Don't panic, it's just your name

There was a run on computer repairs last week for keyboards and monitors that short-circuited after readers of www.theday.com spit out their coffee upon learning that their real names would soon be used when they made online comments.

OK, that’s fake news. The part about a run on repairs, I mean. The part about having to use your real name? That’s true.

Oh, oh, there goes the coffee again.

Who knew something as straight forward as requiring folks to use their real names could cause such lamentations, rending of garments and digital dyspepsia.

The column a week ago by President and Publisher Pat Richardson received more than 1,000 Facebook shares and 478 online comments. I write a column weekly and seldom have I had that many Facebook shares and never that many comments.

I was a bit jealous, I must confess.

“Will NOT be risking my job over my opinions,” wrote online commenter “Brocker."

The boss is going to fire you, Brocker, for your policy and political positions? That would be unconstitutional.

“Let's not forget, we are living during a time when people do not have a firm grasp on reality. People are CRAZY ... are you sure you want to do this?” wrote Are You Serious?????

Yes, we’re serious. But are you serious, Are You Serious?????? Do you really fear people will be tracking down online readers because of the opinions expressed? We have been running letters to the editor, with names and towns listed, for about 130 years and that has happened never.

“Where are my fellow conservatives going to frequent now? Some of the major sites get thousands of posts, you end up lost in the herd. Any other local options?” wrote Leo.

You can comment on www.theday.com as always, Leo, just with your full name used.

Well, maybe not “as always,” which is the point. The intent of ending the anonymous comments is to raise the level of the debate and discussion. Human nature being what it is, when a person’s identity is hidden it is easier to get nasty, demeaning, insulting — you get the point. Many readers over the years have told me they won’t comment on articles because the attacks can be so vicious.

The expectation is that comments that include identities are more likely to present opinions in a civil manner, to stick to the point, seeking to prevail in the argument by way of persuasion rather than via bullying.

And why shouldn’t people own their words?

As Richardson noted, once this change begins Sept. 12, letters to the editor will be open to online comments. I took a hard stand against this up to now, feeling it unfair to allow someone willing to be identified to be attacked by anonymous critics. I know many letter writers are eager to see what people have to say online about their opinions.

Some have argued that to be consistent, The Day should identify the writer of its editorials. It has been a long tradition in newspapers to present editorials as the institutional opinion of the newspaper, as determined by its editorial board, and so not attributable to a specific author. The Wall Street Journal editorials are not signed and neither are those of the New York Times, for example.

I write many of the editorials, but not all, sometimes farming out the task to experienced freelance writers guided by the board’s direction. Ultimately, Richardson, who is my boss, and yours truly are responsible for the opinions taken in the editorials.

I urge our frequent commenters to stick with us through the transition and for newcomers to join the discussion. We can all benefit by seeing our opinions challenged.

Paul Choiniere is the editorial page editor.

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