Thursday, April 15, 2010

Online commenting comes under fire

Posted By on Thu, Apr 15, 2010 at 1:15 PM

Lots of recent action regarding the anonymity—or lack thereof—of online commenting. The New York Times reported this week that the Washington Post may start ranking comments based on users who publish their real names. Huffington Post is doing something similar. The same article from the Times also mentions an interesting story out of Cleveland:

The Plain Dealer of Cleveland recently discovered that anonymous comments on its site, disparaging a local lawyer, were made using the e-mail address of a judge who was presiding over some of that lawyer’s cases.

That kind of proxy has been documented before; what was more unusual was that The Plain Dealer exposed the connection in an article. The judge, Shirley Strickland Saffold, denied sending the messages — her daughter took responsibility for some of them. And last week, the judge sued The Plain Dealer, claiming it had violated her privacy.

The paper acknowledged that it had broken with the tradition of allowing commenters to hide behind screen names, but it served notice that anonymity was a habit, not a guarantee. Susan Goldberg, The Plain Dealer’s editor, declined to comment for this article. But in an interview she gave to her own newspaper, she said that perhaps the paper should not have investigated the identity of the person who posted the comments, “but once we did, I don’t know how you can pretend you don’t know that information.”

Another, more recent story: An alt-weekly in Nova Scotia, The Coast, has agreed to cooperate with a Supreme Court ruling to reveal the identities and IP addresses of six people who allegedly defamed Halifax firefighters in the comments section of a story about fire department racism.

The Indy requires users to log-in before commenting on an article, and we encourage the use of your full name. That said, our top commenters currently include "Al V.," "Jrob" and "Omegaman83."

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