile) says:

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.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: 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.

BearGriz72 (profile) says:

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 about?anonymous comments?and a newspaper’s decision to?reveal the name of a crimethinker. Her summary:?anonymity is ungood oldthink and should be done away with. Not just ungood, but?bad for Oceania.

upsub minitrue dayorder rectify above article, memory hole awaits.

Oh No! says:

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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