Posts Tagged ‘Anonymous comments’


Who the anonymice are

For the Boston Globe’s Sunday magazine, Neil Swidey looked at the people who post anonymously at Boston.com.

Is posting after stories a fun, lively outlet for outspoken people?

Or a haven for the brash and insensitive?

If you think one way or the other, or somewhere in between, this might be the most telling detail in the story: In one day, Boston.com had to examine 1,330 comments flagged as possibly being over the line (whatever that line is).

Does your newspaper have the staff and time to police hundreds or thousands of comments a day to weed out the sludge? Isn’t that a waste of everyone’s time?

Remember, the 1,330 were only the comments that were flagged.

And that’s at one point in time. The cesspool under each each story has the potential to grow all day, every day.

A storm of anonymity

The publication of anonymous reader comments by newspapers is unethical and should be discontinued, except in rare and unusual circumstances.

The Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics emphasizes that journalists should:
• Seek truth and report it
• Minimize harm
• Be fair and accurate
• Be accountable
• Show good taste

However, it also says journalists should:
• Support open exchange of views, but should not misrepresent the facts
• Give voice to the voiceless
• Encourage the public to voice grievances

So, how can newspapers manage all that – be fair and accountable and support open exchange? They have been doing that for many years.

They have managed with features called “letters to the editor” and the “op-ed” page. Those features do not permit anonymity, except in rare occasions, and even then require that writers’ identity be known to the editors before articles are published.

Now, with the internet and online editions of newspapers, anyone with access to a computer can comment anonymously. Oversight is minimal. Newspapers would have to increase staff to authenticate each online submission, as is done with letters to the editor and op-ed articles. That will not happen, especially in these times of deep newspaper staff cutbacks.

The result has been a storm of anonymous comments – some of them quite nasty – in online newspapers. Rather than give voice to the voiceless, this practice in fact both provides venue and protection to unethical voices. It is unfair, is often inaccurate, harmful, in poor taste, and is not accountable.

Granted, those reader comments are not “journalistic” efforts but they are published by journalists who not only lend credibility to the irresponsible but also shield them from accountability. Newspapers cannot ignore the unethical aspects of anonymous reader comments.

The “voiceless” are not voiceless. There are many online avenues for them to air their opinions anonymously if they choose to do so. Newspapers should not be among those avenues. Doing so is irresponsible and not ethical.

Paul R. LaRocque, member, SPJ Ethics Committee
This comment is my personal opinion and not necessarily that of the Ethics Committee.

Trying to stomp out the student press

As much as I dislike the nastiness of anonymous comments, trying to shut down a school newspaper that allows them is a whole new level of harm.

The staff of Virginia Tech’s Collegiate Times must be allowed the freedom to practice and learn journalism and the difficult decisions inherent to the craft. One of those decisions is taste and decorum in opinion – choosing where to draw the line in comments in print and online.

The Foundation for Indvidual Rights in Education is correct. The standards of civility, sensitivity and respect in expression are ideal, but should be aspirational.

Silencing a student newspaper is a drastic step, beyond disrespectful. It’s Draconian.

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