Article response postings on web should require names

Rocky Smolin

I am writing to urge this paper to change its policy of allowing anonymous postings to its website in response to articles posted there. I urge the paper to require each posting to be accompanied by the true name of the poster.

It has been widely noted, and I believe most would agree, that there has been a marked decline of civility and reasoned debate in our society. This can be seen in a number of public forums — television talk shows where people shout each other down and talk past each other; in our own Congress where the politics of division holds sway; and, of course, in some of the responses to articles posted on this paper’s website.

One of the chief facilitators of the decline in civility is, in my opinion, the internet and specifically blogs and other sites where one can post anonymously anything they wish, regardless of how insulting, mean spirited, or blatantly false the comment may be.

I understand that for the paper’s management there is a financial consideration which might conflict with this change in policy. Anonymity encourages posting — it allows inflammatory or insulting language, and unsupported allegations or outright falsehoods. These encourage more readers to view the page, and further postings in response, all of which contribute to the number of “hits” on the web page. And a greater number of hits translates into more advertising revenue.

The fear of management, of course, is that eliminating anonymity will reduce the participation, the number of hits, and consequently revenue. But, the converse can be argued — that with the elimination of anonymity there will be more participation and not less, as many who do not want to participate in the kind of corrosive dialogs allowed by anonymity, will decide to participate.

However, I urge the management of the paper to look beyond the (albeit questionable and most likely minimal) financial impact of changing their policy of anonymity, and look to the responsibility that a newspaper has to the public. It can be an agent promoting discord or harmony, civility or abrasiveness. It can promote the truth or give a forum to demagogues and jingoists.

Elimination of anonymity, long the policy in almost all print media — requiring letters to the editor to be signed by the writer — is now growing in popularity in on-line forums. And this policy is spreading as the social values and policies catch up to the rapid changes in technology. Both the Union Tribune and the Voice of San Diego now prohibit anonymous postings on their web sites.

I urge this paper to join this movement and require all posts to be signed with the poster’s actual name. If readers agree, please let this newspaper know.