The Sun Chronicle has announced that, effective this Wednesday, readers will be asked to pay a $1 fee in order to comment on any articles on the website. In addition, all posters will be required to register their name, address, phone number and a legitimate credit card number. The poster's name as it appears on the credit card will automatically be attached to the poster's comments, as will the name of the community in which they live. The Chronicle's publisher, Oreste P. D'Arconte, stated that the change is being made in an attempt "to eliminate past excesses that included blatant disregard for our appropriateness guidelines, blind accusations and unsubstantiated allegations." If past efforts by other sites are any indication, this affront to privacy and free speech is likely to attract fervent opposition.
"...Anonymous speech has always been an integral part of free speech because it enables individuals to speak up and speak out when they otherwise may find reason to hide or self-censor. Behind the veil of anonymity, individuals are more free to surface honest observations, unheard complaints, unpopular opinions..." --Electronic Frontier Foundation
Skyblue-pink.com points out that the Sun Chronicle's actions may have a wide-range of negative effects. For example, on articles related to health and wellness, it will not longer be possible to ask for advice anonymously. Similarly, persons responding to articles about abusive situations will suddenly find themselves unable to comfortably discuss their problems or ask for help removing themselves for their situation. Another problem is that young people (who are less likely to possess a credit card) or those with financial problems will find themselves unable to contribute to the online conversations about their community.
Last week, The WaPo covered the massive outrage caused by popular video game developer Blizzard Entertainment's decision to require the tens of thousands of internet forum participants on its website to verify their identities and include them with every post. Among the many creative protests to rise up against the initiative was this website. On it, the creator (and his supporters) used the same information that Blizzard was set to require of its posters put together a shockingly detailed collection of personal details related to the CEO of Blizzard and many company employees.
Within an hour the protester was able to publish a map to the CEO's house (along with how much he paid for it), details of political campaign contributions, resumes and photos and phone numbers for his wife and children, family trees, synagogue affiliations and numerous other frightening facts. Unsurprisingly, less than a day later, Blizzard announced it would be backing down and no longer requiring posters to use their real names. The Sun Chronicle is going to expose posters on its website to the very real threat of similar cyberstalking.
The Sun Chronicle's publisher stated that his site's hard-line stance was in response to inappropriate comments. However, many prominent publications such as The Globe and Mail and NYT are able to maintain flourishing online communities by instituting a combination of user-rankings (inappropriate comments are quickly down-voted while insightful ones get promoted to the top of the page) and paid moderators. The use of automated moderation algorithms is also becoming an increasingly successful means of reducing inappropriate posts.
It is very difficult to understand why the Sun Chronicle feels it is necessary to force its community members to divulge their personal details to the world every time they wish to contribute to an online discussion.