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Anonymous online posts strike a nerve with readers

Last week's column that ruminated on the pros and cons of allowing anonymous comments on our website seems to have struck a nerve.

More than 35 of you wrote to me personally, and 64 comments, most of them anonymous, were posted online.

Those of you who wrote to me directly almost universally favored some degree of restricting anonymity. Not surprisingly, the feeling was a little more varied in the comments posted online.

All of you discussed the issue thoughtfully, and in a civil manner. Many of you raised excellent points that I had not yet considered. We are circulating a summary of your responses among our editors to continue this dialogue.

The prevailing argument for anonymous comments touched on freedom of speech. If I may summarize, anonymous comments allow people to say what they truly think and believe without a filter, the fear of losing a job or some other personal reprisal, including physical violence. Anonymous comments may come with ugly warts, but it most accurately represents a cross section of our community.

The other side argued that anonymity permits offensive, personal attacks that diminish the value of discussions about important community issues.

Many of you who favored anonymous posting said you wouldn’t visit The Olympian website if we changed the rules, while those who favored public identification said they currently stay away to avoid exposing themselves to crude and vile rants.

It sounds like a no-win situation for the newspaper. Yet, I’m hopeful we’ll find a satisfying middle ground.

Everyone can read what others posted online, so here’s a sampling of comments from those of you who wrote personal notes. My thanks to all who joined the conversation.

Charles from Olympia wrote, “Your column on whether or not to publish anonymous posting resonated with me as I have been concerned about this since the inception of online publications. When one can respond immediately to a story hidden by a veil of secrecy, the writer need not worry about civil discourse. Many of the online comments are vile, hateful and demonstrate a lack of overall thoughtfulness.”

Ed from Olympia wrote, “Thank you George. I’ve stopped reading any blog input. Anything that would lead to more intelligent discourse would be welcome.”

Sandra from Lacey wrote, “I am disturbed by the number of comments that are the same people attacking other people and their opinions. I especially deplore the comments that are rants and diatribes that are totally off the subject. The same people comment every day at each other dozens of times. They must not have anything else to do.”

Wendy from Olympia wrote, “I am so encouraged that someone is actually asking this question. I have made the comment numerous times to friends and family that I am nothing but embarrassed by the online comments that are, more often than not, not only juvenile but, in some cases, brutally insensitive (especially in the case of fatalities). One would think our community consists of nothing more than illiterate cutthroats. These comments do nothing but cast a poor light on our community.”

Ashley from Olympia wrote, “Beyond frustration with comments that are irrelevant, partisan, or ignorant, I have been utterly dismayed and revolted at the nasty, violent, bullying posts. These posts have shaken my good faith perception of our community, my sense of safety here, and even my willingness to view your content online and possibly consume more of this toxic wretchedness.”

Jim from Gig Harbor wrote, “I have at times been guilty of “spit-flecked rants” but only after reading one and having a need to comment on it. That doesn’t make my rants right, and I am starting to rethink how I post and how I respond to posts. Thanks for a brush-up lesson on civility.”

George Le Masurier, publisher of The Olympian, can be reached at 360-357-0206 or glemasurier@theolympian.com.

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