By Scott Tibbs, April 28, 2010
"Cursed be he that smiteth his neighbour secretly. And all the people shall say, Amen." -- Deuteronomy 27:24
On Monday, Bob Zaltsberg complained again about anonymous comments on HeraldTimesOnline.com comment sections, bemoaning how people often toss civility aside when they have no worry about being held accountable by name.
This isn't new. Zaltsberg complained about anonymous comments in 2004 and 2006, Rebecca Robbins complained in 2007 and Avia Orenstein took a shot at anonymity last year.
Here's the problem with Zaltsberg's complaints: He is the editor-in-chief. If anonymous comments really do pose a problem, it would be a simple matter for the H-T to do something about it. The H-T could eliminate comments entirely, which would be a fairly drastic solution. The H-T could also require each person who posts to identify himself with a first and last name. They had the opportunity to do that last Fall when they implemented the username system. They did not.
I have little respect for complaints about anonymity in the HTO comments when the H-T has the power to end it any time they choose to.
It is worth noting that no one who comments on HTO is truly anonymous. The H-T can easily verify the identity of anyone who posts a comment to the site. If something libelous winds up being posted, the offending poster can be tracked down and held accountable very easily.
I agree that anonymity is a problem. I am convinced that the anonymity offered by the Internet is the worst thing to happen to political discourse in the last 100 years. With no expectation that they can be held accountable for their words, anonymous cowards become ten feet tall and bulletproof, posting all kinds of despicable filth and libelous personal attacks.
In theory, anonymous speech can add to the discourse on political, cultural and social issues as people who may have a legitimate reason to be intimidated can bring fresh ideas and information to the discussion. In practice, it almost never works out that way. The H-T had an opportunity to take a stand last fall by eliminating anonymous comments on the website, but did not follow through. They can reverse that error at any time. Regardless of what they do, Zaltsberg and company need to stop crying about it.