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?

Comments

  1. Miss Grace

    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

    …., 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

    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.

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

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

  14. cruzn2468

    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

    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. April-May

    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

  17. SEAL

    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.

  18. JudyB

    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)