Thursday, May 20, 2010

Naming online names

“We need to be saying “Good-Bye French Frogs!” Time to live and let live … Separation is in ORDER!:)”
— A comment left Thursday (May 19th) by “Denise” on VOCM’s website in response to the Question of the Day: Are you surprised the Quebec Court of Appeal has refused to hear the province's appeal concerning the clean-up of AbitibiBowater's former properties?
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The above comment is absolutely tame compared to some of the anonymous comments left on local news websites.

Pussycat tame.

Some comments are published online that would never see the light of print.

They can be abusive, hateful, insulting, obscene, vulgar, personal, and degrading. Not to mention downright mean and nasty.

Oh, and libel.

To top it off, most online comments are anonymous.

But that’s changing.

The Ottawa Citizen unveiled Wednesday (May 19th) a new reader-comments system that does away with anonymous commenting.

Users will have to register first.

“It will also allow us to better manage those abusive comments that appeared too frequently up until now,” wrote Drew Cragg, the Citizen’s deputy editor, in an online post.
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The Edmonton Journal also changed its online comment section Wednesday so that users will have to register first.

“As many news sites have discovered, anonymous commenting tends to amplify a lack of civility, which degrades the conversation,” wrote the Journal’s Karen Unland.

“Anonymous commenting also makes it difficult for readers to respond to each other in coherent ways — instead of addressing "Anonymous at 9:55," it's better to be able to refer to a fellow reader by name. Having a name associated with your comment also makes it easier for us to publish selected comments in the newspaper.”

Neither the Edmonton Journal nor the Ottawa Citizen are allowing any comments on some stories, particularly those related to courts or crime.

Wrote Unland: “We have to weigh the value of unmoderated commentary against legal and ethical risks.”

Earlier this year a Nova Scotia judge ordered both Google and a weekly newspaper called the Coast to provide information about the identities of people who posted anonymous comments that were critical of the Halifax fire chief and his deputy.

In so doing, Justice Heather Robertson of the Nova Scotia Supreme Court ruled that people who post comments anonymously must be held accountable for their actions.

About time.

Connie Schultz, a Pulitzer Prize winning columnist, wrote a column recently that expressed the views of many journalists.

“I look forward to the day when news organizations start to ban anonymous comments on their websites,” she wrote.

“Maybe that’s the foolish optimist in me, but I want to believe that we will finally admit — to ourselves and to the public at large — that allowing people to hide behind anonymity has not been good for our industry, our culture, our country.”

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