Anonymous posting, a staple on vibrantly debated online articles, is beginning to wane as more publications require users to sign in using an email, Facebook or other login account. Pundits tired of attacks from faceless critics have breathed a sigh of relief. After all, comments with a face or name attached are more likely to exhibit a greater degree of civility and restraint, right?
Perhaps. But editors and columnists shouldn't be so quick to decry anonymous opinion, asserts Professor Bill Reader in an article in American Journalism Review. While the professor shares the same concerns about "abusive" online commentary that inevitably occurs in some forums, he believes that anonymous writing is actually what the founders intended when they crafted the First Amendment:
On a philosophical level, anonymity allowed opinions to be considered on their own merits, without regard for who was stating them; on a practical level, it gave people a way to disagree with leaders without getting beaten and/or thrown in jail.
It's only recently (the 1950's and 60's) that the "must sign" policies instituted by editors changed this perception:
Editors argued that requiring signatures would improve the quality of letters to the editor. As one argued in The Masthead in 1968, doing so would likely deter "haters and hollerers from cluttering up the column and scaring off other writers."
Ironically, the "must sign" policies themselves appear to have done the scaring off. A national survey Ohio University conducted in 2003 found that, among people who had never written letters to the editor, more than a third of women and nearly half of non-whites said they would write letters if their names would not be published. ...I believe they will be silenced again if the industry embraces the current campaign to ban anonymous comments online, too.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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