Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Newspapers Begin Move to Eliminate Anonymous Comments

Posted By on Wed, Aug 31, 2011 at 3:02 PM

The Montreal Gazette is reporting that after the attack by right-wing extremist Anders Behring Brevik that killed 77 people in Norway, several Swedish newspapers have announced that they will no longer allow anonymous online commenting because they feel that their comment sections are being exploited as forums for hate speech.

The need to moderate comments by anonymous Internet users became apparent after the twin attacks by Anders Behring Breivik that killed 77 people in Norway in July, said the editor of the Aftonbladet daily, Jan Helin.

The Aftonbladet will require commenters to sign in via Facebook or similar Internet accounts to identify themselves.

Another paper, the Dagens Nyheter, has temporarily suspended commenting altogether until they find a suitable solution.

"The ideal is free and open debate that requires no moderator. Regrettably, the reality is different and comment forums are exploited by a small group of people who use them to express racist opinions, among others," said Bjorn Hedensjo, who runs the DN website.

Domestically, Slate.com took similar actions:

Anonymity has long been hailed as one of the founding philosophies of the Internet, a critical bulwark protecting our privacy. But that view no longer holds. In all but the most extreme scenarios—everywhere outside of repressive governments—anonymity damages online communities. Letting people remain anonymous while engaging in fundamentally public behavior encourages them to behave badly.

These moves come as part of a much larger conversation taking place about the nature of online identity. The issue was even featured today on the BBC radio program World Have Your Say, a live global call-in show.

A major contributor to the conversation is Google's policy of requiring real names be used for its new social network, Google+. Google deletes accounts that aren't in compliance. That was a move Google chairman Eric Schmidt explained as intended to ensure that people stand for something when they express themselves.

The policy has come under criticism not only because it limits the ability of those attempting to use social media in repressive political climates but because some claim it has more to do maximizing Google's ability to target advertising than it does with fostering integrity in online dialogue.

Schmidt responded that repressive regimes are a different issue and they probably shouldn't use the service.

"If you don't want to use it, you don't have to," Schmidt said.

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