The name of the game

On too many days, I look over too many comments that appear on too many stories on this web site and just shake my head.

Where, I wonder, do some of these people come from and who puts some of these incredible notions into their heads?

It's a problem that many news web sites, this one included, must grapple with in today's free-for-all Internet environment – dealing with the hate mongers, conspiracy theorists and conversation dominators that take over many online discussions.

Tom Grubisich wrote about the problem in Monday's Washington Post:

These days we want "transparency" in all institutions, even private ones. There's one massive exception — the Internet. It is, we are told, a giant town hall. Indeed, it has millions of people speaking out in millions of online forums. But most of them are wearing the equivalent of paper bags over their heads. We know them only by their Internet "handles" — gotalife, runningwithscissors, stoptheplanet and myriad other inventive names.

Imagine going to a meeting about school overcrowding in your community. Everybody at the meeting is wearing nametags. You approach a cluster of people where one man is loudly complaining about waste in school spending. "Get rid of the bureaucrats, and then you'll have money to expand the school," he says, shaking his finger at the surrounding faces.
You notice his nametag — "anticrat424." Between his sentences, you interject, "Excuse me, who are you?"

He gives you a narrowing look. "Taking names, huh? Going to sic the superintendent's police on me? Hah!"

In any community in America, if Mr. anticrat424 refused to identify himself, he would be ignored and frozen out of the civic problem-solving process. But on the Internet, Mr. anticrat424 is continually elevated to the podium, where he can have his angriest thoughts amplified through cyberspace as often as he wishes. He can call people the vilest names and that hate-mongering, too, will be amplified for all the world to see.

You would think Web sites would want to keep the hate-mongers from taking over, but many sites are unwitting enablers. At washingtonpost.com, editors and producers say they struggle to balance transparency against privacy. Until recently, many of the site's posters identified themselves with anonymous Internet handles — which were the site's default ID. Now, people must enter a "user ID" that appears with their comments.

Those of us who run news web sites have taken steps to try and stem the flood of hate that dominates too much discussion on the web but second only to hate is the overwhelming preponderance of conspiracy theorists who see an organized threat to just about every issue.

Too often, we see the discussion of just about any news topic overwhelmed by incredible and often outlandish claims that the Bush administration and/or the CIA plotted the 9/11 terrorist attacks and/or blew up the World Trade Center and/or the Pentagon.

Or we are told Bush and his cronies are tools of the (pick one) Saudis, Israelis, Neo-Nazis or whomever.

Or everything bad that happens in the country is a secret plot to take away our guns.

The list is ever growing and endless.

Grubisich raises a good point when he suggests that web sites that give forums to such theories become enablers of the absurd and conduits of hate.

Even worse, the anonymity of the Internet allows these conditions to not only exist but escalate.

Grubisich cites one way to deal with the problem:

Though not foolproof, there are ways to at least raise the bar. Gordon Joseloff, a former CBS News correspondent who owns WestportNow.com, a popular grass-roots site in Westport, Conn., used to employ the standard permissive registration process. But in late 2005, turned off by the venom of anonymous posters, Joseloff instituted a policy requiring anyone who wanted to comment to use his or her real name. Joseloff also requires registrants to give their phone numbers. Numbers aren't posted on the site, but they give him and his team an additional check against false registration.

Why shouldn't those who comment on stories be required to use their real names? Every newspaper I worked for as a journalist required those who wrote letters to the editor to provide their name, address and phone number for verification. Letter writers were not allowed to throw hate or misinformation bombs while hiding behind "screen" names.

Likewise, every columnist who writes for this web site uses his or her real name. We don't hide our identities. Why should we continue to devote bandwidth and space to those who aren't willing to reveal theirs?

30 Responses to "The name of the game"

  1. Miss Grace  May 15, 2007 at 4:33 pm

    One should not be judged unfairly or their comments given lesser consideration if they choose to use a screen name.

    I use a screen name for a very good reason — my legal name is almost identical to that of a US Senator from the same area of my state. Although we are members of the same political party, airing my views on 9/11 and other hot button topics under my own name would create no end of grief for this hardworking representative — not to mention the field day her opponents would have.

    In addition, a screen name does give a level of protection from ID thieves and cyberstalkers. Recently, an unknown individual has been making a concerted effort to obtain my personal information. At this point, I would not post ANYTHING under my own name.

    I work fulltime, but always like to take a few minutes every day to check out CHB. I don’t care if a posting is anonymous or not — if I don’t care for the content, I just go to the next one.

    I find it absurd that someone from the pathetic and cowardly MSM (Grubisich)is taking pot shots at the Internet. There’s more hard news on the Internet than in the MSM any day. If the web such a fiasco and “free-for-all,” why is the Bush administration pushing so hard for government control? They’re afraid of the truths that are floating around, and want to control the flow of information. The MSM and their money-grubbing military-industrial owners like GE clearly dislike the competition.

    As for the conspiracy theories, bring ‘em on and let me decide for myself. I’ve been following Wantagate for some time, thanks to a CHB posting. Sandy, I agree you 100% on 9/11 — it just took me longer to catch on. I found “Towers of Deception” particularly compelling reading.

    Years ago, the thought that the JFK assassination was other than the work of a lone fanatic was “an incredible notion.” As I recall, in one of your columns, Doug, you weighed in with a comment from late Texas Governor Connaly which suggests otherwise.

    Get real — pen names have been used for centuries.

  2. Joe Lawrence  May 16, 2007 at 9:00 am

    …., and if Oliver/Geyser @!#$smeller doesn’t like Doug’s present or future rules, s/he should just vote her/himself off the island. Problem solving 101.

    Joe Lawrence

  3. Doubtom  May 15, 2007 at 10:16 pm

    for a segment on proper identification prior to issuing an opinion. Aside from the fact that, as some have already pointed out, anyone can gin up a name out of the blue; of what particular value or use is the name to the subject being discussed?

    Does a real name lend any more substance to a comment than an alias? Speaking only for myself, I read for content and when I see a good comment, I compliment the source whatever name he/she chooses to go by.

    You could make a case that those who do use their real names are on an ego trip. Those who don’t crave the spotlight are as worthy and capable of rational thought as those who do.

    I doubt the usefulness of this venture but then , doubting is what I do.

  4. Jenifer D.  May 15, 2007 at 10:48 pm

    I only use the first letter of MY last name because folks like to rib me about it (it’s the name of a Naval vessel). Four years in Armored Cavalry makes you think. :-)

  5. John Farley  May 15, 2007 at 11:52 am

    Doug, you’re right. Anonymous letters are a problem.

    But the bigger problem is the use of anonymous sources in the mainstream media. Every day stories in the mainstream media are attributed to “senior administration officials” or “a Western diplomat”. The most egregious recent example is the disgraceful performance of the mainstream media in the 2002-2003 run-up to the Iraq war.

    I’d like to see transparency in the entire system. When a neoconservative pundit like Charles Krauthammer appears on the TV news shows, I’d like a subtitle to appear at the bottom of the screen saying “Neoconservative ideologue, promoted Iraq war. Member of PNAC”

  6. Joe Lawrence  May 15, 2007 at 12:12 pm

    Whenever I post opinion, whether online or in a letter to an editor, my first choice is always to use my real name. This is made the more difficult by the convoluted – and continually shifting – “registration requirements” adopted by various sites. Thusly, I have been and am known on many sites as “winstonsmithredux,” and I make no secret of this.

    I stongly endorse any change in CHB policy which seeks to make clear whose opinion is whose, and, like Bryan McClelland above, I am not hard to find.

    On the other hand, women – such as JerZgirl above – have the added problem of stalkers, so I think they are entitled to some measure of protection. At the same time, however, it remains my practice to give less weight to opinions offered under screen names, and that’s a fair trade-off.

    Hey, Bryan Mc, what say you and I set up a time and a place where anyone wishing to do us personal harm, because we rail against this most-corrupt-administration-ever, can show up and challenge us? *S* What a great day for freedom THAT would be!

    Joe Lawrence

  7. Elmo  May 15, 2007 at 12:41 pm

    I used to use my name and my own email address. Then I got targeted by a cyber-stalker. So I switched to an alias (after learning how to use an email kill file and changing my ISP). If anyone really wants to find who I am, there are probably enough clues and breadcrumbs around but at least my little pal hasn’t come back.

    But what I would like to see is more site managers who are willing to cancel posting privileges for those who consistently abuse it. It has worked in mail oriented groups where the list “owner” can drop those who don’t play by the rules. It’s not censorship — just enforcement of simple courtesy.

  8. geyser  May 15, 2007 at 12:57 pm

    I suppose with all the Identity Theft about, folks don’t want to give any Personal info out. I wondered why when joining a Web Site, why are you asked for all the info that is asked for? Privacy Statements say, no Personal Info will be given out so, why ask for it? Shouldn’t your E-mail address be sufficent? As far as I can tell, your Name means very little if anything. What is to stop anyone and everyone from using an Alias? This Site is no different, at the top of my post it says, Your Name: under that it says “geyser” That is not my Name, if it were, I’d change it ASAP and hate my parents.
    We’ve become afraid and suspicious of everyone around us.

    To put everyone at ease, my name is, Oliver Fartsmeller. Anyone else care to be bold?

    Taking One Day at a Time

  9. Wayne K Dolik  May 15, 2007 at 1:12 pm

    Here is a good definition of censorship I found in “Center for Media and Democracy”.

    Censorship is the use of state power or public body or individual to control freedom of expression. Censorship ‘criminalizes’ some actions or the communication (and suggested communications) of actions. In a modern sense censorship consists of any attempt to suppress information, points of view, or method of expression such as art, or profanity. The purpose of censorship is to maintain the status quo, to control the development of a society, or to stifle dissent among a subject people.

  10. doneck  May 15, 2007 at 1:28 pm

    Before retirement, I refereed numerous research papers for scientific journals, and I requested that the editors not conceal my name (Donald Eckhardt) from the authors. If I had something to hide, a competing theory say, I would have recused myself from the review process anyway. Unfortunately, most journal referees are anonymous. That sometimes makes their comments suspect.

  11. Boots  May 15, 2007 at 3:54 pm

    Every once in a while Doug gets a bug up his butt. Now he’s got the PC bug. Look, if you want all commenter’s to put their real names down change the registration rules. Then you’ll find out if it was a good idea or not. I for one, do not do things just because someone wants me to. I do things because I want to. Is that OK with you Doug? (That’s a rhetorical question)

  12. bryan mcclellan  May 15, 2007 at 4:28 pm

    I would love to have an unedited go at these so called pundits. The problem is, (to use an old movie line), They can’t handle the truth,and to give the American people a voice in the debate frightens them to no end.We spoke in the last election but are ignored, hell, bush lost the popular vote twice and trotted out a line of crap that he was given a mandate.We know what were up against,anonymity aside, we can’t stop for fear that the boogie man is at the door,we need to open it nice and wide and usher them into the light.The most unpatriotic of deeds is not questioning your government. Not sure but I think Thomas Jefferson quoted that. P.S. Thanks to Doug and his staff for giving us the opportunity to discuss the issues..

  13. SEAL  May 15, 2007 at 6:51 pm

    Now, why would the propoganda ministers of the new order care whether all those dissenters on the Internet used their real names?

  14. cruzn2468  May 15, 2007 at 7:13 pm

    I’ll say it again Doug. In a perfect world I would use it all the time. This isn’t perfect so I won’t. This country is full of folks in power that will use it against you if they think you are way off their kind of thinking. Too scary to consider.

  15. T.M. Williams  May 15, 2007 at 7:26 pm

    In the 18th century American colonies, instead of anonymous bloggers, there were anonymous pamphleteers. They chose names like “Cato”, “Brutus” and the like, both to hide their identity from tyrannical governments and as a metaphor for their intellectual perspective.

    I’m sure that the Crown looked unkindly on these anonymous writers, and would challenge them to reveal themselves to the public. But they were right to remain anonymous. Wise readers can recognize strong arguments independent of the author’s identity. Sometimes an author’s identity can even distract from his message. I recall that Mr. Thompson used to post a picture of himself at the top of his columns, and that when his column was referenced on other sites, discussion would center on the picture rather than any of his well worded arguments.

    Just as in colonial times, we face a tyrannical establishment dedicated to silencing opposing voices. Anonymity is still important. I would rather scroll through a thousand imbecilic anonymous rants than force one commentator to identify himself before speaking.

    As for me, I use my real name to underscore my sincerity and to remind myself that internet posts are not transient, but potentially part of the historical record.

    I hope I never feel compelled to return to anonymity, but if I do, I certainly hope it is still an option here at CHB.

  16. LurkingFromTheLeft  May 15, 2007 at 9:00 pm

    …I should use my ‘real’ name of Georges Sand -

    LFTL

  17. April-May  May 15, 2007 at 10:36 pm

    Crack open a copy of Federalist Papers and have a look at what Hamiliton has to say about free speech. Then read Jefferson, Madison, Washington, Franklin, Adams . . . For starters.

    My experience with “moderators” is that they don’t understand discourse. They don’t understand how provocation and sarcasm might somehow shape hyperbole that gets past the clutter and to the point.

    I want to read what people have to say. Pushing 60 here and have never been injured by free speech.

    I’m not “April-May” . . . Hell, I’m not even female.

    ———————————————
    NRA Distinguished Life Member

  18. SEAL  May 16, 2007 at 1:09 am

    To expect that anonymous screen names will prevent this administration from learning the true name of of the user is totally unrealistic. If they want it, they’ll get it.

  19. JudyB  May 16, 2007 at 1:29 am

    If only we could find a way to keep the misinformation from flowing from the White House….that would be a start.

    I have found that extremists of any kind are dangerous and I want nothing to do with any of them.

    I despise those who will say anything to get their points across and therefore lie.

    I think there should be a law against blantent half truths and out & out lies told about those running for political office regardless of which party or candidate…(the swift
    boater were a good example of that but there were hundreds more that occurred during 2000 election)

  20. Gloria Bryant  May 15, 2007 at 9:31 am

    I totally agree! I have always used my own name to post comments to these sites. If I am not willing to be identified for my opinions, they don’t deserve to be published.
    When I write letters to the editor of our local paper, I must use my name and address for them to keep a record of the author. It seems logical to require that all persons responding to your columns in any way MUST use a real identifiable and provable name. Their address need not be published, but you should have a method of keeping track of the commentators and a way to keep the jackasses off of your website!

  21. cruzn2468  May 15, 2007 at 9:46 am

    I’m with you here. I was on AOL’s boards for a couple of years, and could not believe the way hate mongers hid behind their names. The internet is a great place for those who claim to be tolerant to show their true colors. Of course, no one sees these colors on the poster in real life.

    There has been nothing on the internet, that I have written, I would not claim. I am who I am.

    Philip Agne

  22. cruzn2468  May 15, 2007 at 9:59 am

    I must admit, one part of the anonymity appealed to me. At the time I was doing most of my posting, if my actual views had been made known to my boss, it may have put me in a precarious position. This man could not have been any farther from my political view if he tried.

    Needless to say, there were many things I chose not to discuss with this man in the 10 years we worked together.

    I guess in a perfect world perfect honesty works. This is not that world.

    Philip Agne

  23. bryan mcclellan  May 15, 2007 at 10:10 am

    I’m not HIDING from you or anyone else. I am every angry american who is sick and tired of the culture of nicety, thats not politically correct shame, shame, shame. All the ones who think the problems America faces today should be swept under the rug because someones feelings might get hurt can go jump in the lake. Economic rape ,illegal aliens, our porous borders, a stinking war that goes on and on and on, lies that we will protect you,news media that runs scared from an out of control administration, etc.etc.etc.If you don’t chew your food how do you know what to spit out and what to swallow? Yes ,I am pissed at the media,our so called watchdog continues to serve up pablum and crap on the silver spoon that bush spit out..Want to know what Americans think? Stop by my place ,I’ll cook up some reality for you and maybe a hot dog or two.I’M NOT HARD TO FIND!!

  24. bjiller  May 15, 2007 at 10:21 am

    “Internet privacy” is an oxymoron.

  25. JerZGirl  May 15, 2007 at 10:27 am

    I admit to keeping myself incognito because of the volatility of the current political environment. I have my opinions, am only mildly conspiricist, wish the current administration were locked up for life, etc. But, I do not want any extremists of any category who see my opinions as a threat to what they believe to come knocking at my door or entering into my personal space. Therefore, I do not leave personal information posted in a public forum. Since I am a subscriber, it wouldn’t be too hard for the moderators to contact me and request my identity if they have concerns, but I’d prefer that others not be able to do this. Too many people feel too personally connected to others online and believe they can make threats, intimidate, or stalk. Then there’s that minor fear that our current administration with its known animosity for all who oppose it might put me and others on a watch list somewhere because of my and their opinions. So, with a very few exceptions, I try to keep venom as well as self-identification at a minimum.

    ————————————————–
    Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit.

    Wisdom is knowing not to put it in fruit salad.

  26. LurkingFromTheLeft  May 15, 2007 at 10:43 am

    …as in the state of PA -

    …I have to ask if it is a slow news day to have generated such a column?

    …for various political and personal reasons, I choose to post as I do – I’m not hiding JUST taking other factors into consideration – as I’m sure many others here do as well -

    …being a IWW member probably has me on a list -

    …ditto with posting elsewhere –

    …so, I’ll continue to lurk from the left – and I’m inching even farther to the left but not so far that I come back around to the ‘right’ -

    LFTL

  27. Sandy Price  May 15, 2007 at 10:28 am

    I did borrow another name when a friend of mine returned home and left his signon name with me here. I had been banned as Sandy Price and continued using the name of my friend John Mesquite. I outed myself and of course lost my privileges at Reader Rant. It was a lesson learned the hard way.

    But, I must protest against any discussion of the information on 9/11 and who was responsible being banned. I smelled a rat even before the second plane hit. I Googled all the information I could and began to keep notes on how the White House handled the situation. It did not compute in my mind or the minds of others.

    I was told to drop the subject here and I did. Since that time many more books and European DVDs have been sold to continue my search for the real motive for 9/11. I have a well-worn copy of the 9/11 Commission Report and only a fool would believe it.

    I kept up correspondence with others all over the world and feel that the truth has not yet been exposed. It will in time and I will probably be long gone. My point is that we must never accept the government’s point of view on anything and that goes for the Democrats as well as the Republicans.

    I did share some of the books and DVDs that I read and watched that my own opinions were quite clear but I never criticized others for thinking they are just excuses.

    I did some research on the PNAC and found them guilty as hell of promoting a dangerous One World Order under American rule. To see how this group has taken us into wars based on nothing of value verges on the criminal. In my opinion this group should be read by others who still value American freedoms. My reading of “Blackwatch” showed me of the influence of Pat Robertson on his educating his own Christians to be used by the Bush Administration.

    If this is the wrong site for my opinions that do not come from my imagination but from a lot of research through books and communications, I will leave with no regrets.

    I see a great danger within the Bush Administration as I did within the Clinton Administration and I spoke up!

  28. April-May  May 15, 2007 at 10:24 pm

    Google: “Sandy Price”

    Results 1 – 10 of about 4,150,000 for Sandy Price. (0.11 seconds)

    Sandy Price | Capitol Hill Blue
    Sandy Price. I have a theory that I would like to discuss and receive some … Sandy Price. The universities throughout America should have classes in the …
    http://www.capitolhillblue.com/cont/taxonomy/term/15 – 28k – Cached – Similar pages

    Capitol Hill Blue – Better Than a Sleeping Pill: Republican …
    written by Sandy Price , April 05, 2007. Oh yes, the war of the barbarians will never end. How About Family Values? written by JV , April 05, 2007 …
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    [ More results from http://www.capitolhillblue.com ]

    This is why I won’t disclose personal information. I don’t disclose personal information on web sites, on web-based email, in chat rooms.

    I use a proxy server and a web based email acct. when I sign up for a site.

    My personal information IS NOT anyone else’s business. I’m not interested in penis enlargement, penny stocks, or designer knock-off Asian watches.

    Lately, on dial-up because it’s what’s available here, I’m getting god damned tired of the ads loading.

    As regards “moderators” — there’s a polite euphemism for censorship. I’ve been banned from most every forum site I’ve ever signed up for — invariably for free speech and censorship issues.

    So, Sandy Price . . . put your name and a photo on Craig’s list. I dare you.

    ———————————————
    NRA Distinguished Life Member

  29. Rich Farris  May 15, 2007 at 11:03 am

    There are a few problems that maybe you don’t full appreciate. First of all, I read every day about how the government is reaching for more power to spy on what I do in the electronic world without telling me. That’s no comfort to my right to privacy. And second, some of us have jobs that cannot afford to have our political opinions aired publically. Journalists are paid to air opinions. But corporate employees live in an autocractic world where we are paid to keep our mouths shut and offend nobody. Political speech is literally forbidden in many areas. So it is nice to have an outlet to be honest or angry. And when it really matters, I’m certainly willing to put my name on the line. But such decisions have to be measured carefully in a world of shrinking freedoms.

    I think this country has a lot worse problems, and the democracy of free thought on the web is doing more good than harm in my opinion. The web is about the only true democracy left, and democracy is never pretty or neat. It’s not supposed to be. Then again, any site should have the right to set their own rules. I grant you that. But let’s start at the top of the power chain and work our way down with the criticism. It’s not fair to pick on the powerless, even if some of us sound nuts at times. I can find you just as many nuts at the top, who are far more damaging to the world, and many of them hide behind versions of paper bags as well. Try finding the names of those who snuck in all those nasty bylines in the Patriot Act. Or who meets with Dick Cheney in those secret meetings? If they get a paper bag, then maybe I should get one, too.

  30. Steve Horn  May 15, 2007 at 11:21 am

    I am who I am – pretty simple to find. I can understand and respect why some obscure their identity on the web – some may have personal or interpersonal reasons to not give their names – some may be concerned about issues at work – I tend to read for content more than identification. I do, however, have greater respect to those who, like me, are out there – you can find out where we live, what we look like and what we think on the web with a fairly simple search. When your heros are Joe Hill, Woody Guthrie, Phil Ochs, Mother Jones, Utah Phillips and John Lennon you really can’t do their memories service by hiding. Unlike Bush I don’t pre-qualify people who attend where I’m speaking or playing – all are welcomed – even if you don’t agree with me – go ahead and heckle –

    What concerns me is when people hide their identity because they’re afraid of political complications – if you live in fear of the government then admit it to yourself – you’re no longer living in a democratic environment. Maybe it’s time to stand up and make your feelings and concerns known, maybe it’s time to take the chance of treading on tootsies and put your identity behind your beliefs – unless – of course – you lack the passion and conviction to do so.

    Perhaps that’s the reaction that this administration has been trying to foster, to create a population of sheeple who tremble while the idiot in chief rambles on about how safe we are from nooooculear weapons, how we’re winning the war on terror (how, by being defeated by those who would drive our imperalistic occupation of Iraq out?).

    I’ve been a rather vocal and public activist for years – if you never heard of me before it wasn’t ’cause I was hiding under a rock – perhaps our paths just haven’t crossed yet – most who meet me (for better or worse) remember me.

    Am I on some little list in Washington, my fingerprints in beautiful black and white? Hell – I hope so!

    As for those who hide behind various screen names just so they can be a**holes, well, short of getting positive ID’s from everyone who posts, there’s not much you can do to prevent that behavior. It would be nice, however, if those folks would take the time to consider points of view and contribute to the discussion.

    Steve Horn
    http://www.myspace.com/stevehorn

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