Anonymity results in a lack of civility in public discourse

\Call the Tune\ by Mike Anthony

\”Call the Tune\” by Mike Anthony

While the Internet may have paved the Information Superhighway, it also has sparked a lack of civility in public discourse.

We’ve made no secret of our disdain for weblogs, or blogs as they’re more commonly called. As we’ve said before, blogs are hardly relevant as sources of accurate, unbiased information. Though we certainly welcome any vehicle that provides for open and honest debate, you just can’t take most blogs seriously.

Most blogs typically allow anonymous comments to be posted. While sometimes these comments can be highly entertaining — particularly when the anonymous author reveals his appalling lack of literacy — but more often than not such remarks are personally damaging, demeaning, disgusting, false or perhaps even libelous.

But another indication of the increasing lack of civility in public discourse is evidenced by newspapers suspending for a period of time or even completely shutting down the ability to post comments to stories published on their Web sites.

For example, the Bloomington, Ill., Pantagraph, suspended comments on its Web site earlier this year. Editor Mark Pickering wrote: “Reader comments on Pantagraph.com often are informative, sparking serious dialogue on an issue of local or national interest. At other times, they are offensive and devoid of civility, the worst of which include personal at-tacks and/or assertions that have nothing to do with the story.

“In recent weeks, we have seen too much of the latter on some local stories. Far too much. So, effective immediately and through the New Year’s holiday weekend, no comments will be allowed on new local content posted on Pantagraph.com. This ‘cooling off’ period is meant as a strong reminder to our online readers: that the reason comments are allowed in the first place is to foster a ‘spirit of community involvement and conversation.”’

And Editor & Publisher reported last week: Lancaster (Pa.) Newspapers pulled the plug on its online TalkBack public forum (April 29), blaming the “blatant misuse” of the forum by anonymous posters of racist material.

So what’s the solution?

We believe it’s simple: Make people accountable for their opinions by making them register and sign their real names — no pseudonyms — to their opinions. We believe people will be much more civil in their discourse if they can’t hide behind the cloak of anonymity offered by the Internet.