The Weekly’s online Town Square forum within the past week or two has been filled with supportive, informative and cathartic dialog. Some of the posts, however, have been more than a little snarky, to the point of being accusatory and inflammatory. In one forum with a somewhat controversial topic, one frustrated poster asked what many editors and publishers have also questioned: Why allow anonymous posts?
Our policy for Letters to the Editor in our print edition requires the authors to give their name and telephone number, although we only print the names and sometimes their communities. We also call to verify the authorship. Old-school journalists (myself included) have been taught that opinions, facts and quotes must be attributed. Shouldn't people posting in our Town Square forum also be required to put their name on their statements and opinions? And doesn’t anonymity open up the possibility for abuse without consequences?
On the other hand, how many opinions, questions and comments have been squelched because of the writer's fear of mockery, hostility or even retribution?
New media means new rules and a new way of thinking. To open up the lines of communication, journalists have been forced to embrace anonymity. Or at least endure it. It goes against every fiber of our journalistic beings because we equate anonymous forum posts to unnamed sources, which are taboo.
Alas, anonymous posts do have some merit as they can bring to light issues that otherwise would have remained in the dark. (Remember "Deep Throat?")
However, just as with unnamed sources, one must question the authenticity of the statements. Moreover, anonymity should be viewed as a privilege and shouldn’t be a means to abuse or inflame simply because it’s available.
Forum users are encouraged to assist us by alerting us to posts with which they are uncomfortable and by modeling good behavior with constructive, compassionate comments and questions.
If the Weekly staff feels a forum is becoming hostile or destructive, we will intervene and even close the thread (not allow further posts) if necessary.
Because our goal is to provide a forum to allow community members to engage in enlightening and educational discourse, we would prefer it not come to that.
Gina Channell-Allen, a 20-year journalism veteran, is the president of the East Bay division of Embarcadero Publishing Company, president of the Pleasanton Weekly and publisher of the Danville Weekly. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.