EDITORIAL – Comments policy: No ‘no names,’ no pen names

In recent days, the Compass received a letter to the editor (via email) that contained what appear to be some valid observations about the recent pay raise for teachers.

The letter writer observed that the salary increases did not extend to principals, deputy principals, support staff or others throughout the educational system.

Nevertheless, our readers will never get to read that letter because it was sent to us anonymously, and this newspaper does not publish anonymous or unsigned letters, nor any correspondence signed with a “pen name.”

A growing, and we believe consequential, debate is taking place in the media world about the perils of publishing “anonymous submissions.” The debate has been spurred on by the New York Times which recently published on its “op-ed page” (the page opposite the editorial page) an unsigned column by, supposedly, a “senior official” in the White House. The column was highly critical of the president and his policies.

President Donald Trump has asked the U.S. Justice Department to investigate the matter, citing national security concerns. Even the First Lady, Melania Trump, has entered the fray, posting on Twitter thoughts that echo ours:

“Freedom of speech is an important pillar of our nation’s founding principles and a free press is important to our democracy. The press should be fair, unbiased and responsible.

“Unidentified sources have become the majority of the voices people hear about in today’s news. People with no names are writing our nation’s history. Words are important and accusations can lead to severe consequences. If a person is bold enough to accuse people of negative actions, they have a responsibility to publicly stand by their words and people have the right to be able to defend themselves.

“To the writer of the op-ed – you are not protecting this country, you are sabotaging it with your cowardly actions.”

One of the first actions the current publisher of the Compass took upon acquiring the newspaper in 2013 was to end the practice of publishing anonymous correspondence. We knew that our must-sign policy would reduce the volume of letters we receive for publication, both in our print edition and on our website (caymancompass.com).

However, we believed then, and we believe now, that signing one’s name to one’s words engenders responsible, and oftentimes courageous, comment, and the opposite – not signing – offers the opportunity for irresponsibility, inaccuracy and even, as Mrs. Trump states, cowardice.

Readers may be interested in knowing that some media outlets are now eliminating ALL comments from readers because the administrative process has become so burdensome.

In announcing the elimination of the comments section on its website, National Public Radio (NPR) stated: “Like countless other news outlets, NPR found itself overwhelmed by trolls, anonymous contributors who had too often hijacked comment threads with offensive and inappropriate submissions. Simply put, trolls are the loudest voices in the room, the ones who write ‘crazy nasty things just to get people all riled up.’” Even Reuters, the huge and highly regarded news service, has eliminated reader comments.

The Compass will not go that far, but we always verify the identity of our correspondents. We recently discovered that a frequent poster to our online site was, in fact, writing under a pseudonym. He had somehow long ago slipped through our filter, perhaps not being aware of our policy. (Subsequently we have reviewed all of his postings and can report that a number of them are thoughtful and substantive, and none strikes us as libelous, defamatory or even the slightest bit offensive. Of course, we screen every posting before we publish it.)

Nevertheless, the Compass is now going through an exhaustive process of “re-verifying” the identities of all of our contributors. Please bear with us if you are contacted during this process and, please, always know that we welcome, encourage and value your thoughts and opinions.

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  1. Well I for one, would sure like to know who has written some of your editorials.

    Editor’s note: The Compass, as newspapers have for at least 100 years, publishes unsigned editorials representing the newspaper’s institutional opinion. These editorials are drafted by the Compass editorial board and are ultimately the responsibility of David R. Legge, Compass publisher and editor in chief.

  2. All I can say is: “well done, Cayman Compass!” It’s time to do away with internet assassins and cyberbullies who hide behind the name “anonymous”, spewing the most vicious, hateful comments that do not address the problem or situation, do not help provide meaningful guidance our effective solutions but only damage and destroy people’s emotions and shred their character … heaven forbid that it is suspected to be an expatriate who had tried to even offer one good word of advice — only then the guns come out, and just simply because who is suspected of saying it.

    Freedom of speech is ensured by speaking openly, free from the fear of political and societal oppression or persecution.

    I am hopeful that other media sites will follow suit.

  3. I think you are conflating ‘fake news’ with ‘anonymity’. The White House example raises the issues very clearly – the individual would have been victimised mercilessly had they been named.

    What is the difference between publishing a comment anonymously where the individual is verified (and thus contactable, subject to libel laws etc) versus a journalist publishing them and ‘protecting’ their source? Is the narrative more valid/true under the journalists name?

    Surely the right approach is to allow anonymous comments but ONLY from registered, verified individuals, who you agree to protect unless they are subject to a libel case and cannot provide proof their assertions are true. That would balance sharing of info with protection of both commentators and those commented on.

  4. There’s a difference between anonymous reader comments, and an article or letter where the paper/publisher knows and has verified who the author is, but has agreed to publish anonymously because of a justifiable fear of reprisal