Sunday, April 25, 2010

Pseudebate: Should names go with online comments?

Readers will recognize that this is one of my cherished hobbyhorses, and it's odd to find myself on the same side as Ben. I imagine that having spent a lot of time editing his commenters, he's simply realized that most anonymous comments aren't worth the time.

Once again the Courier has set up a false dichotomy for "debate." As several commenters are pointing out, there are plenty of ways to provide identity without risking retribution. So there's a lot of grey between guaranteed real names and no names at all.

Richard argues the benefits of anonymity, but apparently doesn't notice that comments on dCourier are anonymous only to readers -- the editors have email addresses and traceback capability. He writes, "It would be foolish to listen to feedback only if you know a customer's name and personal information," but of course he does know. There is no advantage to anonymity when you're not really anonymous.

The advantage of anonymous posting is to the Courier, in that heated exchanges keep the hits coming, raising the ad numbers. Richard is also the IT guy, it should be noted, and more comments looks good for his department. Quality doesn't matter.

What no one's saying is that if you're truly afraid that some nut or your boss is going to give you some sort of hell for speaking up in a certain way on a public issue, maybe you should just keep quiet and deal with your life in chains. You have other issues to resolve before you pipe up. If you take a good hard look you'll probably find that your fears are silly. Free your mind first, then your speech.

Ben writes, "We require everyone to sign letters and give a phone number so we can verify that they wrote the letter," assuring us that we can trust what's printed. He'll have to explain separately the several people I've known who wrote regularly under different pseudonyms so they could get published more often. It's a mug's game for everyone.

Commenting makes the paper accountable to its readers, directly and immediately. Commenters are also made accountable for what they say. But if you're wearing a mask, there's no reason to care what anyone thinks. That's why the comment sections turn into food fights. That's bad enough, but the factor people rarely note is the people who had something important to contribute but didn't post because they felt intimidated by the jerks or that the conversation was a waste of time. You can't count those people, and you'll never hear what they have to say until you make them feel safe enough to say it.

Editorial: Ag exemption abusers rip us off


The only mystery here is why it's taken the unnamed Courier editor literally decades to figure this out.

Column: Public misunderstands bicyclists

Lisa Barnes is correct in pointing out that car and truck drivers are often actively hostile to bicyclists. This is obvious to anyone who's ever pushed a pedal in Prescott. The bigger problem, though, is the distraction and unawareness that many drivers live in as their default state while driving, which causes as many problems for pedestrians and other drivers.

Did you ever think about why we have curbs and sidewalks? They're to help keep cars in the roadway and away from pedestrians -- not because drivers hate walkers, but because so many people are incompetent to drive. We take these things for granted as civilized infrastructure. Why must it be so different for bikes?

Obviously a lot of people are incompetent to drive bikes as well, but that's only an argument in favor of separating them from car and truck traffic. As I've said before here, bike lanes aren't for bikes, they're for cars, keeping bikes from impeding traffic lanes. If drivers ever start to catch on to that idea, you'll see bikes lanes striping in lickety-split.

It would have been nice if Ms Barnes had gone beyond telling stories that everyone knows to advocate solutions for everyone, biker and driver alike.

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I thought proofreading on the paper had improved, but the egregious top line on this story shows the editors are still prone to distraction.

Editorial: Gun owners should get CCW training

It's revealing that the unnamed Courier editor thinks it necessary to say that gun owners should get training even though the new law doesn't require it. Isn't it dead obvious that society has little to fear from people who are competent and responsible enough to take this advice? The problem for us all is the many who are irresponsible and/or incompetent.

From the mouths and keyboards of that same group, the comments further illustrate why responsible people want and support restrictions on firearms. It's hair-raising what some people think.

Just as we institute speed limits because of the few who aren't responsible enough to keep fellow drivers safe, we maintain restrictions on firearms because of those who would abuse their rights stupidly, incompetently or irresponsibly. No one seriously argues that speed limits are an unconstitutional infringement of our right to free movement and assembly.

If the editor cared more about public safety than the imagined freedom of an armed populace and his personal right to make loud noises and break things whenever he likes, he'd have opposed the new law. Imagining that this "freedom" will not encourage irresponsible people to act irresponsibly is as woolly-headed as it gets.