Internet anonymity: Shooting from the shadows

Last week, an anonymous poster on HeraldTimesOnline.com posted a vicious personal attack on Indiana University professor Charles Trzcinka, smearing his professional reputation. I sent an email to Herald-Times editor Bob Zaltsberg and several other members of the H-T staff. I also carbon copied other news organizations and media watchdog groups. The libelous comment was finally deleted about 8 hours after it was posted.

Once again, this raises the issue of internet anonymity, which I maintain is almost always a license for depravity. Anonymity on the internet has been the single worst thing to happen to political discourse in the last 100 years. Because they cannot be held responsible for what they say, anonymous cowards shoot from the shadows and murder the reputations of real people. Much of the filth posted in newspaper comment sections, blogs, forums and the like would never be posted if the trolls were subject to the disinfectant of sunshine.

In comments for my blog, one of my rules is that “direct criticism of a person by name cannot be done anonymously. If you criticize someone, you have to subject yourself to the same level of scrutiny or the comment will be deleted.”

Realistically, with hundreds of comments each day, there is no way the Herald-Times could implement a rule like this. Nevertheless, anonymity is clearly a problem in HeraldTimesOnline.com comments. What the H-T should do is require that all usernames on HTO be the poster’s first and last names, or require that every user submit his real name to the newspaper which would then be matched to the handle on an easy to find website.

I can hear the wailing now. “But I am afraid of using my real name because I will be harassed! I can’t subject my family to that.” Oh, boo hoo. Cry me a river. The H-T already requires that letters to the editor be signed, and there are hundreds of letters published each year. All LTTE comments are public, so the writer’s name usually shows up online. There’s no reason that story comments are any more “dangerous” than letters to the editor.

Requiring real names may well reduce the quantity of posts, but it would dramatically improve the quality of discourse in the HTO comments. Anonymous trolls would no longer be able to shoot from the shadows and smear real people’s reputations without being subjected to the same scrutiny. The vast majority of the filth would vanish immediately.

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Mr. Zaltsberg,

This is simply unacceptable. Anonymous accusations of poor conduct in a professional setting should never be permitted in HTO comments. “Gonzo” should be banned from HTO.

This is exactly why permitting anonymous comments is wrong. People should not be permitted to shoot from the shadows and malign someone’s character and professional reputation while their anonymity prevents them from being exposed to the same criticism.

At the very least, those who attack another person by name should be forced to reveal their own names, first and last. This would allow people the opportunity for anonymous speech up to the point they use it irresponsibly.

Mr. Trzcinka is a distinguished professor at a world-renowned business school. He deserves better than to have his professional reputation maligned by a bunch of cowardly internet cranks like “Gonzo.”

Sincerely,

Scott Tibbs

http://www.ConservaTibbs.com

Cursed be he that smiteth his neighbour secretly. And all the people shall say, Amen. – Deuteronomy 27:24

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