Letter to the Editor: The impact of anonymity in editorial comments in NewCastleNOW

January 28, 2011
by Hildy Sheinbaum

Dear Editors of NewCastleNOW,

I have been a strong supporter of NewCastleNOW since its creation.  Without a doubt, this electronic news forum has given us up-to-the-minute information and has truly transformed its readers into a more informed citizenry.  That being said, I have become increasingly disturbed by the way in which many now choose to use the comments section of this website.  Freedom of speech is a basic right of all Americans, true, but the cloak of anonymity that pseudonyms allow for can encourage a lack of civility, as well as an incomplete, and perhaps even unsubstantiated analysis of issues.

We live in a small community where individuals take pride in personal opinions and often possess the desire to be heard.  We should all welcome and embrace this. However, it is becoming more and more difficult to read the anonymous comments without feeling terribly disconcerted.

So, I ask that you consider that all names of writers be revealed before printing any comments. We can be an engaged, participatory community while remaining respectful and considerate of our neighbors, teachers, and public servants.  Let’s take ownership of our opinions and our comments in order to have a more productive civic discourse.

Thank you.

Hildy Sheinbaum
Related articles in today’s edition of NCNOW:

NEW: Editorial: Will I put my name on this, and if not, why not?”, January 28, 2011, by Susie Pender, Editor, NCNOW.org

RERUN: Op-Ed: Where everybody knows your name, January 28, 2011 [Reprinted from June 2010], by Olga Seham

We encourage civil, civic discourse. All comments are reviewed before publication to assure that this standard is met.

I am one of many people that comment under the name “resident”. For various reasons I do not want my name published. I did publish my name once several years ago in a local publication with respect to a debate going on regarding youth sports, field usage, and allocation by sport and gender. I wrote a few paragraphs expressing my opinion and a solution. The result of my “letter to the editor” was anonymous threatening phone calls to my house, my children getting bullied because of their dads opinion, and some very real and cold treatment on the ball fields. I was called a sexist and accused of favoring one sport and one age group over others. In hindsight, I should have sent the letter to the editor with a “pen name” or anonymously. My opinion would still have been heard and I would have saved myself and my family the stress and angst.

NewCastleNow.Org has been an extremely valuable resource for our community. We have received as much information, statistics, and opinions from the comments section as we have from the “news” section. Of course there will always be those anonymous comments that are outrageous and meant to inflame. So what? Someone’s opinion should not be dismissed merely because he/she chooses not to identify ones self.

NEWCASTLENOW.ORG - keep up the good work, thank you for all you do, and continue to publish all comments.

By resident on 01/28/2011 at 8:52 am

I agree with “resident” on this one. Although I rarely write anything inflammatory or misleading, it is my right to give my opinion and not get slammed by my own community for doing so.
As an aside, it’s very easy to just make up a name and an email address, so trying to police such nonsense is a waste of your valuable time. Thank you for your very interesting and always informative pieces!

By Genni on 01/30/2011 at 5:42 pm

I believe that if you have an opinion, and choose to voice it, you should own it.  Using a pen name or some alternative moniker allows for statements to be made without having to face the consequences for them. 

By consequences I mean a civil disagreement.  Threatening phone calls and children being bullied is unacceptable.  If you can’t provide an intelligent counterpoint to an argument, and be civil, keep your opinion to yourself. 

By Carmine DePalma on 06/27/2011 at 4:38 pm

It is interesting to hear the varying—often impassioned—opinions and viewpoints; voices that might not be heard were it a condition of public record.  Important to be representing not just those persons willing to ‘own’ their views, comfortable attaching their name to their opinion, or those who simply want their name in print; many ways of looking at things that might not otherwise been known.  Owned or not, I believe it is important to hear those views; to have them represented. A person might not otherwise express themselves for a variety of reasons such as safety and security, fear of repercussions.  Journalists are not required to reveal sources; voters have a private ballot. All voices are important to be heard—regardless of whether those verbal or written voices reveal their identity.  Imagine also, not all people are secure in their ability to adequately represent their views publicly.  When someone wants people to know their name, that choice can be made.  I personally enjoy my cloak of anonymity.  I like being able to express myself without judgment and hostility directed at me because of my view.  And the unfortunate reality is that when there be issues of contention, there be individuals and groups that respond extremely unpleasantly; with real consequences.  So whether risks are real or matters of personal perceptions, anonymity has a real place in an opinion section of a paper. Because sometimes the unpleasantness becomes its own special cloak. 

Editor’s Note: This article is no longer front-page, so your comment will likely come only to the editors’ attention. If you wish it to discuss this, email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

By Resident too on 10/28/2011 at 9:12 am

Post a comment:

Display Name*:

Your Display Name will be associated with this comment on NewCastleNOW.org. We encourage commentators to use their real name or initials.

We encourage civil, civic discourse. In other words, be pithy and polite. All comments will be reviewed before publication to assure that this standard is met.