Inside Opinion

What's on the minds of Tacoma News Tribune editorial writers

NOTICE: Inside Opinion has moved.

With the launch of our new website, we've moved Inside Opinion.
Visit the new section.

More on anonymous comments

Post by Cheryl Tucker on April 13, 2010 at 11:07 am with 25 Comments »
April 13, 2010 11:07 am

In the past weeks, several readers have sent us notes telling us why they will no longer write letters to the editor or leave online comments: They’re unwilling to expose themselves to cruel, nasty and sometimes obscene comments by anonymous posters (and you know who you are).

I don’t blame them. My blog postings and editorials often get the same treatment, but hey – I’m paid to have a thick skin. Besides, if a comment goes way over the line, we can take it down. The most that readers can do is click the “report abuse” button and hope we agree with them.

We’ve talked about whether we should make commenters use their real names, but in the end decided it’s too easy for people to create e-mail accounts under fake names. It would be costly for us to verify every name before allowing people to comment.

Other news organizations face the same challenge. The New York Times recently wrote about what some in the industry are doing. Read it here.

Leave a comment Comments → 25
  1. tubbythetuba says:

    TubbyTheTuba is Blaine C. Garver, and I’m sick to death of the crybaby Libs that wish to posit and express truly insane opinions and solutions to non-exsistant problems, and then recoil in horror at anyone who dares to disagree with them. And you, Cheryl, and your editorial section have some truly insane opinions as well. You are a rubberstamp for the Socialists running this state. Naturally, this post will be considered “abusive”, but so be it.

  2. Cheryl Tucker says:

    Actually, tubby/Blaine, your comment isn’t what we would consider abusive; it’s fair comment, although I think “insane” is a little harsh. Goofy, maybe, or even misguided. But insane?

    The only time I’ve ever taken a comment down about something I wrote was when it pertained to my personal life (written by someone who apparently thought he knew me). I didn’t think the comment was pertinent to the discussion, so took it down after discussing it with my colleagues. We always have a discussion about taking down a comment, and usually decide to leave it up.

  3. nonstopjoe says:

    Insofar as posters’ anonymity is concerned, they’re free to disclose their identities if they wish. The same policy should apply to writers of Letters to the Editor. What’s fair for the goose is fair for the gander.

    Yours anonymously!

  4. tubbythetuba says:

    Cheryl, I didn’t say Insane in a mean way, just the old classic: Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. IMO, Socialists, in spite of socialism never having worked or made a country prosperous, think that they have a Magic way of making it work…Usually, they think not enough money was thrown at the problem. Washington is atwitter with Why Education Doesn’t Work, but they still want to use an Outcome Based Education System. Private schools and Catholic schools know the answer (along with precious few public systems, usually in a NON urban setting) is setting standards and not letting the lowest achieving student set the pace for the rest of the class…..Just one example…there many, many more Maam.

  5. derekyoung says:

    I’m not sure there will ever be a good answer to that one. Anonymity brought us the Federalist Papers, but the same writers were unable to resist the temptation to use it to also spread some pretty vicious gossip about each other. Seems as old as printed press itself.

    The line for me is when people who aren’t politicians or professional writers are attacked. That seems wrong and it happens quite often.

  6. MarksonofDarwin says:

    Commenting can get a bit rough and tumble, but for the most part, I think we all try to behave with some measure of respect. I’m not sure that anonymity is the only factor. Many use their personal names, and it doesn’t seem to stop them!
    Here at the TNT site, the discussion is not complete without mentioning “The Troll”. At this point it’s clear that there is an avid follower of the TNT comment section that craves attention, and will spend countless hours buggering others and no doubt causing some headaches for the TNT staff. The TNT has made a valiant effort at controlling the menagerie of accounts this person creates…but the truth is, “The Troll” has more time on their hands than you do!
    The link to the NYT was interesting. The money quote:
    “But a lot of comment boards turn into the equivalent of a barroom brawl, with most of the participants having blood-alcohol levels of 0.10 or higher,”
    Love it! It’s funny cuz it’s probably true!

  7. johnearl says:

    Seriously, the comment board needs a reader controlled author filter. This feature would allow each reader to enroll the screen names of habitually abusive/obnoxious commenters into a “Do not read” file and thereby remove all messages from that person from the reader’s viewer.

    If I found that their was no value in reading LibertyBell’s or Thirdpigshouse comments, I could add those to my lists of filtered users and no longer be subjected to their posts. Constructive feedback is provided to the filtered users by making available the them the count (but not a list) of all readers who have filtered their posts out of viewing.

    It doesn’t completely solve the problem, but it does vastly improve the viewing experience for your customers.

  8. tubbythetuba says:

    Clearly, some do not grasp the spirit of Free Speech. If you are thin skinned, stay out of the hot water. It is NOT an endearing trait to be offended by those that disagree with you. Collect your thoughts and engage.

  9. rockrabbit says:

    I appreciate this blog post. I think requiring real names would be a good step, and would make reading this paper online a more pleasant experience. I comment fairly often, but that’s not because I enjoy it but because I have a hard time leaving other folks’ outrageous comments (which are more common on the TNT than anywhere else I regularly visit on the web) unaddressed.

  10. Requiring real names might be a smart move. (And I’m not being a hypocrite, 2 seconds with google will get you my real name.)

    Real names are required on Facebook and I think that’s one reason so many people have taken their online conversations there. It does make a definite impact on the quality of dialogue when people have to put a face to their words. Most of the gubmint types I know who would have a real reason to want anonymity seem to no longer post on controversial issues, anyway. (What’s the point, with the way the conversations have been going lately?)

  11. mpmartinez153 says:

    Anonymous posters simply do not have the courage of their convictions.
    Mark Martinez

  12. johnearl says:

    Well said Mark Martinez, Well said!

  13. johnearl says:


    I clearly understand the spirit and the reality of “Free Speech”. As defined in the U.S. constitution it means that Federal Government cannot prevent, or punish you for speaking your mind openly and peacefully.

    But with respect to anonymous commentators here, Free Speech is not the issue – in fact it is not even close to the issue. One’s 1st amendment rights to free speech do not guarantee anyone the right to use someone else’s (in this case, The News Tribunes) private property to exercise their right of free speech. As Americans we have the right to think, say and rite whatever we want – but we don’t have the right to compel The News Tribune to provide us with a bullhorn.

    And further, just because someone wants to say something doesn’t mean that something is worthy of an audience. One person’s right to Free Speech does not inflict any obligation on anyone else to listen.

    And that is really the issue at hand. The web has given millions more people around the world a voice, so I guess we should not be surprised to learn that some of the loudest of those voices have so little of value to say. I’m all for hearing new ideas, intelligently debating positions with other people, and learning from new sources. But for too many posters here their “new ideas” are retreads regurgitated from a celebrity commentator, name calling is a substitute for intellectual debate, and wild and hurtful speculation about the people in news stories (fueled by anonymity), is pawned off as intelligence.

    So no, I’m not offended by people who disagree with me, but that doesn’t mean I have the time, or the interest, to listen to incoherent rambling excesses of just anyone. To paraphrase a wit, Just because I have an open mind doesn’t mean I’ll let any fool idea in it.

    At the end of the day Blaine, I am terminally bored with people who mistake shouting for debate and who think that name calling bolsters their arguments. And unfortunately The News Tribune’s website currently suffers from an excess people who fit that description.

  14. tubbythetuba says:

    JohnEarl, I personally believe that the sort of “Ignore Button” you want (and they are very common on other message boards) is merely an ego boost for the person pushing the button…As if you are judging whether or not a person is entitled to speak, or even if you think another is good enough for you to listen to…..I don’t wish to use overly broad strokes, but I’ll hazard a guess that you would not wish to deal with opinions counter to your own?

  15. witchiwoman says:

    I tried to comment under my real name a long time ago, when I first started posting here, and was accused of being someone else! And then called names. I decided I didn’t want any more of that. You really do have to have a thick skin to post on these boards.

    Just call me…….witchi

  16. comment_tayter says:

    There is a good reason for anonymity on the Internet, and it has nothing to do with the courage of one’s convictions. This is an easy place for the various nogoodniks to reap names for, at the very least, invasion of privacy with targeted marketing all the way up to harassment that spills over into ‘real’ life and becomes an actual threat to physical safety. 

    I post on some blogs with my real name, on others with a pseudonym. 

    There is a long-standing tradition among authors of political commentary to use a ‘nom de plume’ and it does allow for the expression of an opinion in a more forceful manner than might otherwise happen. It also provides a screen against retribution by a repressive government. 

    I think the way things are handled here are just fine: if the comment is so over the top as to be beyond reason, it can be taken down. Otherwise, the give and take proceeds. If one can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen. 

  17. …and even if they’re not over the top you can still delete them, and often do… because you disagree with them.

    Toyotaman84 wrote on 12/18/2009 06:34:57 PM:

    I like what Tman said to you previously, it was Bush at the wheel when the planes began crashing. And what did he do? Kept reading to school children.
    • Toyotaman84 wrote on 12/18/2009 06:36:10 PM:
    Now I know I’m going crazy… I’m referring to myself in the 3rd person.

  18. “The TNT has made a valiant effort at controlling the menagerie of accounts this person creates…” Ummm, NOT.

  19. nwcolorist says:

    I would agree with MSoD that respect is a key concept here.

    But you know that there’s always going to be some bad apples in the bunch. The question is how to deal with them without wrecking it for the rest.

    And it wouldn’t hurt if we all developed thicker skins.

  20. Hearing others passionate opinions, which radically vary from mine i.e. Lucky Charm, BeerBoy, barrotac, Polago, DredScott) help remind me that we do live in a Republic Democracy, and my vision and belief of what America is and should be is not the same as everyones vision. I like seeing the Progressives/Socialists viewpoints, and I like being forced to read them if I want to see all input and opinions posted. I would hate to be offered blinders where I could pretend that everyone believes in the same ideals and philosophies as I do when it comes to anything where there are differing opinions. Love the forum the way it is, if you are so weak as to not willing accept that people disagree with you, turn MSNBC back on-watch Olberman, Maddow, and Matthews and don’t post on an open forum

  21. johnearl says:

    There is a stark difference between “Passionate opinions” that are based on well thought out ideological differences and name calling and character assisinations.

    Here is an example from a serial commentator on yesterday’s “Sarah Palin AK47″ thread…

    “Only an idiot or an anti-American socialist/marxist would give up the “hole card” in the options available for their nations security!! Let me guess – that would be the “OH-Bummer” regime foreign policy!!!”

    I can’t honestly say that I agree or disagree with this poster’s “idea” because it is so difficult to tell what the poster is saying. I can’t discern what intelligent point is to be harvested from this screed – possibly because the author immediately poisons the well “Only an idiot or an anti-American socialist/marxist would…” and predictably sprinkles in juvenile name calling (OH-Bummer). This level of discourse is par for the course for this poster – in fact it is normal for this persons posts to include the phrases “marxist/socialist” and “OH-Bummer”. If rote repetition somehow adds to intelligent debate, it escapes me as to how.

    Then there is this post from another commentator…

    “Tina Fey is a talented comedy writer yet Sarah Palin seems to write for Tina every time she opens her mouth publicly.”

    Another juvenile character assassination. If I am supposed to be amused, the author failed miserably. Clearly the author dislikes something about the former governor but either chose not to, or is unable to, articulate a cogent disagreement based on policy or substance. So the author doesn’t like Governor Palin. Without having offered a reason why, I’m afraid I might actually be dumber for having read that post.

    I heard someone offer once that 90% of the internet is crap. That sounds close to accurate to me. The News Tribune would be doing readers a great service if it were to offer a way for us to increase the signal to noise ratio and filter the serially uninteresting posters. A bonus feature would be the ability to subscribe to commentors who you found especially cogent or thought provoking. Giving an authro the view of how many have subscribed/unsubscribed to their posings would provide feedback as to how far out in left field some posters are.

    At the end of the day The News Tribune is a business that needs to understand and cater to their customer base. The steady degradation of the quality of these forums by some posters is bound to drive away other loyal readers – especially ones that have supported this newspaper for years. If this trend continues, many of the more thoughtful commentators will be driven away and the forums will be defined only by the loudest of the screamers and insulters. That will be a sad day for civic discourse, and for The News Tribune.

  22. notSpicoli says:

    While the comments section is a good idea in theory, the reality is that it greatly distracts from the TNT on-line. The posts take the spotlight and the hard work of the reporters, the facts, and the stories are forgotten or dismissed as the comments, which are, often as not, mostly name calling, wild and unsubstantiated generalizations, mean spirited, and hateful, move onto center stage.

    There is very little dialogue that occurs. At least one of the frequent posters is obviously mentally ill. There is frequent trolling.

    The downside of anonymous posting is that the governors of civil behavior are set aside. But who would feel comfortable posting under ones own name after reading some of the scary, troubling, even threatening content that is sometimes posted?

    As only a small minority participate or readers participate in the comments section, I wonder if it is worth the cost in resources and reputation.

    The importance of the press in a democracy cannot be overstated. I would like the TNT to stick with journalism–a commodity becoming ever rarer. So even though I post frequently and am on a mission, I say pull the plug on the comments, seek a different venue to accommodate reader feedback and opinion, and devote the time managing the comment boards on doing hard news stories.

  23. ” hard work of the reporters”… they parrot from the AP…

  24. …wouldn’t free speech to get inthe way of propoganda, would we?

We welcome comments. Please keep them civil, short and to the point. ALL CAPS, spam, obscene, profane, abusive and off topic comments will be deleted. Repeat offenders will be blocked. Thanks for taking part and abiding by these simple rules.

JavaScript is required to post comments.

Follow the comments on this post with RSS 2.0