Should We Ban Anonymous Comments?

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There has been some discussion lately in journalism circles about the burgeoning phenomenon of anonymous comments on newspaper websites. Proponents for eliminating anonymity say it will improve the level of civic discourse and make people much less likely to post libelous, obscene, or irresponsible statements. That's probably true. "Muskrat" is much less likely to call "boogerholler" a "stupid, racist, dickweed" if he has to post under his real name of Ned Gene Flanderson. That's because Boogerholler, aka Percy Leon Smithers, may look up Ned's address and shoot his tires out in his driveway. Or worse.

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There is little doubt that fear of bodily harm will make people a more careful with their words. Of course, there's also the very real possibility that two high-strung non-anonymous people will challenge each other to a fight in the real world, with tragic consequences. That's not something we want any part of.

Still, I must admit, I find it admirable when people post under their own names. It's like walking into the saloon unarmed. It's badass. Which is why I do it on the Flyer site. I'm a badass. Not really. I post anonymously on other sites, just like most people. I post as myself on the Flyer site because I believe it would be unethical of me to post under a pseudonym on my own site.

The fact is, I don't believe anonymity is necessarily a bad thing. I get many weird, scary, unbelievable communications from people anonymously that I wouldn't get if they used their real identities. I think this is helpful. It lets me know that real evil, real assholes, and really twisted people exist out there. I like being forewarned. (All their IP addresses, emails, comments, and grungy hand-scrawled letters and envelopes, etc. are neatly preserved, in case they are ever needed.)

On a less serious note, I just like it that people can create noms du web that allow them to express themselves without restraint. They may be at work (most likely) and posting under their real names could jeopardize their job. There are many reasons people may prefer to remain anonymous. And that's okay by me. If they cross the line, we can just eliminate the comment. If they cross the line repeatedly, we can simply block them from participating.

I liken the Flyer website to a big neighborhood saloon. You may not know the guy you started talking politics with at the bar, but you argue in a civil way, if at all possible. If things get out of hand, the ol' bartender walks over with his Louisville Slugger and gently thumps the table.

In a chat room, ideas are the important thing, not identities. If someone's an ass, or a "troll" as they're called in cyberworld, it's best to let them stew in the corner rather than provoking them. But I say let's keep the conversation flowing. Let's enjoy the camaraderie with our anonymous and not-so-anonymous pals on MemphisFlyer.com. Better to communicate anonymously than to fume alone in the dark.

And should we ever meet in the real world, feel free to introduce yourself. Or not.

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