An op-ed at The New York Times Online encourages content providers – like Small Business Mavericks – to stop allowing anonymous comments. At the heart of the argument is the belief that anonymity increases unjust, immoral, or crass behavior. But does it?
I can’t help but agree with the underlying belief. If people were forced to make their comments public, then they would go to greater lengths to ensure they don’t say anything that embarrasses themselves or others. There would be fewer inflammatory remarks in forums and on blogs.
But, what about privacy advocates’ argument that everyone deserves anonymity under freedom of speech laws? Does that argument hold water?
I think what the world is struggling with right now is the cross-section between an individual’s right to speak freely and have their privacy protected and a publisher’s right to make decisions about what it will allow on its own domains. We’ve dealt with issues of this nature before in the real world. It’s akin to a book store chain such as Barnes & Noble discriminating between types of free speech that occur on its premises. After all, the business has its own reputation to protect.
The NYT article discusses several examples of online publishers who have opted to moderate posts in hopes of curtailing flame wars and other comment undesirables. As for Small Business Mavericks, we rarely allow anonymous comments. When we do, it’s because the commenter has provided a positive, helpful comment – not spam or something inflammatory. We hope other publishers will follow suit.