Anonymous Internet postings: Just web graffiti?

121413mastQuite a brouhaha on the Roanoke Times web site over the paper’s plans to change over to Facebook account-posting protocols next week as part of changes to the site.

As expected, those who use “handles” or other anonymous screen names don’t like the change and the tone of too many of the responses — posted of course under handles or screen names — showcases why the need exists to require those who comment on weh sites to use their real names.

Too many of the comments are not only uncivil but downright nasty.  Several seem to think that requiring the use of real names in comments posted publicly on a web site is, somehow, a violation of their rights and — incredibly — also a violation of the First Amendment.

First of all, posting on someone’s web site is a privilege granted by the owner of that site, not a “right” guaranteed by any law or constitutional amendment.  Some web sites require the use of real names to comment.  Some don’t.  I don’t here but am considering doing so in the future because of the increases in spam, tolling and nastiness in some comments that some attempt to post here and on other sites that I own and operate.

Facebook, the popular social media site, offers a commenting system that allows those who belong to the site to comment on other sites.  Facebook requires the use of real names and often purges its membership lists of those it finds have falsified their information.

A number of newspaper web sites use the Facebook commenting system, including other papers owned by billionaire Warren Buffet, who owns The Floyd Press and The Roanoke Times.

When Times Editor Joe Stinnett announced on the paper’s Times Square blog that the newspaper would be switching to the Facebook system, it brought a deluge of comments and nastiness that, in our opinion, justified the decision to tighten restrictions on user registrations.  Newspapers have long required use of names — and verification of those names — in printed letters to the editor.  Why allow anonymous comments that often turn nasty on the web sites?

When I served with the federal government, I often used DARPANet, the system developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency that later became the Internet when oversight of the network was passed from the Department of Defense to the National Science Foundation.  By coincidence, I served as special assistant to the ranking member of the House Committee on Science & Technology which helped with the transfer and I was one of the staff members who worked on the project.

I built my first web site in 1994 — a political news and commentary site that is still on the Internet today as the oldest such site on the World Wide Web.  I never saw a need to post anything on the Internet under anything but my own name and have never used a “handle” and I don’t understand why some do.

Logically, it seems, those with opinions — strong or mild — should be proud enough of those opinions to post them by name on the Internet.

From our point of view, anonymous postings are the graffiti of the Internet and should be treated as such.

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2 thoughts on “Anonymous Internet postings: Just web graffiti?”

  1. It’s a problem with freedom. Given freedom, people are free to do things that tick you off.

    Either you clamp down and forbid that, or you live with it.

    It is my personal opinion that freedom is troublesome, even at home. Give people freedom, some will do things that you do not like.

    The heart comes from declaring that “Although I disagree with what you say, I shall defend to the death your right to say it”.

    So you could, if you wanted one, have a perfectly peaceful website with no dissent at all. You could, if you wanted one, have a website with no comments at all.

    But if you care about freedom, then you will have to put up with comments you do not like, commercial, invective-laden, or not.

    Freedom isn’t free. That is the price you choose (or not) to pay.


  2. I checked out the Roanoke Times website and most seem to be more upset about having to use Facebook than about having to reveal their identity. The followers of weather blogger Kevin Myatt seem to be the most upset which was not what I expected.

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