Interesting discussion. Good points being made, pro and con.
I realized in reading the comments that my perspective is fundamentally different from many of you. I come to this conversation as an editor, which is to say as the “agent” or advocate of the actual and potential audience for the blog postings. My job is to generate content that readers will find interesting or useful.
The perspective of most of you, it seems to me, is what’s best for the posters. That makes sense.
Don’t take this the wrong way, but I don’t really care about the posters. I care about whether there is something of “value” in the posts for readers. So, for example, a post that calls names on another poster, or one that assassinates the character of a third party against which a poster has a personal grudge or even one that’s just unintelligible, becomes a disincentive for most readers to keep reading the posts.
The posting capacity is on the website primarily for its potential to serve the wider audience. It’s not there as a form of therapy for the posters, to help them feel “empowered” or have their opinions “validated.”
Surely you won’t deny basic human nature: people behave more responsibly when they can be held accountable for their conduct than they do if they can’t. Bigots aren’t less bigoted, but they will behave in a less bigoted way, if they have to do it in front of the world. Surely we can all agree on that.
I believe in free speech, but that doesn’t mean I want to print every stupid thing someone is willing to say. And even more to the point, I don’t want to ask my readers to waste their time to read a lot of mean, irresponsible posts in order to find a few informative or interesting comments buried among them. I know readers, and very few of them will put up with that for long.
As editor of the Daily News, I am responsible for the content of the website, and I have the authority to decide how we handle posts. The policy as it stands today reflects my judgment about what is acceptable, if not quite appropriate. But I am not completely comfortable with it, and I’m looking for a better way. Whether there is a better way, I don’t know.
You haven’t had this experience, but I have:
Someone in the community calls me and says, “Someone on your blog is stating as a fact that I did something wrong, and it didn’t happen. You know as well as I do that it didn’t happen. They’re using my name. How can you allow this?”
And the caller is right. I know that what’s being said is a rumor, one that we at the newspaper have checked out and know to be false.
So we have a poster – who has to be anonymous because he’s afraid he might be harassed – smearing the reputation of someone who doesn’t deserve it. Anybody spot the irony in that?
I don’t think that’s right, and I’m not in the habit of helping people do things that are wrong.
Maybe we should have a policy that says: anonymous posters can only criticize unnamed people; named posters can criticize named people.
I’m a guy who does a job that’s very visible to the community. We criticize people, and I get beat on a lot, on behalf of the institution, for the work we do. I'm in the phone book.
To some of the anonymous posters, it seems clear that you can dish it out, but you aren't willing to take it.