Online Anonymity

Posted: March 2, 2011 by stephaniekelly10 in #7 Ethics

Without journalism there’s no democracy. Without journalism, there’s no freedom.

-Peter Howe

We live in a nation that prides itself on the protection of rights. If we recognize that Freedom of Speech is guaranteed under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, then why do so many insist on withholding their identity when commenting on online news forums? There are usually two reasons why someone hides behind a wall of anonymity: if there are restrictions on the right to expression or if someone isn’t confident enough in their opinion to attach a name to it.

Perhaps one of the most notable features of journalism 2.0 is accessibility. We are no longer satisfied with the “small town tribune” or the “local gazette.” We want to know about international issues as well. The problem with the internet and increased accessibility is that it grants authority to the uneducated and the uniformed. There is a difference between an opinion and an educated opinion. This principle seems to get lost in a blur of bickering that happens beneath online news articles. Instead of articulate and intelligent arguments, we often see ignorant, bigoted and even racist comments.

So what bearing does this have on the ethics of online journalism? It certainly presents challenges for news organizations who strive for open dialogue and debate among citizens. For the sake of those who use it appropriately, online commenting shouldn’t be eliminated. It should, however be regulated and it looks like Facebook may have the answer.

In an article released on March 1 by InformationWeek, it was announced that Facebook would be partnering up with news corporations to help solve the problem of anonymity on news sites. The premise is to hold people accountable by connecting their comments to their online identity (through their Facebook profiles). News organizations that have jumped on board include The Examiner and The Economist. The partnership also allows comments to be spread back and forth between Facebook and the original news site, to encourage dialogue.

If I were running a newsroom, I would want to draw on the traditional “letters to the editor.” We are not the first generation to lead busy lives and if we feel passionate about a subject, we should be willing to submit it in formal writing. The intention would be to discourage ignorant comments and uneducated and sometimes hostile debates. There is a time and place for that type of discussion, but it is not on a professional news site.

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