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On anonymous posting

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As someone who attaches his name to his writing, I hold a certain amount of scorn for people who post under pseudonyms or anonymously to news sites.

I understand that there are occasions when some commenters have something valuable to add to a discussion and if they use real names they could face censure, discipline at work or social repercussions. But I presume that these situations are few.

Rather, anonymity gives many commenters the freedom to be sarcastic, glib, hateful, and oftentimes, downright stupid. I highly doubt that those who scribble some of the more lecherous comments I've read would have the stones to say those same things to the person or organization who is the target of said foul comments.

If you read my blog posts on rabble.ca, you'll note that I never reply to comments, but I do read them. Really good and insightful comments help me understand what kind of an impact my argument has made, where there might be flaws in my reasoning, or where I've written something particularly regrettable.

Unfortunately, those who agree with you (or have something intelligent to add) seldom post and those who disagree with you are too frequently rude.

I take responsibility for my writing, by using my real name. And there are moments, admittedly, when I wish I could shield myself behind a nom de plume when, in hindsight, I wish I hadn't written certain pieces. I'm human. I'm bound to be a jackass on occasion.

Those who post anonymously are, to put it strongly, cowards because they dodge all responsibility and accountability for their words.

But could this and should this be changing?

In April, a judge in Nova Scotia demanded that the identities of anonymous posters be revealed. Some commenters, hiding 'neath the shroud of pseudonyms, offered critical commentary on the Chief and Deputy Chief of the Halifax Fire Department. The commenters made accusations about racism in the fire department.

The judge stated that she doesn't "condone the conduct of anonymous Internet users who make defamatory comments. They, like other people, have to be accountable for their actions."

In a related story, the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade paid Social Media Group $75,000 to "monitor social activity and help identify...areas where misinformation is being presented and repeated as fact." (see Toronto Star, Monday May 24, A6 -- as of this writing, no online copy available)

It seems that DFAIT is a bit perturbed by what it sees as anti-sealing misinformation being spread throughout the interblogwebsphere.

Countering what it deems misinformation is not an unusual practice for government or any other organization. In the past, a letter to the editor would be written and signed by an official. There was a name attached to the rebuttal.

What is concerning is if government employees and paid partisan hacks are trolling news sites, posting incendiary comments, eschewing civility, promoting propaganda, and doing so under the cover of a false name.

It's one thing to correct facts but quite another to vehemently defend a government or political party's position as a paid and anonymous operative (as an aside, you are entitled to your own opinions but not your own facts. So if an article says that $5 million is being spent on army shoelaces when the actual and proven figure is $3 million, then DND has a right to correct that information and the news site should retract or amend the incorrect figure).

Some news sites are promoting commenters using their real names and some are looking at giving priority to those who do not post under a pseudonym. I think this is a good policy -- it allows for legitimate use for some anonymous posts but demands people take responsibility for what they write.

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