Archive for Sunday, January 6, 2008

News sites ponder online user policies

January 6, 2008


Related document

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 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."


black_watch 10 years, 1 month ago

Anonymous posting is extremely important for free speech.

I think we all understand that these comments are not the property of nor endorsed by the paper and don't have professional reporters doing research backing them, and as such are not an "official" voice - yet they offer an insight into the public mind that simple can't be found in traditional media. Doing away with anonymous blogging is a serious mistake. Comment moderation is acceptable within reason, but beyond that, things should be left alone. The LJW has pretty good policies as far as that's concerned, though occasionally heavy on the ban-hammer - yet I've visited newspaper sites that are far more heavy-handed with deleting comments that don't jive with the editor's likings, or have removed anonymous commenting abilities altogether. The result was a drastic plummet in the number of comments on stories, particularly ones expressing alternate and sometimes inflammatory viewpoints. It's a real tragedy and a loss for that particular paper's community. The LJW needs to weigh that carefully and consider the contributions that the comments make before making any changes to their comment system.

Mike Blur 10 years, 1 month ago

Doing away with anonymous comment posting would be a step in the right direction for the LJW staff. I have been commenting for over a decade on internet forums, and I have never posted anonymously (except on, which weirdly prohibits "verified" users.) I have never felt that my right to free speech has been infringed.

Doing away with anonymous posting will mean that morons like RancidBore, Sigfraud, ShettingtheRecordBent, and numerous right wing nutjobs on these comment forums will instantly go poof in the night, and more reasoned discussions can be had.

Flap Doodle 10 years, 1 month ago

& somehow enforcer was allowed to come back.

SettingTheRecordStraight 10 years, 1 month ago

"Doing away with anonymous posting will mean that morons like.... and numerous right wing nutjobs on these comment forums will instantly go poof in the night...." -Mike

Comments like this reveal why you are not in a postion of authority. Just keep burning books among your own family and friends; don't try to spread your brand of fairness in my direction.

Erin Parmelee 10 years, 1 month ago

gl0ck0wnr (Anonymous) says:

"mike_blur (Mike Blur) says: Doing away with anonymous posting will mean that: numerous right wing nutjobs on these comment forums will instantly go poof in the night, and more reasoned discussions can be had."

So: only people on the left have reasoned discussions? Should message boards have some sort of political litmus test to make sure everyone agrees with one another before one is allowed to post? That'll spur fascinating discussions.

I think the point being made was that anon. posting allows some people to be a bigger jackhole than they would under their own name. In my opinion that applies far right and far left of center, but I think Mike named a few that I am certain would temper their posts quite a bit if they had to use their own name.

Personally, I can't see how my right to free speech would be infringed upon by requiring me to use my name. What's the big deal?

UfoPilot 10 years, 1 month ago

I would gladly post my real name next to any comments I might make. I fear no one.

monkeyspunk 10 years, 1 month ago

"I think the point being made was that anon. posting allows some people to be a bigger jackhole than they would under their own name."

nekansan 10 years, 1 month ago

The broader issue here is that the newspaper (according to their attorney) wants to claim in one breath that these postings are akin to reporters notes and are therefore the sources are protected from disclosure under protections provided by the Privacy Protection Act. Yet at the same time they do not want to take responsibility for the postings because of the potential liability for defamation and libel. In this instance congress has a law (Communications Decency Act) that helps to insulate a service provider from such liability. It certainly seems to me that they can't have it both ways. None of that has clearly explained in any of their articles published recently and their attorney certainly did not bring this up. The JW COULD allow truly anonymous posting but they CHOOSE not to. One must register with at least a valid email account in order to comment on these forums. The also choose to log data such as IP addresses and times that can help to identify the poster. So the reality is, it's the JW that does not provide for truly anonymous posting of speech on their site. Users should not be surprised to find that LE reads the forums and when they see information that is relevant to the case they follow up on it.

Paul Decelles 10 years, 1 month ago

I agree with Mike. It would be great to eliminate anonymous posting. I don't know that it will lead to more reasoned discussions. After all, some of the regular political columnists manage to regularly give unreasoned commentary and we know their names.

But perhaps people would be statistically more likely to exhibit a modicum of politeness.

The other issue is how would one insure that the person posting is really who they say they are? Would there be a verification as is done for letters to the editor?

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 10 years, 1 month ago

I have had reasoned discussions with Marion before, except when he's being silly (now where's my latte?). Many Anons on both sides get really rude. There was one time I felt almost threatened by a anon who claimed I didn't even live in Lawrence, and started ranting about strange things. It was a little scary. It's impossible to agree with anyone 100%, but this country needs to have real discussions, instead of labeling and name calling. We would probably find more common ground that way.

Paul R Getto 10 years, 1 month ago

"Anonymous posting is extremely important for free speech." BS "This site belongs to World Media. It's not only "their ball," it's also their bats, gloves, batting helmets, ball park, concession stands, and ticket booths. We, the non-paying, non-membership-holding "guests," have only the rights that the owners of this web site choose to offer us. Or not." True ====== People confuse free speech all the time, which has nothing to do with internet playgrounds. As the law catches up with the new technologies, it will be interesting to see how this all works out, but, clearly, posters are not reporters and free speech on a private site is irrelevant. Keyboard cowards are encouraged by their "anonymous" status. I have failed in my efforts, but generally try to live up to the following: "If it's wrong in the real world, it's wrong in the cyberworld. Don't say anything on the internet you would not say to someone's face in a cafe, and try to be nice and comment on the story and not use it as an excuse to tell one's life story.

nekansan 10 years, 1 month ago

"Any of those people SHOULD be able to express those views w/o repercussions (lost business, personal clashes, or other sanctions). But we all know that that wouldn't be the case. Here's a "for instance": if you knew that your accountant was a raving fan of your most hated political figure, would you not be tempted to switch accountants-just because you didn't want your money going to someone whose convictions were so opposed to your own? Loss of business is just one of many good reasons some might post under assumed names."

The obvious counter point to this is that many prefer to do business with and support those that share your views? It's still a free country, and just as those business owners have a right to say what they want, I have a right to disagree and choose not to do business with them. I certainly think it is relevant to the discussion and to the choice of where I spend my money what the political and social stance of any business is. I know I have chosen to to business with companies who are known for their stance on charitable giving or for not abusing their employees. It's easy to rail on large faceless corporations because of their business practices and political beliefs. Everyone seems to be in a hurry to jump on Halliburton, Fox, or big oil because of their political connections, so why should it be any different when we are talking about small businesses? The right to privacy and freedom of speech are related but not directly. There is no guaranteed right to private public speech. You have a right to privacy and can choose to say nothing, but inherit with freedom of speech is that that speech be heard. Being heard means that you have given up at least some of that right to privacy by choosing to speak in public. I agree that generally the LJW does a good job of balancing these competing demands, but I think some posters are a bit idealistic with what the reality of what "private" speech in these postings really means.

coolmarv 10 years, 1 month ago

dorothyhr (Dorothy Hoyt-Reed) says:

"There was one time I felt almost threatened by a anon who claimed I didn't even live in Lawrence, and started ranting about strange things. It was a little scary. I."

If you posted anoymous you would not feel as threatened.

I am not impressed by those who post with there true identities. They are usually the ones with all the bark and no bite. I prefer to keep a few skeletons in my closet. My boss might want me to remain anonymous also, seeing how I am over my lunch now.

kcwarpony 10 years, 1 month ago

Posting personal info, as in your name, on an Internet forum is a risky move. I know someone who posted personal info on another forum and within a year or so they had Internet stalkers to deal with. If you think people can be nasty in a forum, wait until you see what some will do in real life.

black_watch 10 years, 1 month ago

If you want to post publically with your full name and contact information, please, do so. Personally, I don't want to endanger my job, family, and/or livelihood when I share opinions and beliefs that may not mesh with someone else's; I have also in the past been critical of workplaces and agencies I've had direct interaction with, and I don't care to bring their wrath down upon myself. By posting anonymously I'm not only protecting myself, I'm protecting the people I care about from ostracism in a small community. If you aren't concerned about that, as not everyone may be, you can feel free to post under your full name. Nobody's stopping you, and that's the beauty of it.

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