New online rules aimed to unmask anonymity

An editorial addressing the recent decision that online comments for Black Press papers can no longer be anonymous.

A columnist recently wrote that since they invented a Breathalyzer apparatus to prevent drunk drivers from starting their cars why couldn’t they invent a Breathalyzer device to prevent people from using a keyboard.

As amusing as that sounds, the recent announcement that our parent company Black Press will be changing its rules to online commenting rekindled that passage in my mind.

For those that care, as of today, Black Press will be making a move towards stopping anonymous online comments by requiring commentators to have a Facebook account.

That way, the thinking is, anyone commenting on our site, or any Black Press site, will be identifiable through their Facebook account.

It’s a small measure in trying to make posters accountable for their comments. But already the conspiracy theorists and naysayers are pointing fingers.

They blame the Trail Times because we don’t like negative comments.

Wrong.

They blame Black Press because they think the company is making money off the move.

Wrong again.

They blame Facebook for getting their fingers on another aspect of our lives.

Whatever.

They blame anyone they can because that’s often what anonymous commentators do.

I avoided using the term writers because they’re not writing, they’re barely typing. Like one recent poster said “I can no longer comment in your paper.”

That person is wrong on a couple of fronts.

First of all, it’s a website not a paper.

Second, there is a newspaper, the one delivered to people’s doorsteps, the one available on the newsstand, the one that people have read for over 100 years. We will still allow comments in our paper, just like we always have.

That leaves those anonymous commentators with two options.

They can go through the trouble of setting up a fake Facebook account, then having it deleted and play the merry-go-round game. Maybe that will provide some small sense of victory no matter how short-lived.

Or they face the terrible task of actually writing a letter or emailing a comment and putting their name and phone number on it.

Oh the horror. Writing a letter? How Neanderthal. Sending an email? That’s so 1990s.

It’s as if actually putting your name behind something is now a sign of giving in to “The Man.”

Sadly that’s what our society has become. The anonymity of online commenting may have allowed Wikileaks to shed light on unscrupulous tactics of world leaders but it also has lead to some disgusting aspects of society – inflaming tensions with unsubstantiated speculation, leaving a scar on those that read the nasty postings and in extreme instances driving young people to the brink of suicide and beyond.

There is some morbid acceptance in society that insulting someone, young or old, is now mainstream and everyone is a target for the camouflaged sniper.

Is that what we wanted when we opened the doors to anonymous comments?

I doubt anyone wanted that but somehow, like the mob in a soccer riot, people get caught up in the rhetoric and hit the send button without thinking. If only we had those Breathalyzers to keep those people off the electronic highway.

For some reason trying to remove anonymous comments from our website has hurt the feelings of people who enjoy seeing their fake name appear online. Funny how posters who use their own names or anything remotely identifiable, have barely made a ripple in the sea of discontent.

It’s as if the lights have now been turned on in the schoolyard so the bullies are  reluctant to come out.

If that’s what it takes to bring a mode of decorum back to online commenting then I’m all for it.

What the Trail Times and Black Press are doing is simply following the rules we use in the print product, which by the way is still our raison d’etre.

We welcome all letters to the editor as long as the comments are civil and come with a name, hometown and phone number.

We’ve been doing it that way for a century and it has worked pretty well.

In fact, I can say first hand that even the negative letters prompt a discussion when I call to confirm the writer. Nine times out of 10 simply explaining my view on a situation helps calm the initial fury – but I admit sometimes it doesn’t and the writer still gets their say.

But as we all now, talking about issues is often the best way to resolve them.

Maybe that’s what the anonymous posters are afraid of – actually having to talk to someone live rather than with exclamation points, happy faces and pointless rhetoric.

Fear not all you people who say they’ll give up commenting because their anonymity is gone.

You can always post your comments on the bathroom wall at the gas station.