Steamboat Pilot & Today, (and the rest of the town) is talking about a new policy which would eliminate Reader Forum anonymity. If even one person in this small town knows your identity, you are no longer anonymous, PERIOD!
Eliminating anonymity will do little or nothing to improve the discourse. Better moderation will. SP&T need only objectively and reasonably enforce their own written rules. Also see my expanded suggestions at the bottom of this post.
Yes, the content of the Reader Forum has, up to now, largely been a sick, sad, pathetic, ad hominem joke.
But, it was extremely poor moderation which caused that, not anonymity. If the quality of the moderation does not change, neither will the content. If history is a guide, the quality of the moderation will not change, only the effectiveness of the [IMO] politically motivated censorship.
Historically, most posters who were, in my view, banned for purely ideological reasons, have created a new ID and resumed posting. After the electronic equivalent of a mass “book burning” of ALL of my entries, I opted to create a Blogger account instead (fool me once…).
Had SP&T objectively and reasonably enforced their written rules, there would have been no problem.
Then again, their rules are [IMO] designed to facilitate utterly capricious, politically motivated censorship. Quoting SP&T Reader Forum Rules:
“if you become a [ideological] problem for us or our site's other users we can and will ban you”
In practice, in my opinion, SP&T (AT BEST) did exactly what local politicians have done for decades (pandered to a tiny minority of very vocal whiners). If enough whiners complained about a given poster, the offending poster was summarily banned with no regard for whether the poster violated any of the written rules (other than the “if you become a problem [to our ideology]” clause).
Yep, you guessed it!
Net Result (Pun Intended)?
Conservatives Get The Ax!
Op/Ed Page vs. Reader Forum
SP&T correctly argues that they regularly print the views of those who oppose their views (including Ann Coulter). And, despite frequent censorship demands from The Left, SP&T has, to their credit, continued to print these opposing views.
But, in The Reader Forum, SP&T has [IMO] shown NO SUCH BACKBONE! In the Reader Forum, SP&T has, AT BEST, [IMO] routinely pandered to the whiners on The Left.
It is REALLY easy to print Coulter’s views when she is not directly challenging pet local SP&T projects like Socialist Housing (tyrannically imposed on an UNWILLING MAJORITY).
The Likely Effect
In my opinion, the ONLY effect of the proposed new policy will be to:
1) DRAMATICALLY reduce the number of Conservatives (and others) who post to the Reader Forum.
2) Make more permanent the censorship of Conservative posters. And that, in my opinion, is the PRIMARY goal!
My Own Experience
In my own case, it appears that I was banned for criticizing Brent Boyer’s editorial judgment. I say “it appears that” because, as usual, no reason was given (publicly OR privately) for my account being banned and everything I ever posted being deleted. However, my banning came directly on the heels of a criticism I offered regarding Brent Boyer’s editorial judgment.
My criticism centered around the following opening phrase from this 3/12/08 article:
“The recession of the national economy”My argument was that this article violated the most basic standards of journalism (separation of opinion from “straight news”). I used this editorial to substantiate my point.
Even if we later learned that the economy was in recession at the time the article was published, there would still be no excuse for mixing opinion and straight news. But, at this stage, the data demonstrate that it is a virtual certainty that the economy was NOT in a recession at the time the article was published!
Therefore, it seems a virtual certainty that a correction is NOW needed in order to correct, not just the embedding of opinion inside “straight news”, but the printing of a FACTUAL INACCURACY!
To the best of my knowledge, no correction has been offered (or is likely to be offered). And, I have been banned from noting that in the SP&T Reader Forum.
In my opinion, SP&T would do far better to examine their own failure to properly moderate the Reader Forum. SP&T should:
1) Educate themselves on the meaning of ad hominem. This is critical!
2) Unilaterally enforce a zero tolerance policy on ad hominem posts, unsubstantiated slander, etc.
3) Use the integrity they have shown in dealing with their Op/Ed choices as a guide to dealing with the whiners on The Left who simply seek to censor those whom, for want of evidence, they are incapable of effectively debating.
4) Leave open the option for FULL anonymity. This is especially critical in a town as small and politically polarized as ours. In my opinion, very few who disagree with anything coming from SP&T would trust ANYBODY at SP&T to protect their identity from others. I CERTAINLY would not!
If SP&T regularly, rigorously and unilaterally deletes ALL ad hominem posts, unsubstantiated slander, etc., they will have no need to ban the offenders. The offenders will be worn down and will move elsewhere.