The ethics of anonymous online commenting:
I’m not fond of anonymity in our society. Since the Bill of Rights protects our right to express ourselves freely, I believe that anonymity is not necessary (in normal circumstances). Whenever folks are expressing opinions, making claims or charges, or venting their joy or anger in writing, they can and should “sign” their names because we enjoy free speech. Precisely because of this freedom of expression, a desire for anonymity troubles me. I fear that it has become too easy to say anything about anyone (even without justification) when you don’t have to face that person or be held accountable for what you say. Furthermore, the Internet has made it possible to say those things quickly, in “the heat of the moment” so to speak, by hitting “send” immediately after writing. Put anonymity together with the speed of the Internet, and we have a lot of knee-jerk, unfair, hurtful things being said with no one held accountable for having said them. I think we ought to be more responsible than that in our dealings with one another. We can begin by agreeing to attach our names to our expressions.
But having said that, I strongly oppose the effort by Shelby
County Commission lawyers to force the Commercial Appeal to reveal the names of those who chose to be anonymous commentators. I believe firmly that process matters. Having just, clear, and
honored processes for how we go about our interactions with one another is fundamental to nurturing just and positive communities. In this instance, the CA created the opportunity for anonymous comments to be made about its news stories and editorials. Those who posted comments did so under CA rules allowing for anonymity. To change the rules now, after folks posted anonymously in good faith, would violate the ideal of a just process. Such a violation would damage trust in the CA (it can’t protect its posters), the Commission and its lawyers (they care more about winning than justice), and even the legal system (it rewards legal maneuvering rather than justice). When justice and trust are damaged, we all suffer.
I’m still not clear what the Commission’s lawyers hope to find via this subpoena, but I am very clear that the ends do not justify the means. Even if the information they seek could be helpful for gaining a just outcome, getting that information via unjust means is wrong. Process matters if we want just, responsible, positive communities with meaningful trust in one another.