Following reports that CBC is considering putting an end to anonymous comments on news stories, the old argument concerning anonymity or identity for online comments has resurfaced. Jeff Keay of CBC's media relations put forward a possible model: "People have to sign their real name," he explained, "and the newspapers, for example, will check and verify the identity of the person.
In an interview with The Guardian, MP Shawn Murphy supported banning anonymous comments, stating that they "are getting nastier and nastier." He implored news websites to go the old fashioned way of not accepting "unnamed letters," especially since user anonymity is only an illusion. "There have been many court cases in the last year," he said, and "it is very easy for one to get the ISP numbers of the computer that those comments came from through a court order."
Speaking of court orders, Rem Rieder of AJR insists, "it's time for news sites to stop allowing anonymous online comments." Lawsuits, he reminds news publishers, are nothing but headaches and anonymous comments have developed the potential to create lawsuits. "Continuing to allow anonymous sniping hardly seems to be in the self-interest of news outlets," he writes, considering both readers and advertisers do not want to be associated with "the ugliness of many comment sections."
While comments could get ugly, their potential benefits to a website are also invaluable. The Guardian's Gary MacDougall thinks moderation is the answer. "Let's face it," he challenges, "there are some stories... where it is very difficult for people to use their real names for fear of repercussion." The Guardian will thus retain anonymity, but carefully moderate. Gawker Media has also stepped up its 'comment-discipline system,' and has given some power to users who have impressed the website staff to 'warn' hateful commenters.
Newspapers constantly have to walk the fine line between freedom of speech and respect for individual rights. Is it time for them to hold their website commenters to rigorous standards?