BLOG: The Blessing And Curse Of Anonymity

Bryan Dubois
Aug 24, 2010

 

Does the curse outweigh the benefits of the blessing?

Don't get me wrong:  I believe anonymity is useful.  I'm just not convinced that anonymity's cost is worth the benefits in the digital pages of Sanduskyregister.com.   There, you must wade through a cesspool of often pointless off-topic rants,  innuendo, personal attacks, misinformation, and outright lies just to gather the one or two points that may be worth building on to create a useful dialogue. 

The power to overlook insults is so rarely used that what may have started as a useful dialogue quickly degenerates into a name-calling battle which most scroll through without reading anything more than screennames -- that's if the reader chooses to review the commenting section at all.

Sometimes the search for a useful insight can be so exhausting that it leads a blogger to shake his head and ignore the keyboard for a few weeks. 

An algae bloom in your pool certainly doesn't help either.

Anyway.  Much of the vitriol in the commenting section is made possible through the important tradition of anonymity.  God bless it.

Anonymity has always been respected as a legitimate way for people to blow the whistle against illegal/unethical acts in governments or corporations.  Anonymity is used to avoid legitimate risk of blowback for challenging the status quo.  Anonymity is NOT a right extended to internet users so they can anonymously name-call, attack known people, and generally cause mayhem by spreading lies through commenting systems on blogs and newspapers across the country.

Furthermore, when a newspaper uses an "anonymous" source, the identity of that source is known to certain people at the newspaper.  (He/she is only "anonymous" to the readers.)  When a newspaper agrees to publish the claims of an anonymous source they agree to take the risk that goes along with it.  Namely, that if the source is lying/distorting/misleading any of the claims he/she is making, the newspaper will lose credibility for publishing them in the first place.  There is risk with publishing information from anonymous sources.  The risk is diminished through fact-checking and vetting.

Sometimes useful information is published in the commenting section on this website.  Rarely, if ever, is that information so sensitive that it could not have been simply called in to the newsroom at the Sandusky Register.  There is a reason that the Sandusky Register allows the privilege of anonymity in the commenting section - but to ensure that whistleblowers have a safe place to anonymously make accusations against businesses and government in the Sandusky area ain't it.

I agree that the commenting system on Sanduskyregister.com should allow anonymity, and I'm willing to endure the attacks on myself as a small price to pay so that others can enjoy the privilege however, I see way too many cowards abusing this site to name-call, attack, lie about known people as they cowardly hide in the safe shadows of anonymity.

So, my challenge to you cowards is this:  Don't hide.  Step out into the sunlight.  If you have an attack to make, attach your name.  Then we will be afforded the opportunity to view the complaint through an important perspective we don't get through anonymity.  (Your motives become more clear).  Make your complaints with civility.  Make them politely.  If  you have a problem with a local business, a public official, a newspaper editor, or myself, stand tall and make your challenge with a stiff spine.  If you can't do that - then maybe you don't have one.

Meanwhile, our search for the 'Whispering Coward' continues...

Yesterday was curiously void of nominations for some odd reason.

Comments

SamAdams

Bryan, I agree that anonymity shouldn't be a cover for posts that consist of nothing but insults. At the same time, I consider anonymity important for more than simple "whistleblowing."

Whatever the numbers on the Census read, Sandusky is a small town. And blowback toward the poster of a comment that proves unpopular could be considerable. I don't mind a debate, but I WOULD mind having anything I said reflect on my place of business (it's my opinion, after all, not necessarily theirs), and I would CERTAINLY mind if some of the more vehemently "disagreeable" here could find out where I worked or where I lived. Call me paranoid, but I'm all too well aware of the vandalism that struck homes with political signage in 2008 that reflected a viewpoint the vandals didn't agree with!

I wouldn't worry too much about "facts" that are in error, either, since more than a few regular contributors seem more than happy to post the TRUTH and with evidence to back them up.

Leave the anonymity alone. It permits us all to say what we're really thinking without concern or even fear of repercussions from those who are, to put it mildly, unreasonable people. And without the expression of honest opinions, well, what's the point of a debate at all, eh?

brutus smith

 Some people still lie and spread rumors with their names attached. Even when you point out their lies and hypocrisy, they go on to attack the posters who call them on it just because it is their blog. Ooops, maybe I said to much.

Repubs have nothing, nada, zilch.

Bryan Dubois

Brutus, thanks for the perfect example.

You just accused me of lying - yet you provide no example.  Of course, you do all this with anonymity so that your accusations don't harm you.

That's wrong and I would hope that you know it.

(Maybe you don't?)

 

Bryan Dubois

Sam,

Fair enough. 

Like I said, I can deal with the venom, but I think the serial violators do a disservice to the concept of public discourse.  This newspaper grants them an anonymous platform to spew more than just "unpopular" opinions.  In the end, it reflects poorly on the community and the tool we have here is written off by the well-meaning. 

Sam, you're a frequent commenter on my blog as well as the rest of the SR.  Is it possible to police up the violators?  How would you suggest doing it?

brutus smith

 

JUL 05, 2010 
08:21 PM Bryan Dubois says

Good point Wayneonwayne.  The only difference between the comparison on bowing is the fact that Obama holds a deep bow until the photographers can get clear shots.

 

JUL 04, 2010 
05:59 PM Bryan Dubois says

Hussein, I didn't say, "if you don't agree with me, debating you is a waste of my time," because that's not what I meant. 

Here's a clarification for you:  "Why bother debating ideas based on facts we cannot agree on?"   Would you agree that doing so would be a waste of our time?

 

 

Bryan Dubois

Brutus,  what do the re-posts mean?  All you did was repost some of my comments.  Was there a point?

Bryan Dubious

 Clever how they delete my posts so you can plagiarize them.

You get paid to not be anonymous. And endure the terrible attacks. Duh.

 

 

SamAdams

Bryan, have you READ my screen name? I don't believe in "policing violators." I believe in free speech. And NOWHERE is that guarantee more important than in the press, and when it includes speech with which I — or even most of us — disagree.

Brutus knows I don't agree with anything he says (well, maybe I've agreed with him once or twice — maybe). And I know Brutus doesn't agree with anything that I have to say. But I think you might want to take note of the fact that I've never suggested Brutus's posting privileges be cut off, monitored, or censored, or that his real world identity be exposed. To his credit (darn it, now I've agreed with him THREE times!), I've never seen him say that about me, either.

When you have free speech, you have to put up with ALL that that means. And if you're not willing to do that, then you don't really have free speech, DO you?

Bryan Dubois

Sam, question:

Do you believe anonymous commenters have a right to lie about people online?  Do you believe a person has a right to shout 'fire!' in a crowded movie theater?

Hussein, welcome back.  The proposed boycott didn't last long, did it?  :)

MrSandusky

I have not really been on the Register's website in a while, (have not read any comments really in a few months) but I had some time today and my vote goes to Julie R.  She is everywhere posting multiple comments on almost every story.  Who has time like that?  I do not think that "whispering" suits her much though.

 

Julie, before you go on and on defending your honor.  Do not waste your time.  I just got back from Louisville and have to go do some work for a non-profit tonight and then return to work tomorrow, so I do not have time to go back and read comments after I have already read and commented on the story.  Sorry.

 

Speaking of Louisville, if anyone wants to see how a town did it's shoreline the right way go down there.  Hopefully soon Sandusky will put away its vendettas and hatred long enough to work together, listen to each other and quit this petty B.S..

 

 

brutus smith

 We do agree here Sam A, and actually on numerous other things.

Chung Lee

Interesting that anybody that doesn't agree with Mr. Dubois is a coward.  Bryan, Chung Lee doesn't believe that is the best way to create "useful dialogue".  Isn't it a bit ironic that you are making a statement about how the name calling becomes a distraction and you end your column by calling others cowards?  Strange that you did not feel that way when he ran the Sandusky Regurgitator..... or at least until they found out who you were.  So out of curiousity...... were you wrong then or are you wrong now?

Julie R.

Mr.Sandusky:

I agree that I am guilty of venting on the SR blogs about this more than dishonest, unfair and corrupt Erie County legal system but believe me when I say I am NOT a whispering coward. If the SR were to make commenters give their real names I would do so in a minute and STILL post the same things because everything I have ever said about this corrupt County is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.  And I haven't even told it all yet-----but I will.

As for me being on just about every story------no I'm not but I'm happy to see that YOU read every one of the SR stories and the comments that are made because I don't. (where do you find the time anyway?) The top comments right now on 5 stories don't have any comments at all from me------oh wait, sorry, I did read about the Booze Cruise and made one or two of the 65 comments. My bad.

6079 Smith W

 Mr. Dubois wrote:

“Is it possible to police up the violators?  How would you suggest doing it?” 

I believe that the new reporting system, the subsequent deletion of the offending post and the stating of the moderators reasons for its removal are definitely steps in the right direction. 

It’s obviously extremely difficult for some to disagree without being disagreeable and it’s gratifying to see many of the vitriolic bloggers having their written bile removed. 

Since the inception of the new system, I seemed to have noticed a “somewhat” postitive change in the tone of their posts with a reduced amount of outright senseless name calling in addition to a decrease by some in the amount of their blogging. 

When looking for intelligent, thoughtful and educational comments on news stories, I tend to look to several business news web sites. Looking for similar levels on the SR is for the most part a practice in futility and so I mostly use it as sport. 

A good post Mr. Dubois.

 

 

Bryan Dubois

Smith W, 

So as far as positive changes in regards to commenting, we're headed in the right direction.  That's good to hear.  That said, some of these commenters leave me shaking my head.

I enjoy reading your opinions, Smith.  Thanks for stopping in.

(Is it because you're a conservative thinker, or is it because what you say is ordered and just makes sense?   Probably both.)

 

Kottage Kat

Mr. Smith,

Mark your calendar, today I agree with you 100%.

kat;}

Massengill Wins...

Thank goodness people like Winston keep it classy and don't engage in mindless name calling

Winston Smith:

Obamabots are ordered to remember and to repeat often: It ain't Obie's fault, it's all Bush's.

6079 Smith W

@ MWS:

Is your user name not intended as a personal attack? LOL

Class? Obviously one should not bring a knife to a gunfight, though I do pull my punches and attempt to ask questions of others because I find the almost endless trash talk boring.

Obamabots? If the shoe fits, I didn't place it on yours' or anyone's foot and you or others choose to wear it.

Opinions: They're the cheapest commodity in the world because everybody has one.

SamAdams

Bryan, do people have the right to lie about others online? Sure. The news media does it all the time, and individuals do it even more frequently. Is it decent? Nope. Is it honest? Far from it. Should it be illegal to lie? In some instances, it already is.

You can argue that the news media is, at times, "mistaken," but the dearth of genuine apologies leads me to infer otherwise, particularly where some spectacularly obvious political biases are concerned. As far as individuals go, some may be mistaken while others lie with intent. But that's why there are competing news media and competing 'blogs and posts. You're assuming that people who read these things are too stupid or too lazy to read opposing viewpoints or to do research on their own (sadly, that's all too often the case), but you can't legislate responsibility or good sense. It should be noted that certain lies reach the point of the crimes of slander or libel. If that's the case, there are actions that can be taken that do NOT include selective censorship.

As far as whether or not people have the right to yell, "Fire!" in a crowded theater, the answer is, "Yes. Yes, they do." But take note: when those idiots are arrested, it's not for their speech but rather for the panic their speech has incited.

Another important note: The Sandusky Register is privately owned. It's not a government entity, nor is it any kind of a publicly owned collective. If the Register (or any other message board owner) chooses to censor, it can do so. Do I approve? No. In fact, I'd promptly boycott -- loudly -- such a decision (I believe the news media has an OBLIGATION and a Constitutional DUTY to act, at least in part, as a public platform). But do they have the right? Yup. Just as the rest of us have the right to say whatever we want wherever we can, at least while we're still permitted by the government to do so (and don't think changes aren't coming under the current direction the country is headed -- hate speech "crimes" are but the beginning of that kind of anti-freedom nonsense).

Bryan Dubois

Sam, not much time to respond right now, but I need a clarification:  You said that people have a right to lie about others online because the news media does it.  Do you really believe that?

As a believer and supporter of true liberty, we all have a responsibility to set an example for others.  Suing at the drop of a hat and censoring, I never suggested.  If you believe that I suggested censorship, please repost the sentence or comment that I made that led you to believe that, because I'd love to clarify it.   I'm suggesting that if we lead by example, overlook or challenge those who are abusing their ability to post anonymously,  those who use this service responsibly will win out.

I have ideas on  how to do that - and you will see some of them incorporated soon - on this site.

Anyway, off to work I go...

Looking forward to an exchange of ideas when I get home.

Massengill Wins...

WIth that sort of logic...... name calling is acceptable "if the shoe fits"?  Personally, I think the President of the United States does deserve some respect and calling him "Obie" doesn't quite do that.  If everybody has an opinion..... why is it that those are on the left are obamabots?  Just curious..... what are they called on the right or would that be name calling?

6079 Smith W

@ MWS:

Logic? And in what irrational world should one attempt a discussion with one whose user name is an attempt at a personal insult intended for the one being questioned?

Pragmatic

 

We can post or print our full names, addresses, and Social Security Numbers – and that wouldn’t mean that what we are saying is true. Blogging technically began back in 1993 – but became more apparent in about 1998. Before then, people were using their names and personal information to offer their “opinions”. Very few people look up facts or statistics in scholarly literature. Most people form their opinions from the news, religion, and their social environment. This is normal. Everyone has an opinion based on their experience, foundation, and environment. Allow people to have them. I know (fact - not opinion) that previous to 1998 (before blogging), that people would lie, slander people and business, misconstrue the evidence, and emotional torture people - - and sign their names. Now, let’s think about this intelligently. Does signing your name to that make the author any less of a coward? If they were courageous and had an ounce of human decency they wouldn’t have written the smut in the first place.  Courageous people don’t do that to people.    Names and personal information isn’t important to me. However, I do prefer the facts for my very own education and lifelong learning.  But, not everyone knows how to get the facts. They simply live their daily lives...and offer their opinions. That’s okay.  Yet, on the softer side, I truly enjoy hearing other people’s opinions on matters. I will never agree with many of them – in fact, sometimes reading other people’s thoughts makes me feel a bit more confident in myself. Also, I must add, others can offer me something that I never though of at times. Some people break problems down into raw situations – while others whitewash and issue. With an open mind, both can be an interesting read.  It depends on your lenses – and how you view the world.    I don’t care if you list your name or not. That doesn’t make you any more intelligent – or any more courageous to me. Nobody really has to blog. We do so because we want to. If I want to read the evidence, I will go to the scholarly literature or to the experts. If you post something in a blog...just make it interesting, relevant, and yes...even a little humor helps.   If you lie, slander, or say things to hurt others you are most likely doing this in your personal life too...and...people will take notice and you are most likely paying for it there.    Lastly, I have blogged in many forums in the past. There have been times when names have been mandatory for the blog. I was blogging in a forum once where a Congressman’s son was posting. When it became known who he was, many people stopped posting. This can take away from a robust conversation. Not only that, but people began only agreeing with him.  The blog should be about the topic, not the person. I have been in similar blogs where people posted their name, title, credentials – and it sways people. While anonymity breeds untruths, it can still be useful in opening up dialogue that people wouldn’t engage in otherwise. After all, what else in society breeds untruths? The list could go on.   By the way...perhaps I am unclear about the question...but, blogging without posting your name and yelling “fire” in a theater are two different matters. I believe one is illegal and one is not. 
6079 Smith W

@ Mr. Dubois:

Thank you for your kind words. I try to bring "something" to the party.

Politically and socially, I consider myself to be a libertarian. The definition of which for me is:

A fiscal conservative and a social liberal; which in essence means:

I don’t necessarily care what you do; I just don’t want to pay for it.

At its founding, the U.S. was essentially in three camps:

1/3 wanted to remain under the British.

1/3 wanted independence

1/3 wanted to be “left alone.”

In over 200 yrs., our society has not appreciably changed. I count myself among the third camp.

Note that the "Independent" voter still swings national elections.

Massengill Wins...

Winston says:

Logic? And in what irrational world should one attempt a discussion with one whose user name is an attempt at a personal insult intended for the one being questioned?

Maybe President Obama is not listening to you because you have to attempt to insult him and the people that support him by not calling him by his name or his title?  Seriously, "Obie" sounds like something one would hear on the playground and not in serious political discourse. Now that it logical!

SamAdams

Bryan, lying is part of free speech. I didn't say individuals had the right to lie because the news media all too often does. I said BOTH the news media and individuals lie, and that that's part and parcel of their right to free speech. It's just as much a part and parcel of free speech to counter those lies.

As far as censorship goes, I believe your word was a question about how to "police" the 'blogs to deal with "violators." If that's not censorship, what is?

SamAdams

Massengill wins,

You talk about people calling those on the far left "obamabots," or referring to Obama himself as "Obie" (I prefer "Obummer" myself, but that's neither here nor there), and you wonder what those on the right are called. Apparently, you don't read Brutus's posts! He refers to those on the right as "rightwingnuts." Our illustrious president himself is uncouth enough to refer to "teabaggers." Hey, if the insulting names are good enough for Obummer, they're good enough for me, eh?

6079 Smith W

@ MWS:

Will you or will you not answer the question?

What is the meaning and purpose of your user name?

brutus smith

 It's funny the King of insulters, winnie, talks about others throwing insults. It is also funny that the right wing Republican males, who are the 1st to insult, cry like little babies when someone hurls an insult back. They are a bunch of Momma's boys. At least the Republican women on the board don't whine and cry about every little thing. You can at least have an adult conversation with the women even if you disagree.

 

Repubs have nothing, nada, zilch.

 

Massengill Wins...

Back at you Winston

Logic? And in what irrational world should one attempt a discussion with one whose user name is an attempt at a personal insult intended for the one being questioned?

You are too funny.  You find the need to insult with every post with your tag line and then you are critical of others for not being respectful?  Apparently that heavy dose of irony is lost on you and your philosophy.

Wasn't it a couple years ago that the right would say that protesting the president or name calling was giving aid and comfort to the enemy?  My oh my how things have changed!

6079 Smith W

 

Don’t Obama supporters believe and are told repeatedly by Mr. Obama and others in his circle that the reason for our current socio-economic downturn is due to the actions and inactions of POTUS GW Bush?

Aren’t some Obama supporters smitten in a cult of personality over the man?

One of my favorites: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P36x8rTb3jI

Actually the hard core"Left" don't think that his policies are Marxist oriented enough.

In the final analysis, show me exactly where the terms “Obamabots” and “blame Bush” is grossly inaccurate.

In a verbal or a physical fight, I like to remember the words of the character Dalton in the movie "Road House":

“Take the biggest guy in the world, shatter his knee and he'll drop like a stone.”

6079 Smith W

@ MWS:

Emotionally identiying with a political figure is obviously your own personal issue.

Continue to attempt to change the subject, but the question remains:

What is the meaning behind and the purpose of your user name?

Massengill Wins...

Don’t Obama supporters believe and are told repeatedly by Mr. Obama and others in his circle that the reason for our current socio-economic downturn is due to the actions and inactions of POTUS GW Bush?

If the shoe fits.......

Obamabots are ordered to remember and to repeat often: It ain't Obie's fault, it's all Bush's

Does that mean that Obamabots can be substituted with Bushbots, Rushbots, Beckbots and Foxbots and Obama switched with Bush without it being offensive?

Rushbots are ordered to remember and to repeat often:  It ain't Bush's fault, it is all Obama's?

Thanks for the tag line.

That sounds totally unfair to blame the guy who got us involved in 2 wars, crashed the economy and allowed the banks to crater.  Makes so much sense to blame the guy who is trying to fix that which is damaged. 

 

 

 

Massengill Wins...

Emotionally identifying with a character from a fictional book obviously sounds like a personal issue.  What's wrong?  Was the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew and Holden Caulfield already taken?

 

Rushbots are ordered to remember and to repeat often:  It ain't Bush's fault, it is all Obama's

Driving in Circles

 You have to take the good with the bad.  It is pretty easy to tune out the worst offenders, the party line parrots, and anyone with all caps.  On the whole, the discussion would be less honest if everyone had to put their name out with their opinions.  Too many people would face problems in their professional and personal lives.

I don't always (or even often) agree with Bryan, but I respect that he puts his name out on his posts.  If he could just lose the blind trust in certain blonde women...

Bryan Dubois

Ha!  Good one Driving.  (The blonde women thing.)

I appreciate the good natured fairness.

Bryan Dubious

 I'm willing to endure the attacks on myself, but as a true patriot blogger, I believe you shouldn't reference a blog post that was deleted by one's own media company! 

Massengill Wins...

Dubious you seem much more credible than Dubois.

kURT

It should stay how it is: here is why.

Some have brought facts to light before the papers ran an article.

Some have collectively forced elected officials to do their duty.

Yes many have spewed venom. Big deal that is life.

Yet if any wants, for a nominal fee a persons IP can be secured.

Some also through these blogs had local officials converse here.

Truly convenient for all parties concerned, no noise, everyone gets a chance to speak, etc. 

Jonathan Beck

Moderators have removed this comment because it contained personal attacks. Discussion Guidelines

Jonathan Beck

Some people just can not hale the truth.  I could give you fifteen thousand examples