Social Question

DaphneT's avatar

Should news media protect anonymous commenters on their on-line sites?

Asked by DaphneT (5440 points ) July 31st, 2012

I caught a bit of news today on NPR and wondered which way the wind might blow? Should an on-line news media site protect it’s anonymous commenters from lawsuits or should they give them up? Does anonymity of sources extend to those commenting on columns and articles?

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8 Answers

gailcalled's avatar

You are an anonymous source if you ask to be one. That is an honored tradition in the news media. If this were to be breached, there would be far fewer anonymous sources.

(its)

bolwerk's avatar

Under current law, I can’t imagine any law protecting anonymous posters from being summoned before a legal tribunal – and a subpoena would probably be sufficient for a news agency to have to turn over information to help law enforcement identify such a poster. That said, a clever poster can probably find a way to stay anonymous. And, it must be remembered, posting anonymously is not in and of itself a crime.

FWIW, the law in the U.S. probably doesn’t even protect a reporter if law enforcement demands them to identify an anonymous source. At least not unless there is a specific state law (there is no federal law) offering such a protection. Remember what happened to Judith Miller?

Blueroses's avatar

Don’t let facts get in the way of a story. Always accept the word of Anonymous and protect his/her identity. That keeps Nancy Grace off food stamps.

For the few remaining legit reporters, I think it is becoming a thing of the past; this protecting your source. We are a generation of cynics. At least some of us are. We trust nothing without video proof (pictures mean nothing in the Photoshop age)

A source who asks to remain anonymous on a major story can be tracked down quickly now.

CWOTUS's avatar

I think that your question is confusing people between anonymous “sources” (who tip off reporters to the fact that “there is a story to be told here, and here is something you need to investigate and write about”) with anonymous “commenters” (who comment on stories posted online, either with made up usernames – as we do in Fluther – or with completely anonymous “guest” tags or the like).

I believe that your question relates to the latter.

My own feeling is that if a news organization is going to operate a website that allows or encourages comments to be posted there, then it should exercise some minimum level of moderation and on its own kill comments that are simply posted as outright lies, flame bait, outright slander, or other forms of inflammatory or similar posts that detract from the “community” that the organization is attempting to establish by allowing and maintaining the forum in the first place.

In case that’s confusing: If it wouldn’t pass muster as public conversation at the water cooler in the newsroom, then it shouldn’t be kept on the website, either. There is nothing wrong with “robust” conversation, even opinions that we consider to be “extreme” or “misguided”, but commentary that is posted maliciously (or seems to be) doesn’t have to be allowed to stand.

On the other hand, if someone boasts of having committed a serious crime (or intending to commit or promote one), then why should those persons have any protection at all? They aren’t “sources” that the news organization seeks to keep private as information generators (a whole other topic of discussion, and which has already been much discussed in all forms of media – and in the courts).

wonderingwhy's avatar

We like to think we can express our opinions freely without consequence beyond the immediate discussion. However as a society we seem to be in no way mature enough to make that desire reality. Anonymity protects our ability to state and support controversial opinion without the fear of reprisal. And while it does serve to polarize issues (among other negatives), the ability for the populace to express their opinions freely and the opportunity to learn how to navigate competing thoughts, and express our own, in a positive manner (and thus eventually move away from anonymous comment), far outweighs the short term issues.

syz's avatar

“Sources” are different than “commenters”. When I leave comments, I use my name (or initials). Always.

I suppose I could come up with some situations in which it would necessary to post a comment anonymously, but it seems to me that it’s usually used to be totally dickish.

wundayatta's avatar

What kind of lawsuits? For what? Are the anonymous commenters libeling people? Making threats? What’s the story here?

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