Thursday, June 5, 2008

Anonymous on Web 2.0
I chose to comment on an article in the NYT. I did this because though I have a subscription and read over the electronic version almost daily I have never ventured into the area of actually commenting. It was simpler than I thought and did not require that I register myself, which surprised me. However, I did notice that my comment would be “approved” before posting. The NYT stated that the comments were moderated but, I don’t know if that is what “approved” meant. Nonetheless, it was easy and there really wasn’t much to learn about doing it.
Though I have not participated, I have read comments on news articles before …usually to my dismay. Comments seem to quickly degrade to personal attacks or any one particular participant has an agenda, regardless of the topic, which he or she anonymously and without consequence or responsibility sets to promote. The NYT comments seemed a bit more civil and that is why I choose to participate there.
But, the anonymity still interests me. It felt like such a hit and run experience. It felt like pseudonymity the way I chose my name (required) as Greenleaf. This is actually my middle name but who would think? Anyway, I occurred to me that publishing under a pseudonym might be called a literacy practice and one that has significant implications in a culture where information in so immediate and with no vetting.
Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay wrote The Federalist Papers using the pseudonym "Publius," but not without their publisher's prior permission and knowledge of their true identities. Though I am not sure of a current American periodical that regularly grants pseudonyms to its writers, with “pseudonyms”, the publishers not only know the pseudonymous writers' true identities but also vetted the writers' submissions before publication. That is not quite the same as publishing anonymous blog postings. We implement technology that permits absolutely anonymous and spontaneous publication of people's comments and we expect the majority of those comments will be civil and legal. We implement such technologies and the publishers of that material expect that it all should be completely automated and not need extra supervisory or mediation. And if a problem develops, we expect newer technology alone to solve it.
Yet we live in the real world, not a utopian virtual world. Our real online culture is infested with spams, scams, and phishers. The wonderful technologies we've implemented actually attract and facilitate them. (If technologies existed that permitted anonymous, unvetted, and unmoderated letters to be published in printed publications, then obscene and libelous letters to the editor would appear in the NYT too.)
I don’t see how media can offer transparency to the readers unless all the participants (readers) are also willing to be transparent. If "News is a Conversation," then transparency is required among all participants in that conversation, including the readers. That being said, I am a hypocrite. I chose to remove my last name as a contributor. After all, I have to do this for a grade. Being that this is a public blog, I toned it down. I’ll reserve the fierce public rants for when it matters.

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