To our readers: A victory for anonymity

The response has been overwhelming and undeniable: will continue to allow posts under pseudonyms while always encouraging people to use their real names when they can.

It’s exciting to see how many people care enough about this site and how it operates to respond to the question about anonymity and civility. If you haven’t read the comments, including a brilliant bit of satire by “John Proctor,” please take a few minutes to do so. And feel free to keep adding comments there or here. We’ll be reading them all.

Some people raised questions or issues in their comments, so let’s address those.

First, there’s the matter of the difference between this site and a newspaper. When we began this site, we envisioned it as sort of an online-only newspaper. But the reality is that it is both more and less. We can’t provide the same comprehensive coverage of the area that The Daily Dispatch delivers, so we have to offer things that are beyond the means of the newspaper. For events, that means more photographs, and it means sound clips. For other stories, it means posting documents so you can see what we see and not have to rely on excerpts. But most of all, it means instantaneous feedback, with no restrictions on length or frequency. You can post comments as often as you like on as many stories as you like.

We despise anonymous sources in news stories, and we don’t trust them. We particularly dislike stories that allow unnamed people to criticize others. But comments posted on a Web site do not constitute news stories, and the standards should be different. It’s not practical to probe the need for anonymity in each individual case; that would spoil the speed and spontaneity that make the comments such a valuable part of this site. So we give people the benefit of the doubt and trust them to decide whether they can safely post as themselves.

Posting under your own name does give your comments more weight, so do it if you can. But it’s better to post comments anonymously than to remain silent.

Besides, we hold the power of the delete button, and we’re not afraid to use it. So let’s keep the discussion as civil as possible — and remember, if you’re going to be critical, a little humor never hurts.

A related issue is whether we know that people posting under real names are really those people. We don’t want to give anyone malicious ideas, but it’s easy enough to use someone else’s name and e-mail address when posting a comment. It’s not easy to get away with it, however. First, we have a list of every IP address that has been used to visit the site. Those IP addresses don’t come with names, but we can quickly check whether a particular IP address has been used to post comments under other names, and we can check whether the particular name has used the same IP address. If there’s any cause for doubt, either based on the content of a post or on the IP address, we can call or e-mail the person in question for confirmation of the comment.

But the bigger, nontechnical truth is that a lot of people read this site, and if someone falsely posts, we’ll quickly hear about it. Mayor Clem Seifert, for example, would have called or e-mailed us immediately if the response to Citizen X that sparked this discussion had not actually been from him.

By the way, having received plenty of criticism for that post, the mayor deserves at least an acknowledgment that he did the right thing with a comment he posted around midnight Saturday. He apologized for offending anyone, and he offered a thorough explanation of why he was angry.

We want this site to foster open communication throughout this community, so we are extending an official invitation to Seifert and to all the City Council members, as well as the county commissioners and any other local officials, to write regular columns for posting on this site. You may write on whatever schedule you are comfortable with — weekly, monthly, quarterly, etc. You can use the space to explain what you’re doing, advise people of upcoming events, give praise to people or do anything else. These columns would be in addition to any comments you posted and would not prevent you from submitting a letter to the editor. They simply would provide you a chance to talk directly to the citizenry.

That’s not a radical idea. Greensboro, for one, has such a thriving online community that many public officials maintain their own blogs. It’s all about communication.

So let’s keep the comments coming, anonymous or not, and we’ll see if we can’t make this town an even better place to live.