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Names will begin appearing with comments starting now ... made you look!Posted Wednesday, November 4, 2009, at 7:12 AM
Imagine this: The powers-that-be were up late last night and suddenly decided to pass a new edict that outlawed all anonymous comments on Web sites. And the head honcho issued an order that went out unto all the land telling newspapers with Web sites to push a button, by sunrise, that would cause the real name of all previously anonymous commenters to appear under each and every one of the comments they have made.
Can you also imagine how many hits we'd get? Readers would be clicking back through those old stories like crazy to see who made some of those more memorable comments.
It's not going to happen, but if it did, it would be a day of many changes and not just the policy of whether anonymous comments are anonymous or not.
Some people, who were active anonymous commenters, might decide to go back to bed and hide under the covers. Or, they might stay up and start packing because it would be easier to move out of town than face everyone.
Last week, Nick wrote his column on comments, and now here comes another one. It's my turn. Due to the nature of my assignments, my byline appears on many stories that seem to generate questionable comments.
Sometimes I personally disagree with my editor's decision (that's just the nature of a good newsroom) on a few of the specific comments or stories but overall, I don't disagree with their practice of hitting the delete button on not-so-good comments.
Before you comment, think about whether you would still write the same thing if you woke up the next morning and everyone knew you wrote it. That's a very big difference between the people who write the stories, and blogs, and the people who make the comments. Everyone knows what we write, opinions, mistakes and all, but commenters are allowed to be secretly outrageous and then walk around town behind the cloak of a screen name.
It might also be good to keep that saying in mind about how your freedom ends where another person's nose begins.
People hoop and holler about their right to free speech, but many times forget about their responsibility to at least try to get their facts straight. Sometimes people post stuff that is just plain wrong -- it's not a matter of their opinion, it's saying something is this way or that, and it's not.
And then there's hate speech. There was some of that this past week. It was deleted, thank goodness. There is no excuse.
And then there's the stuff about how that person could never ever have done such a thing. This happens a lot on my stories. They'd give you the shirt off their back, we've got it all wrong, they're the salt of the earth, they're just misunderstood, etc., etc. Could be, but that persons lawyer will likely tell you it would be better for the defendant if you'd keep your mouth shut.
And for all those who say things like, "You weren't there," and "You don't know," but "I know what really happened," and "They didn't do it but I know who did," the comment section on a newspaper Web site is not the place to put this valuable information. The place to put it is in the hands of a law enforcement officer.
And don't forget that while you're busy posting up an alibi for someone, that person you're defending may have already dropped the innocent act and admitted their guilt.
Readers expect reporters to get the facts straight, or at least make an honest effort to get the facts straight. I love reading the comments, but I do wish commenters exercising their right to free speech would do the same.
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Anna Rochelle is editor of the Greene County Daily World and can be reached by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling the office at 812-847-4487.
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