Editor’s note: All names and online aliases in the following column are fictitious as part of an illustration.
FoxyRoxy1947 is quite the online commenter. She — well, maybe “he,” who knows nowadays with the anonymity of the Internet — comments on city council, school board, county government, state government and national government news.
She — we’ll go with that gender assignment to make the rest of this column simpler to read — just can’t seem to stay away from the lowbrow type of comments.
She writes online that her town’s mayor is a hillbilly and the school board members are a bunch of uneducated dinks, drafts a post that says one of the county commissioners is dumber than wheelbarrow load full of rocks, and she writes that the country’s president is just a former college beer guzzler who only made it into the White House because of his money and connections.
This type of commenter just seems to get under the skin of numerous people who log onto news sites and scroll down to the bottom to see what the public has to say about the issues.
Steve, using only his first name when he fills in the online form to comment on the news site, decides he’s had enough of FoxyRoxy1947’s comments, and he’s going to give her a piece of his mind.
He fires off what he deems to be a well-reasoned and researched comment that will hopefully quell her snarky remarks.
FoxyRoxy1947 responds to Steve’s comment in her usual cross verbiage.
This makes Steve angry, and he drafts a hastily written comment calling her a “know-nothing, do-nothing backwoods hick who doesn’t even have an inkling of accurate information about the issues upon which she chooses to comment.”
PatriotDan2020, a friend of FoxyRoxy1947’s who chooses not to divulge that information on the news website, then gets into the mix and writes a few mean comments about Steve.
CityPrideLinda feels those comments are just way out of line and criticizes PatriotDan2020 for writing them.
The cycle continues for a few days with other anonymous people commenting, and pretty soon the remarks below the original article have absolutely nothing to do with the article’s content.
This is simply an illustration, but it’s an accurate one that happens on quite a regular basis, in my estimation.
The merit of allowing people to make up names and comment anonymously has been thoroughly debated by news hacks at various publications.
I went to a forum at the University of St. Thomas about five years ago where the issue was discussed in detail by editors from some of Minnesota’s biggest newspapers and online news sites, but they couldn’t come to an agreement about whether allowing anonymous comments was good or bad.
They noted allowing this option can lead to more online comments, some of which aren’t always the most contentious.
Other options that call for those commenting to use their real names and valid email addresses, like requiring them to have Facebook accounts to make posts, can drive the total number of comments down, but some of the editors felt that making people use their real names keeps the overall conversation much more civil.
The Post Review uses the anonymous-type option when it comes to comments, which allows a reader to use an email address of their choosing and any name they would like.
Sometimes, in my opinion, this works out fine, but other times the comments fall along the lines of the aforementioned fictitious scenario.
Sometimes comments aren’t approved by the news staff here and at other papers I’ve worked at because they’re so crass that they’d likely lead to a slew of peeved phone calls and emails to the news building. Other times, comments can be downright libelous and they’re not approved.
Without going into the intricacies of media law, the comments from the fictitious scenario would all likely get approved because they’re overly general and they’re criticizing public figures.
You’re well within your right to call a politician of your choosing “dumb,” a “hillbilly” or a “dink,” if you want.
But say, for example, you said Politician A is having an affair. You really have no evidence if this is true or not, but you just wrote it because you don’t like him or her.
A comment like that would be libelous and thus not approved.
I agree with the standpoint that making people use their real names keeps the discussion more civil, but there is merit to allowing anonymous comments.
There can be times when people with insider information about news stories comment and they choose not to divulge their names because it could cost them their jobs or reputations.
It’s really hard to say if there’s a good answer when it comes to the online commenting conundrum.
All I’d say is to think before you write, which is a handy aphorism to remember when speaking, too.