From The New York Times in an article by Richard Perez-Pena on Sunday:

When news sites, after years of hanging back, embraced the idea of allowing readers to post comments, the near-universal assumption was that anyone could weigh in and remain anonymous. But now, that idea is under attack from several directions, and journalists, more than ever, are questioning whether anonymity should be a given on news sites.

The Washington Post plans to revise its comments policy over the next several months, and one of the ideas under consideration is to give greater prominence to commenters using real names.

The New York Times, The Post and many other papers have moved in stages toward requiring that people register before posting comments, providing some information about themselves that is not shown onscreen.

The Huffington Post soon will announce changes, including ranking commenters based in part on how well other readers know and trust their writing.

“Anonymity is just the way things are done. It’s an accepted part of the Internet, but there’s no question that people hide behind anonymity to make vile or controversial comments,” said Arianna Huffington, a founder of The Huffington Post. “I feel that this is almost like an education process. As the rules of the road are changing and the Internet is growing up, the trend is away from anonymity.”

The Plain Dealer of Cleveland recently discovered that anonymous comments on its site, disparaging a local lawyer, were made using the e-mail address of a judge who was presiding over some of that lawyer’s cases.

That kind of proxy has been documented before; what was more unusual was that The Plain Dealer exposed the connection in an article. The judge, Shirley Strickland Saffold, denied sending the messages — her daughter took responsibility for some of them. And last week, the judge sued The Plain Dealer, claiming it had violated her privacy.

The paper acknowledged that it had broken with the tradition of allowing commenters to hide behind screen names, but it served notice that anonymity was a habit, not a guarantee.  (read the rest)

I’ve noticed at Caffeinated Thoughts that the quality and tone of comments tend to devolve when the commenter is anonymous.  I don’t allow contributors to be anonymous.  I know there are some practical reasons for anonymity, but I think that is the exception rather than the rule.  When you are anonymous there is no accountability for what you say.  Those who comment anonymously would, more than likely, say things that they would never say face to face (or perhaps they would).  I will say that I’ve had anonymous commenters here who have been just fine, and I’ve had others who are toeing  the line (barely).  Those who have crossed have had their comment deleted.  I’ve been giving some thought to how I handle comments here, and am considering having people register to comment in order to raise the level of discourse here.

I would love to hear from you on this, what do you think?  It isn’t a huge problem yet, but it would probably be easier to make that leap now.  It would also cut back on my spam comments as well.

HT: Eric Woolson

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