Thursday, May 1, 2008

Anonymity Again

Kevin Richert of the Idaho Statesman wrote a piece earlier this week titled, "Some thoughtful remarks about a coarse discourse." At first I assumed his post was an attempt to address the problem the Statesman seems to have with unruly readers commenting on the most extreme stories appearing in their online edition. After all he directs the reader to Steve Ahrens' (of the Idaho Business Review) online etiquette article. Evidently, I was wrong. Richert does suggest those participating on the blogs be courteous, however the bottom-line of his argument is this:

"The short take: play fair, tell the truth, use your name."

To be clear, the emphasis added was on my part. Great, we can't play fair and tell the truth while maintaining our anonymity or online persona. Hold on to your hats kids, here we go again.

It seems to me that Mr. Richert, instead of regurgitating an argument that has taken place in the Idaho blogosphere on more than one occasion, should spend his energy (and word limit) on addressing the bigger issue for he and his colleagues--the completely inappropriate and outrageous remarks being made on his own paper's website. You don't have to know a "thing or two about journalism" to see that the comments being left by Statesman readers are both out of control and unmonitored. Offensive comments, though apparently forbidden by the paper's policy, are left up for days if not weeks, that is until a broken link appears.

After somewhat misleading the reader by pointing to Ahrens' article, which is easily more a history of how blogs got started than anything else, Richert goes on to say this:
By quoting unnamed bloggers and commenters, am I enabling this coarse discourse? Am I compromising the kind of open, upfront public discussion that newspapers have accommodated for decades? Or is it basically game over — people have come to expect anonymity online, and newspapers can't fight it?

The very notion that a newspaper man is asking a question about whether quoting unnamed bloggers and commenters is fueling a "coarse discourse" is unbelievable. What exactly are anonymous sources? When a newspaper goes to print with a story, take for instance the Watergate saga, sometimes the only person within the paper who knows the true identity of the source is the editor and the writer of that particular story. The entire staff of the paper doesn't know who the source is, they just trust that the source is credible because the editor tells them to. Newspapers get away with having anonymous sources all the time; how is it any different for us bloggers to trust other bloggers who choose to grace our presence anonymously?

There are plenty of bloggers out there, commenting or running their own blogs, who do so anonymously. I can think of a handful in the Idaho blogosphere, most of whom I read and a few of whom I trust completely. I may know their names, I may not. Doesn't make a damn bit of difference to me. I trust their online persona. I trust what they write and I wouldn't think twice about quoting them or linking to them just because they value their anonymity. I respect the myriad of reasons for which many blog, comment, or otherwise participate anonymously.

And for God's sake, can we please stop saying that anonymous comments equal cowardly participants? We live in state that isn't particularly welcoming or kind to Democrats. We live in a right-to-work state that does not protect us from random firing for anything we may say on the internets that our employer would find disrespectful. We live in a state that is lacking non-discrimination laws that would protect any of us from being fired on the spot for our sexual orientation. We live in a country that offers very little legal protection to bloggers for stories they may post, far less protection than is offered to the traditional media.

The environment has to change before we're all willing to jump in the deep end with our names tied around our necks. Whatever discourse we're having out there, coarse or not, won't change until the rules do.

1 comment :

Sage Word said...

kudos -- very well put.

Missed you y'day. Someone says it might have been due to a ride needed. If so, bummer.

Meanwhile, a good cinco and try to keep June 7th open for the fest.