Search Warrant ( .PDF )
Anonymous posters on news Web sites are creating ethical questions - not just legal ones - for newsrooms across the country.
"It is a delicate judgment for newspapers," Mike Kautsch, former dean of the Kansas University School of Journalism, said about allowing users to post comments anonymously on news Web sites. "It is a problem that will be around for a long time.
"The Internet invites irresponsibility in a lot of ways, and the newspaper industry will have to decide how much of that it will tolerate."
The Dec. 10 postings that spurred the issuance of a search warrant on the Journal-World by Kansas University police are an example of the ethical issues that anonymous posts can create. Police sought the identity of someone who had made posts on the ljworld.com reader reaction board reporting that the death of a KU student was related to heroin. Those posts were allowed to remain on the Journal-World site, although the newspaper had no information to confirm that heroin was involved in the death.
Anonymous posts have been the subject of debate within the Journal-World offices, said Ralph Gage, director of Special Projects for The World Company.
"Certainly anonymous posters have been a topic of internal discussion for the management team because sometimes anonymous posters can be almost viciously mean, whether they intend to be or not," Gage said. "We do have use polices that we enforce to strike from the Web site comments that go too far or are totally inappropriate.
"At the same time, when it does come to community discussion, there is a whistle-blower element in which people may have legitimate reasons for remaining anonymous in order to inform the community at large about situations that may arise and that they may have knowledge of.
"It is a balancing act," Gage continued. "We try to enable as much discussion and participation as possible while trying to enforce reasonable guidelines."