Last week, a loyal if somewhat cantankerous, Half Moon Bay reader brought this discussion to my attention. He suggested that the Review ought take similar steps and call an end to anonymous posts on its website.
You can read it for yourself, but essentially, The Montana Standard news site has been allowing registered users to comment using a screen name. Effective Jan. 1, that policy changes and, apparently due in part to limitations with the site’s TownNews content management system, editors plan to retroactively “out” people who posted anonymously through the years. In other words, the news site flips a switch on BLOX and suddenly all the screen names revert to real, registered user names even though folks had reason to believe they were posting anonymously and would never be revealed. In fact, it’s spelled out in the terms of service.
Editor David McCumber makes a reasonable defense of the change in this column in The Washington Post. He notes that community journalism is different from publishing in the WashPo. People know each other. Those anonymous posts can sting. Which is true.
But I don’t agree that the standards or expectation of privacy should be different, do you? If you post on a site that promises anonymity – whether it’s in Butte, Mont., or the nation’s capital, don’t you have a reasonable expectation that the promise will hold?
I’m pretty agnostic when it comes to the battle over anonymous comments. I can argue both for them and against them. I don’t think there is an objective right answer. But please be careful if you make changes that retroactively affect people who put their trust in you. Once you lose that trust, it’s gone.