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Huff Post’s New Commenter Policy and the Perils of Anonymity

My Tuesday article:

At first, it seemed like a good idea. Arianna Huffington announced recently that her hugely successful site, The Huffington Post, would no longer allow anonymous commenters. Before I go any further, I hasten to fully disclose that I’ve been a blogger for Huff Post since 2005, and owe much of my political writing career to the invariably generous opportunity offered to me by Arianna and especially founding editor Roy Sekoff.

That said, the more we learn about how this new policy is going to be handled, the more I doubt whether it’s a very effective move.

It turns out that new commenters will have to verify their identities with internal Huff Post staffers. From there, they’ll be able to use pseudonyms and handles as their public personas. Meanwhile, all existing anonymous commenters will be grandfathered into the new system, and will continue to enjoy their anonymity, if they choose to continue doing so. This will certainly eliminate drive-by trolls who pop into a thread to post something obnoxious, then leave. But the new system will continue to offer public anonymity for commenters and all of the commensurate immunity from accountability.

Because I came from the print world, I’ve always been a fan of the old-school newspaper policy of not publishing any anonymous letters to the editor — in this case, comments. Providing a full name, address and phone number with each letter brought heft and a sense of accountability to the process. Not only that, but it tended to weed out the crackpots. Not always, but often. On the other hand, the internet’s long-held traditional use of pseudonyms, specifically in the arena of news and political analysis, has, I believe, hurt the quality of the discourse.

The entire point of requiring the usage of legitimate full names is to force commenters to be more judicious in what they write and how they comport themselves. It doesn’t eliminate the problem, but it mitigates it… [CONTINUE READING]