I commend The Salem News for instituting a real-names policy for the comments section of salemnews.com. Being an online reader for quite some time, I have enjoyed this convenient format for easy access to issues and events in the community. However, the endless rants from a small gang of anonymous or pseudonymous users have become a serious distraction to the integrity of these reports. Many comments provide incomplete or inaccurate information and a "spin" on topics that are often not even relevant to the article.
More disconcerting is that some bloggers often resort to what can be referred to as grammar school behavior of bullying and name-calling; some border on slander. These actions constrain others from submitting comments and deter meaningful discussion. Others fear or decline to submit or even be mentioned in an article because of the likelihood of being trashed in the comment section. In essence, by providing some with a veil of secrecy, online blogging has turned into online flogging with some parallels to a modern-day Ku Klux Klan.
Supporters of anonymity state the right to freedom of speech by citing the revolutionary methods used by founding fathers prior to becoming a nation and thus having a Bill of Rights. This argument is at best a stretch of what is meant by freedom of speech and is not the intent of The Salem News. People who want to provide commentary on any issue or article can do so. In fact, exercising freedom of speech is actually encouraged by The Salem News in the "Letters to the Editor" section. As evidenced by this author's comments, these submissions are published with full disclosure and without edit of content.
Yet online bloggers expect these same privileges without these same responsibilities. If people do not have the courage to identify themselves by their given name, of what value are their remarks? Who are they and what are their background and qualifications that make them authorities on so many issues? Such information is necessary and important in considering the validation of remarks. Certainly, everyone has a right to their own opinion but not their own facts.
I applaud The Salem News for amending this practice and returning the online section to a professional forum. A news source should not be allowed to become a "Wicked-pedia" of undocumented accounts and mean-spirited remarks. Anonymous comments are the same as anonymous complaints; they should hold no weight. If they are not signed, they belong in the circular file. Otherwise, anyone can say anything about anyone without taking any responsibility for the legitimacy of their comments. Such anonymous comments can always find a place in cyberspace but are not appropriate for salemnews.com.
Salem News, thank you for obliging all to take off their hoods and be accountable for their words. Now let all those who will meet these standards make meaningful comment here.
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Dr. Barbara Poremba is a professor at Salem State University.