Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Anonymous posts breeds Contempt? Yes, but . . . .

The New York Times has an opinion piece that repeats an often published concern - trolling, i.e., "the act of posting inflammatory, derogatory or provocative messages in public forums." This posting is always anonymous. But when it comes to legal issues that anonymity can quickly disappear. [See earlier post, and this one too.]

Trolling needs to be discouraged because it produces no positive benefit. Trolling in a sense is somewhat akin to spam. It is bulk messaging with undesired content. There is a bullying or gang aspect too. The trolls invade a website with their content preventing any reasonable discussion of the particular article. Generally the trolls post comments that are in fact irrelevant.

Locally, the Oregonian seems to be a special target for the trolls. Often the comments are taken over by these trolls, and one has to believe that is their purpose. Of course, if they were to become known - the trolling would cease. I never post anonymously - knowing that my name is attached makes me think through my comments.

The New York Times opinion offers some solutions - one being the elimination of anonymous posting. The  problem is that it is the "throw the baby out with the bath water" approach. There are many good reasons to allow anonymous posting, but those reasons don't prohibit editing trolling comments.

The better solution lies in text monitoring software or actual human monitoring. There is no constitutional rationale that requires the publishing of comments. There is no constitutional reasoning that online sites protect the identities of  anyone that posts comments.

Arguably, it is the newspapers or the online site that encourages trolling by not monitoring comments and not eliminating those inappropriate comments. The Oregonian - OregonLive - seems to do little monitoring of trolling. This failure discourages those who have something relevant and reasonable to say.

The Portland Tribune appears successful in prevention of trolling by their approach - comments are not posted automatically, but require that the post be verified by email. You can remain anonymous, but your identity is known to the Tribune.

Anonymous posts can contribute to the discussion, but trolling comments do not.  News outlets and online sites have the responsibility to eliminate trolling.

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