[The following was originally posted on the internet May 13, 2002 on the now defunct "Pulse" web forum:]
Utica (Utika?) took a giant step backward this week with its major newspaper, the Observer-Dispatch, eliminating anonymous postings on its internet forum. While the O-D is certainly within its rights to do this, it has a chilling effect on free-speech.
There are various reasons why posters choose not to reveal their identity. While some may have evil intentions, the majority do not. Some may be public employees who would like to "blow the whistle" on wrong doing without jeopardizing their job. Others may want to debate issues with their friends without destroying good friendships. Still others may want their ideas judged by their content rather than by the reputation of the poster. It has been said that anonymity may be the greatest form of altruism.
Although there are anonymous posters who abuse the priviledge, most do not. And of the few who have made inappropriate postings .. many get retracted when others point out the error of their ways.
Given that the Syracuse newspapers and the New York Times -- with much larger readerships than the O-D -- allow anonymous postings on their websites, there clearly is no good journalistic reason for the O-D to forbid them.
The O-D has long been perceived as the organ of the Utica area "elite" -- the "movers and shakers" who act behind the scenes to ensure that their "vision" is implemented (assuring themselves of power and their cronies of high standards of living). Of course, we have seen where the "vision" has gotten us.
The entity who should be screaming the loudest for open government -- who should be going to court when government boards go into illegal executive sessions or fail to disclose information under FOIL -- is strangely silent ... except, of course, when it is necessary to serve its "vision." The entity knows that knowledge is power, and that the easiest way to control people is to control what they know. The entity now moves to ensure further control over the populace by eliminating anonymous postings.
It is only through (1) comprehensive knowledge by the people, (2) the free flow of ideas, and (3) political leadership with consensus building skills that this area will progress. The newspaper should provide #1 -- anonymous forums will encourage #2 -- and maybe, if more people become involved through ##s 1 & 2, the leaders for #3 will emerge.
The O-D's action demonstrates what's been suspected all along ... they are more interested in playing politics than reporting it.