Legislator: Provide your real name on the ‘net… or elseDon Day | December 14, 2008
I could make it an arbitrary rule that forces users to use their real name in comments here. Decline to provide your God-given name and I’d delete your comment. I’m not going to do that – but one Idaho lawmaker would like to make it more than just a silly rule — he wants to make it the law of the land. No really.
Steve Hartgen, a Republican from Twin Falls says he is thinking about introducing legislation that would require “people to use their real names when they post material online.” People… as in bloggers… commentors.. maybe even Craigslisters or ZIdaho users.
There are two issues here – one practical and one philosophical.
From the practical standpoint — goooood luck enforcing any such silly law. We might as well require people staple spaghetti to the wall – because this would be just as effective. Who is going to police this? How are they going to track people down? Will there be continuous subpoenas to Internet Service Providers or sites like this one to get personally identifying information? Will Idaho State Police Troopers start storming into dark basements around the state and start rounding up guys in their underwear with Cheeto stains on their shirts?
Then there’s philosophy. Over at Lost Remote, I ranted about anonymous comments on news sites. In the Boise market, all but one site has story comments – and I don’t think it serves much of a purpose… in part because the newspaper in this market does an abysmal job of managing its community. I think the anonymity is actually quite destructive – and agree with the sentiments of this outstanding Time Magazine piece.
In theory, (comments are) a great thing. We’re giving the people a voice! But the reality is that commenting either attracts loathsome people or somehow causes ordinary people to express themselves in a way that is loathsome.
But the choice should be up to each individual — whether it’s the blogger, or someone who comments. Do I wish each of the people who post comments here would use their real name? Sure. But for every “tim johnstone” or “jac,” there’s a “The” or Busted If Writing From Work.” Do I give more weight to the comments from people who have the guts to use their real name? Yes… and I think most readers do as well. But that doesn’t mean the value of the anonymous comments is zero.
I started this blog anonymously – and ran it that way for more than a year. I revealed my identity partly because it was time, and partly because it was a more credible approach. Being in public view has cost me frankly – and many bloggers are in the same boat.
Hartgen, who is a former newspaper editor (shocked, shocked I am) doesn’t get it. Are we going to have a legion of people going to jail for not using their real name? Of course not. Perhaps Hartgen is trying to – ironically – stir up debate, but whatever the aim – he just makes himself look backwards and lacking a sense of how the world works. This isn’t something that can be legislated – and do we really want to live in a state (or country) where you are controlled like that?
Kevin Richert over at the Idaho Daily Statesman makes a good point about the role of comments – at least as they apply on traditional news sites.
[S]ome of my Statesman colleagues are deeply troubled by anonymous commenters. They believe that in the chase for immediate feedback and site hits, we’ve traded away more than we’ve received. Again, that’s a business decision.
Those colleagues are probably right. I’ve alluded to this, but in the past year the Statesman has seen its traffic level go down – while KTVB.COM traffic has gone up and eclipsed the newspaper – and the trend coincides with the introduction of comments at IS. Coincidence? Perhaps – but the one thing the newspaper has is credibility – and it loses that when a crowd of half-wits chimes in on every little news item with a stream of useless babble. I try to “manage the community” here. I participate in the discussion, and don’t approve comments that are libelous. It helps – but even then the discussion can get off course.
I’d like to hear what you think.