Editorial: Will I put my name on this, and if not, why not?

UPDATE: With 36 comments as of 2/4/11
January 28, 2011
by Susie Pender, Editor, NewCastleNOW.org

In a perfect world, everyone would know all the facts all the time. Everyone with an opinion on a community issue would have the opportunity to speak at a Town Hall-type meeting. Somehow this Town Hall meeting would be moderated in a way that was fair to everyone.

No one would fear retaliation or ridicule for opinions honestly offered, constructive criticism or new, perhaps not completely formed, ideas. Everyone would leave the meeting with the issue resolved to everyone’s satisfaction.

And all our children would be above average, too. 

But we don’t live in Lake Woebegone. So how can we discuss community-wide issues that need serious input to resolve? We give it our best shot, in the messy, not-perfect way that democracy allows.

And at this moment in the 21st Century, giving it our best shot as a community must include conversation via the Internet.

Commentary – The Dream

I hate speaking in abstractions because readers get bored and nod off. So I’m going to use Chappaqua Crossing as my talking point. I think it’s fair to say that five years ago, no one in New Castle (except for the attorneys and professionals who specialize in real estate) knew what a DEIS was, never mind a FEIS.

Now those acronyms are part of the regular vocabulary of residents conversing at town hall, Susan Lawrence, Lange’s Deli and the A&P. For that, we have to thank in large part the individuals who have stepped forward to share their expertise with the general public on our comment pages: architects, attorneys, environmentalists, financial analysts, investment bankers, real estate professionals and residents with experiences in other communities that considered major real estate developments. Oh, and just plain smart people with good ideas.

Indeed, engaged citizens have jumped into the commentary asking good questions to which these knowledgeable folk have obligingly responded. 

We are lucky. In considering the pros and cons of Chappaqua Crossing, we have not been limited to the information presented in the developer’s glossy mailings nor the town board’s necessarily constrained reports.  We could be a community in the dark, but we’re not. Thank you to all those commentators who have educated us.

Commentary – The Reality

Most of these informative comments have been anonymous. And here are a few good reasons why.

• People want to keep their jobs. Some of the professionals sharing their expertise are providing information that very well may be contrary to the best interests of their employers. It is admirable that they want to help their community in this way, but understandable that they don’t want to do it at the risk of their livelihood.

• Residents have anonymously expressed their frustration and anxiety about Chappaqua Crossing, both pro and con. That information, that residents are frustrated and anxious, is valuable to both the town board and the developer for making historic decisions that will impact New Castle forever. Many of these voices would not be heard but for the opportunity to speak anonymously.

• Anonymity provides an opportunity to test the waters. You may think you are the only one with your opinion. You put it out there and, lo and behold, a community of like-believers forms around you.  Your good idea carries the day and benefits the whole community.

• The residents’ fear of retaliation is real. Which, I want to make clear, is different than proof that retaliation happens in our town or in our schools.  Town and school officials dismiss this as absurd. But it has been stated to me again and again as a primary reason residents choose to be anonymous.

Anonymity opens the door to otherwise quiet voices

A recent letter to the editor we ran about the 2011-12 school budget, “Citizen group urges school board to cut school taxes & stand up to unions,” garnered 115 comments. The comments raised many issues: teachers and residents expressed their frustrations, at Albany, at unions, at each other. Some residents praised the teachers; some teachers praised the residents. And one group, who is rarely heard from, students, joined the conversation.

I was particularly struck by one student’s voice that deserves to be heard, that I doubt we would have heard without the protection of anonymity.

I am sorry to see the bad example that continues to be set for us (the students) on this website.

Do you think it helps the budget process to disrespect our teachers?  Let me remind you that the teachers are the adults we spend the majority of each day with and I have no doubt that we see them more than we see our own parents.  Not everyone is a great teacher but at least they value hard work and excellence as much as we do.  My friends and I do not want to be in the middle of this argument between our parents and our teachers so would you PLEASE find a way to be more civil? . . .

When our reserves start to run low and the pieces begin to fall apart, it is almost always one of our teachers who reach out to us first.  After all, they see us everyday and they know when we’re ourselves and when we’re not.  One day I wasn’t feeling well (I was sad actually) and three different teachers pulled me aside during the day to ask how I was doing. In fact, my counselor is the one always reassuring me that the best I can do, is good enough.  When I need a lift, I know I can go to their door and find someone who cares about my well-being and not just my grades.  All I’m trying to say is that we spend so much time in school and we need adults around us who are healthy, thoughtful and most importantly care about us.  We are lucky to have this at Greeley and it’s embarrassing to us (the students) when we see this taken for granted by the ones who are supposed to care about us the most.

By High Schooler on 01/19/2011 at 8:02 pm

Commentary – The Underbelly

As this student pointed out, anonymity gives free rein to our baser instincts: The instinct to berate, to belittle, to ridicule, to retaliate, or to repeat and repeat and repeat an argument when someone disagrees in a responsive comment.

No question, these are abuses of anonymity. And I’m disheartened to report that they happen everyday on our website.

Readers have written asking us to control this behavior. Their suggestions fall into three categories:

1. Turn off the comment function;

2. Do not allow such comments, which would put us in the position of censors, always a slippery slope to encroachment on First Amendment rights; or

3. Require that each commentator sign his or her real name.

None of these suggestions will move us closer to civil discourse from a wide range of voices. Turning off the comment function would be a net loss for the community. How else, where else, can so many voices be heard?

We do act as gatekeeper, but we refuse to censor. After every article, the comment section begins: “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.”

Some would argue that we have been too lax in our standard. It should surprise no one that as journalists, we err on the side of open communication and protection of First Amendment rights.

But I suggest you try this at home: Pick out an article, then pick a comment that you would have excluded under your standard of “civil civic discourse” and then ask yourself honestly: Are you excluding it because you disagree with it? Are you excluding it because you don’t like the tone? Are you excluding it because it attacks a public official or private individual who you like? Then send me your suggestions at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), or write them in the comment section following this editorial.

Unintended consequences of requiring a name for every posting

Simply requiring everyone to sign their name is, frankly, not so simple. Just because someone signs a name, doesn’t mean it’s a real name. (We would need to hire substantial staff to confirm every posting.) And just because someone signs his or her name doesn’t mean you know the biases or secret agenda behind his or her comments.

I do agree that requiring a name would make those people still willing to comment under those circumstances more civil in their comments. But at what cost? There’s no question the breadth of the civic conversation would suffer. All those voices that can only speak anonymously, whatever their personal reason, would be silenced.

Make anonymity a responsible choice, not a default setting

I have two suggestions for making the commentary in NewCastleNOW more civil. To everyone who comments: Make anonymity an affirmative choice—for a reason that you can articulate to yourself—and not your default setting.

Ask yourself, before you hit “send:” Will I put my name on this, and if not, why not? You might discover that the simple honest answer is: Because I would be embarrassed to have anyone, but particularly my mother or my children, hear me sound like such a jerk.

For those of you who are disheartened or offended by the tone or content of an article, speak up about that in the comments. Let’s change the statistics. Right now, most controversial comments are anonymous and all rude ones are. If you want the balance to shift away from anonymous comments, start commenting.

I hope this engenders a civil, robust discussion on anonymity. Can the community regulate itself? Let’s see.
Related articles in today’s edition of NCNOW:

NEW: Letter to the Editor: The impact of anonymity in editorial comments in NewCastleNOW, January 28, 2011, by Hildy Sheinbaum

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.

Excellent perusal of a thorny topic.  I especially appreciated the quote from High Schooler.

By Phyllis Applebaum on 01/28/2011 at 6:53 am

Sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never harm me.  Seems to me that we are all a bit to sensitive.  Have you been reading about Egypt, Yemen, Lebanon and other places where civility seems to have been skipped?  What’s wrong with a provocative point of view even if it offends a teacher or a high schooler.  Isn’t that the basis of our democracy?  I don’t see the word “nice” in the constitution.  I would much rather understand the extreme views in our community and am thankful to read them, so keep em coming and let’s get some thicker skin and stop all the whining.

By sticks and stones on 01/28/2011 at 6:59 am

I’ve published some comments in NewcastleNow.org under my own name.  I’ve also published letters in the NYT, again using my own name.  When I don’t use my name, it’s not because I’m embarrassed to admit my views.  On the contrary, everyone who knows me knows my views. 

My problem is one shared by many commentators.  I work for an organization that does not encourage employees to speak openly about public issues. That organization and its clients are far more politically conservative than am I.  I’ve received comments on my NYT letters, for example, that have persuaded me that such letters have not, let us say, enhanced my reputation in the board room. 

It’s my long-term goal to spend more time writing and signing my name, and less dealing with my controlling, corporate employer.  Yet for the time being, like many of those who leave comments, I can’t afford to offend those who pay my bills.  Therefore, I understand and support comment anonymity.  It’s really important that opinions get stated, including, or even especially, by those who have too little power to speak their names as well as their minds.

By Lawrence Farms East Resident on 01/28/2011 at 7:42 am

I want to provide one point of view.  I posted the comments on Chappaqua Crossing under the name “Think Again.”  I have reasons for not using my name.  I have a business that I would like to keep “neutral” for lack of a better word on hot topics.  But mostly, I am a private person.  I mentioned in one post that I ordinarily don’t step into controversies and that was totally accurate.  If I had to use my name, I might not have posted.  Given my grave concerns about Chappaqua Crossing, I hope I would have overcome my reluctance and done it anyway but I honestly would have struggled with the “public” nature of my involvement if I had to give me name.  I had some thoughts to share and I was grateful for the opportunity to do so.

By Think Again on 01/28/2011 at 8:08 am

Perfectly stated.

On it’s face, I hate the idea of anonymous comments. “what do you mean you want to say something but are too gutless to stand up for your idea?”  On the other hand, when you stop and think about it, there are legitimate reasons for anonymity – exactly as you’ve outlined.

Like many things in life, with privilege comes responsibility. In other words, if you’d like New Castle Now to continue to offer you the opportunity to speak your mind freely and occasionally post an anonymous comment, be polite, be civil, don’t be snarky, don’t be a jerk. State your point thoughtfully and respectfully and you’ll continue to be a welcome part of the discussion.

We live in a community that values free speech and fresh ideas. Please keep sharing your ideas but please do this while remembering that the people who read your comments are just that – people. People with families and friends who are also members of our community. It’s perfectly acceptable to disagree – but it’s never acceptable to be rude in the process. If you think the comment you’re about to post is nasty, then it probably is nasty and you should edit it – ask yourself, “would I want someone writing this about a member of my family or one of my friends in town?”

Thanks to New Castle Now for continuing to foster open and thoughtful debate!

By Warren Hart on 01/28/2011 at 8:10 am

I basically agree with the position you are taking on anonymity of comments.  However, I am wondering whether the comment feature needs to be available for everything that is posted on your site.  Recently, I saw comments posted on something that was not actually a news story at all, but only an announcement of an event that was to take place at one of our community organizations.  I would suggest that the comment feature simply not be made available with respect to event announcements, as people generally don’t expect such announcements to be the subject of debate.

By A Reader on 01/28/2011 at 9:14 am

Thanks for spelling out some of the many reasons people might have to remain anonymous in their comments.  It’s as important as the fast-disappearing (because of the SIZE of the danged ballots) protection we USED TO HAVE at the ballot box. Maybe more important, since we’re what we’re asked to weigh in on at the ballot box has been whittled pretty far down by the time we’re invited by leaders to say “Yes” or “No,” “This Candidate” or “That Candidate.”

By Thank you for this. on 01/28/2011 at 9:27 am

I sometimes read the comments on articles and then stop because they are often so rude. I believe no one would write publicly like that if they had to sign their names. I understand your reasons for anonymity and I can agree with them but, PLEASE keep the discussions civil. By the way, if you got up and spoke at a town meeting, as the beginning of the editorial equates this newsletter with, then everyone would know who you are, unless you wore a mask. I guess not signing your name is like speaking with a mask on.

By Richard Goldsmith on 01/28/2011 at 9:36 am

Even if I considered only 10% of comments to be valuable, it’s worth it to me to come across that one-in-ten idea that makes me think another way.  The ratio varies according to the subject, but I WANT to see it all.  I can decide for myself, thank you, what’s worth considering or spending my time on.  Thanks for providing the soup!  It’s been quite nourishing.  Frankly, if we had had more of this earlier we would have made smarter decisions.  But let’s look forward—to Friday’s and Monday’s editions of NewCastleNOW.  Keep it cooking.

By Even if I considered only 10% to be valuable… on 01/28/2011 at 9:38 am

Too small AND too big.  Why do we need anonymity?  To those who say “It’s a small community, we can talk frankly to one another”—I say au contraire.  We’re too big as a town or school district to be a real community (people who know one another well), and yet we’re too small a town NOT to have many people identify you when you use your name—and feel quite free to misunderstand you because they don’t REALLY know you.  What has developed in the world (and on this site) is this imperfect means to speak out anyway.  I’m grateful for it.  I’d like to see a poll showing who approves of anonymity and who does not.  I’ll bet you government representatives—whether elected or volunteer—are more uncomfortable with it than everyone else.

By Too small or too big? on 01/28/2011 at 9:46 am

Thank you for taking a long-overdue editorial stand that sheds light on this controversial practice.

The thread of anonymous comments trailing many a NewCastleNOW.org article is sometimes as enlightening, and often more entertaining, than the subject that triggered the response.

How did we ever manage to amplify, bemoan, correct, complain, decry and praise, rant and rave before there was an Internet?

By David Liemer on 01/28/2011 at 10:04 am

This community needs NewCastleNOW and this exact forum. When you try to voice your opinion or invest your time on a committee to impact or change or on the PTA executive committee, you are there merely to have Admin and the Board say we have parents on the committee and heard their opinions.

For years people stood up at the Board meetings and gave their names. It does not matter if you give them or not, frankly. The parents in this town are never really heard.  We wanted NO high school schedule change, turf, the calendar adjusted for senior week, a unified and academically credible Varsity Athletics program, we wanted the AD to NOT receive tenure, the money draining second middle school won by a mere 88 votes, we wanted cuts to NOT come from the music programs. The list is long. The Board only cares about PASSING the Budget and not airing our dirty laundry. AND they want to say they got community buy in! We need a New Superintendent from outside the district to come here and embarrass and shock the BoE into action. 

By Names Do not matter on 01/28/2011 at 10:08 am

I really question why it is of any importance to know the true name of the signature.
Isn’t it about an exchange of thoughts and ideas ?  Of course, for those who wish to use their real names… fine… for those who do not… also fine.  It feels to me that the complainers are just being nosey.
Thank you Susie Pender for your very intelligent, thoughtful and clearly written article on this subject.  And thank you NewCastleNow for providing the community with a place for honest conversation.

By Roberta Galant on 01/28/2011 at 10:58 am

I have come to rely on New Castle Now for keeping me abreast of all things related to our community.  As someone who works full-time for an employer who is located outside of Westchester County, I am not always “in the loop” regarding issues involving our town.  I feel New Castle Now provides a great service to the community in keeping people informed about what is happening – both big and small – in and around Chappaqua and Millwood.  It also serves as an excellent forum for allowing residents to add their thoughts to a particular news item that appears on this site.  Generally, I find the comments offered by residents to be interesting and helpful, but, I also have to state that I do find it strange that so many of the comments are often posted anonymously.  I would like to thank the editor, Susie Pender, for doing such a fine job of addressing this issue and outlining some of the reasons people might need to do this.  However, it is hard for me to believe that the vast majority of posters would be put in a precarious situation by identifying themselves.  Our elected officials, as well as the writers submitting pieces for New Castle Now, do not have the luxury of hiding behind a veil of secrecy when offering their views or rendering decisions.  So, why would the commentators, some of whom denigrate or belittle either the article’s author, the public official or some other individual or organization, not state who they are?  It seems folks like to speak their minds without taking responsibility for their statements.  Personally, as I read through the comments, I take less seriously, and certainly give less respect, to those people who post their viewpoints anonymously.  Just my two cents on this issue.

By Len Gersten on 01/28/2011 at 11:02 am

I don’t care what anyone’s name is. I only care what they say; for me, the name distracts from the value of their thinking.  It’s what they have to say that I want to hear.

If anyone were standing up and saying I’m an expert on such-and-such, trust me because I have this expertise… the name would matter to me, but if they’re not doing that, I don’t find their names useful at all.

It’s the content.

By It’s content that matters on 01/28/2011 at 11:04 am

In my personal experience, it makes perfect sense to keep the anonymous status if people choose to use it.  That, of course, does not excuse individuals from responding in a way that is respectful.

In my humble opinion we have one of the least “liberal” communities around in terms of people willing to listen to opposing views.  I am not part of the usual political persuasion in our town and I have been chased up the train stairs by someone screaming at me at election time. (A couple of my friends asked if I was ok and if they should walk with me to my car). My friend told me that someone actually spat on him during a political discussion.  Ironically, these are folks who believe they are “liberal”. The children in this town also take part. My child was asked whom he might vote for during a school event around the elections (this was asked by the teacher) and when the answer was not Obama, he was called a racist.

Someone also tagged him as a facist (spelled incorrectly) on Facebook.  I think that he was able to see who posted it—so it didn’t matter that the identity was known.  Bullies don’t seem to mind if we know who they are in our town.

My point is there is every reason to believe that if you hold a minority view in this town and express it publicly you will have repercussions. And that is why I am not adding my name here.
Don’t end comments, don’t curtail them and don’t force people to give their names.  That is why so few write op eds or letters to the Editor.

GREAT JOB New Castle Now.

By minority view on 01/28/2011 at 4:38 pm

It seems to me, that in order to maintain the viability of the Chappaqua schools and its tax base, the Seven Bridges Middle School will eventually have to be mothballed.  Plans should be made now for its closing in the summer of 2012.  Bite the bullet with careful planning well in advance of future immediate necessity. This action could result in zero increases, or even reductions in school taxes for one or more years following the closing.

Forget the blame-game over its being built, there is no point in recriminations, just recognize the inevitable, and implement this necessary action sooner rather than later.

Can the Town find a buyer or a lessee for the building?  That will depend on economic conditions and the future needs of nearby communities for additional medical or corporate space.  The possibility of sale or lease cannot be foreseen at this time, but that unknown element should not be a consideration in the decision to eliminate the substantial costs relating to this expendable building.

Let the School Board understand what jeopardy lies over the horizon for the Town’s taxpayers if drastic action is not taken.

By Close the 7 Bridges School Sooner Rather than Late on 01/28/2011 at 7:52 pm

Thank you NewCastleNow.org for taking a responsible, democratic approach to this issue.  You are preserving the marketplace of ideas for our hamlet.  Requiring identification of each commenter would undoubtedly have a chilling effect on this marketplace.

As stated by another poster, it is the content that matters.  Insistence on associating names with comments would require posters to withhold their true sentiments in fear of retribution from those holding alternate views. 

Kudos to NewCastleNow.org for standing up for our collective freedom of speech.  You have and continue to provide a genuine service to our wonderful American community.

By Content is King on 01/29/2011 at 10:07 am

To Close 7 Bridges…you have the right idea but the wrong school. Close Bell Middle. Sell the property to a developer on the condition that a retail/commercial property be developed.

This move will solve several problems. The school will reap a windfall from the sale. CCSD can then pay off some of our debt. The never needed redundant staff and associated maintenance will disappear further reducing our budget and REDUCING our taxes. The quality of education will not suffer as up until only recently we had only 1 middle school anyway. 

The school board in its infinite wisdom 8 years ago pushed for and got this second Middle School and with it came a $50million bond and over $5million in annual interest/principal payments. In addition we had to redistrict many students. As predicted, student enrollment is down and is expected to continue to decline. Get rid of a middle school, pay down the bond, and redistrict back the way it was.

Secondly, this new retail/commercial development will attract some business and new merchants to Chappaqua pumping some life and revenues into our downtown area. That will also lower taxes as we will have additional merchants and business tax payers.

By taxpayer too on 01/29/2011 at 10:43 am

People have the right to voice their opinion and should not have to fear community attack or derision. If they feel more comfortable in expressing how they feel anonymously then that is their free speech right. As someone with an alternative point of view on many subjects important to the majority of persons in this town, I can say that I have been confronted in any number of places, and shunned by those who disagreed with me and made uncomfortable in my own home town. I believe I have a right to walk the streets of Chappaqua without fear of being confronted for any reason.So if I want to voice my opinion but do not think anyone need to know who I am that quite frankly that is my right.

By the way, monitoring comments is not a violation of freedom of speech nor a slippery slope. I monitor the comments on my well-read blogs and make it quite known that while varied opinions are welcome, vile language, as well as racist, antisemitic and misogynistic comments will not be published.There is nothing wrong with insisting upon civil discourse.

By anonymous on 01/29/2011 at 6:33 pm

First amendment? Nope, this is not a first amendment issue. A private website does not have to allow any comment they don’t want. This has nothing to do with providing an outlet for the scared anonymous masses to let the town board know their opinion. Even since the invention of email, they have alternatives.

This is, simply, a decision by the owners of this site to allow anonymous comment.  For whatever reason they want, they can make that decision.  It is their site and they can do with it as they please.  The decision to read these comments and to make these comments is yours. Some choose not to get involved with anonymity and don’t read this site others do.  Whatever floats your boat works.

The other site that covers Chappaqua extensively, Chappaqua.Patch.com allows anonymous comments if you register first. While those are also anonymous, by using registration, they hope that you build a site reputation.  Your anonymous name is the same every time you post.  Here, you make it up on the fly.  Some folks such as Westender and Clittle have built up reputations and credibility by using the same handle.  Others enjoy playing the Dear Abby game of making up a pithy name.

One school board member has a blog, 10514 Musings,  newcastlealternative.com that does not allow anonymous comments. Coincidentally, he wrote about his reasons a few days before this editorial. He does not have a lot of comments. Maybe that is a function of readership? At least he is a public official willing to go on the record and state a position.

I think this is a good decision by NCN. It gives us locals a place to complain about everything, it gives those who don’t even live here a place to comment as if they were locals and complain about everything, and it gives NCN a chance to think they are doing good by giving us a place to complain about everything.

Now, let’s all get back to bashing the school board, the teachers, Summit Greenfield, the town board and our neighbors.  Anonymously.

By M. Harrison on 01/30/2011 at 12:42 am

Anonymous comments are great.  We can say whatever we want with no repercussions.  Teachers are greedy bums!  See?  The town board is a bunch of fools!  See?  Whatever we want.  It doesn’t even have to be accurate. 

Thanks NewCastleNOW.  Keep up the good work and providing me a forum to say whatever I want.

But, I have just one question, why does it say that you encourage commentators to use their real names or initials above the comment box?

By Say Whatever I Want on 01/30/2011 at 1:02 am

M. Harrison, you sound a awful lot like a school board member. But that couldn’t be so, because that would mean you’re commenting anonymously.  And you don’t approve of that, right?

I can see why school board members might no approve of an open forum in which we can say what we think.  Our school boards have traditionally depended on NOT providing ways to learn what customers are feeling about board members’ and administrators’ job performance.  When school board members talk about the importance of COMMUNICATION—they mean THE SCHOOL BOARD telling US what we should think of their behavior and decisions.  If people don’t agree, board members see it as a failure to communicate and set up a committee to communicate THEIR POSITION more effectively (= keep repeating their position) and then do what they want anyway.

By Hmm… Board of Ed Member? on 01/30/2011 at 12:29 pm

M. Harrison, you seem to have a big problem with anonymity.  So who are you?  Anyone can use a name “M. Harrison.” You think it’s so crucial that we know who someone is, whether they really live here or not-here, then why not say who you are?

You say one board member has a blog where he does not allow anonymous comment. Given the state of the school district, the debt burden of Seven Bridges m.s. a board of ed saddled us with ten years ago, a board two years ago who let administrators foist high school schedule change on the school community—think, M. Harrison: Who would believe that a board members should be taken into one’s confidence on any matter at all? 

The board of ed does not listen.  The board is busy thinking of ways to maintain its power and not hear what people think of either board members or the schools.  And they do it over and over.

By Doesn’t allow anonymity? on 01/30/2011 at 12:50 pm

For someone who has problems with anonymity you see to wear the cloak pretty comfortably. You’re allowed.  But so are we.  Judge us on our content.  Use your brain and believe that residents have brains also.  If you’re a board member, which I have a feeling you may be, loosen up.  Relax and find out what people think of what you do.

By Content is the only thing to watch. on 01/30/2011 at 1:12 pm

In my previous post I was addressing “M. Harrison.”  Forgot to say that.

By Content is the only thing to watch. on 01/30/2011 at 1:34 pm

Holy cow!  Very defensive about anonymous comments.  Here you all are ironically trying to pierce the veil. That is the very thing you think should not be done, or you think it does not matter who says it, just what is said.  Your consistency is underwhelming.  Isn’t this the very reason we all want anonymous comments, so that we are not attacked personally?

I cannot deny reading newcastlealternative.  I wrote my response after reading that.  Maybe I was influenced by that. Isn’t that the way this is supposed to work; read and exchange ideas, reaffirm your thinking or change your mind?  I play in this game where there is anonymous commenting allowed. On the whole, on this site, anonymous commenting seems to be what the commenters want.  It works. No one is taking that away from us (so far).

Maybe my response was a little sarcastic in that it seems as if a majority of the comments on this site are framed in a negative way.  We can all disagree or have differing opinions without the personal attacks.  Ad hominem attacks serve no purpose. 

I am going for a walk to enjoy the respite in the weather.  Have a great Sunday afternoon!!

By M. Harrison on 01/30/2011 at 1:50 pm

I don’t think Freedom of Speech was to be interpreted as Freedom of Speech Without Ownership. If you won’t take ownership of your words, they do not belong to you. They lose their validity. Hiding behind the First Amendment, Freedom of Speech, without taking ownership sounds more like having a one night stand or a friend with benefits-all the freedom, none of the responsibility.

Yes, some cannot use their names due to certain positions held in the community, government, etc. That’s a shame and warrants its own discussion. What concerns me more is the fact that adults in our community have used this site to be incredibly mean and hurtful.  I’m all for open discussion and look forward to reading the posts to gain different perspectives on the same topic. It’s not the opinions that are lacking in the forum as much as it is the decorum. 

We need to look in the mirror.  We would never want our kids being the target of bullying or, God forbid, discover our kids are the ones doing the bullying, yet there seem to be many adults engaging in cyber bullying.  If we are not our words/actions, then who are we? The character assignations taking place on this site have turned into a massacre. Before we speak/write, we should consider the Hippocratic Oath: First, do no harm. They say words can never harm you. The reality is they do. People wage war over words. 

It’s only human to wish we possessed a superpower. I believe we do-it is our words.  Some use their power of words responsibly. Some are irresponsible and mean-spirited. If someone wants to assassinate my character online, then, I should have the right in knowing who my assassin is. Hiding behind anonymity is cowardly.

Freedom of Speech is a privilege. With freedom comes responsibility. Every word we utter is a choice-we just need to own up to them. How will you choose to use your power/privilege of freedom of speech? 

p.s. My husband respectfully requested I remain anonymous on this post.  I respectfully declined.

By Janine Haynes on 01/30/2011 at 5:34 pm

One poster put it well when she said it’s not our “right” to speak on a private website; but it does open the forum for some delightful, if not feisty, discussions. Being in the senior demographic, it can sometimes take me hours to write what takes you young people minutes to type so I truly welcome the irreverent and sometimes spicy comments made.

Truth be told, I don’t believe half the comments on this thread. But so what? We don’t have to read through each post and we certainly don’t have to ascribe to their beliefs. That’s the beauty of the internet, you can just simply turn it off and on at your choosing!

By Genni on 01/30/2011 at 6:00 pm

this debate about anonymity vs visibility begs the question why now?  with all the recent heavily discussed and contentious articles i wonder if this is the first step towards shutting down free speech?  this would be a shame.  many of us can’t/won’t voice our opinions at town hall but we want our views to be known.  i wish we had a chance to debate the shift to once a week garbage pick-up before it was rammed down our throats.  this town is far less tolerant than the citizens love to parrot.

By anonymity is a civil right on 01/31/2011 at 7:54 am

Bravo to Janine – you said it all so well. Thanks!

By Richard Goldsmith on 01/31/2011 at 8:04 am

To Ms. Haynes….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 rude 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 01/31/2011 at 8:33 am

Like Ms. Sheinbaum and Ms. Haynes, I worry about the incivility in the comments posted, and about the incivility and retribution people fear when voicing their opinions. We need to be more respectful in voicing our opinions, and in listening and considering the opinions of others. I don’t think that anonymous comments help us to that goal.

In a time when our children struggle with learning how to behave in texts and on Facebook and YouTube, adults need to set an example of appropriate behavior. It is very sad when the most reasonable and polite voices on these comments pages are students who ask us to be more civil.

So, when posting, perhaps we should ask, “Would I want my child to know I wrote this?”.

By Lea Barth on 01/31/2011 at 9:14 am

Our children should see us in full discussion of matters that are important to the community. The student comments only showed me that—as in the adult population—some students are more sensitive to disagreement and debate than others.  That’s no reason not to have an open discussion that they can see. I agree that we should ask ourselves “Would I want my child to know I wrote this?” but I also want them to hear from someone who might NOT want their child to see that they wrote it and to wonder with my kids “Why?”

By Children watching us on 01/31/2011 at 9:45 am

A very thoughtful editorial.  I’ll just say this.  If teachers in this school system see what I have written about their pay and benefits (which has not been critical of teachers as professionals) I am convinced that my son, who has a reasonable opportunity for a top 10 college, will lose the benefit of the doubt in a few of his classes.  I have also seen how some are lambasted by their fellow citizens for holding contrary views (such as mine on Chappaqua Crossing, which are that we should be more grounded and negotiate vigilantly) and I’m not willing to subject myself to that. 

Sad but true, the above are 2 reasons I use my maiden name.

By clittle on 01/31/2011 at 4:00 pm

If you think that comment lauding the Greeley teachers was from a student and not a teacher, I’ve got a bridge I’d like to sell you.

By Skippy the Skeptic on 02/01/2011 at 10:24 am

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