News sites rethink anonymous online comments

Web sites that once embraced anonymous comments are revising their policies to hold users more accountable for what they say online, reports the New York Times. The Washington Post plans to revise its comments policy over the next several months, and one of the ideas under consideration is to give greater prominence to commenters using real names. The Times, the Post, and many other papers have moved toward requiring people to register before posting comments, providing some information about themselves that is not shown on screen. The Huffington Post soon will announce changes, including ranking commenters based in part on how well other readers know and trust their writing. “Anonymity is … an accepted part of the internet, but there’s no question that people hide behind anonymity to make vile or controversial comments,” said Arianna Huffington, a founder of The Huffington Post. “I feel that this is almost like an education process. As the rules of the road are changing and the internet is growing up, the trend is away from anonymity.” The Plain Dealer of Cleveland recently discovered that anonymous comments on its site, disparaging a local lawyer, were made using the eMail address of a judge who was presiding over some of that lawyer’s cases—and the newspaper exposed the connection in an article. The judge denied sending the messages, and last week she sued the Plain Dealer, claiming it had violated her privacy. The paper acknowledged that it had broken with the tradition of allowing commenters to hide behind screen names, but it served notice that anonymity was a habit, not a guarantee…

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