Anonymous no more

Why we're no longer allowing letters to be posted anonymously.

Published February 27, 2008 8:47PM (EST)

A few months ago I wrote about problems we were having in our letters threads, and I told readers we were thinking about removing the option to post anonymously. Your feedback made me see our biggest problem: We weren't enforcing our own rules against ad hominem attacks and abusive language, whether by anonymous posters, those with screen names or people signing their real names. (You can read our letters policy here.) So we started enforcing those rules better: removing the most abusive letters, warning repeat offenders that they're breaking our rules, and then revoking their letters privileges if they keep it up. It helped.

But lately there's been another surge in abusive letters, many of them in threads discussing the Democratic presidential primary. We have started moderating letters and comments even more aggressively, but we have also decided to end the option of posting letters signed only "Anonymous." To be clear, this will only apply to future letters; all letters previously posted anonymously will stay that way. And we are not requiring letter writers to use their real names; a fixed screen name, whether it's your real name or a pseudonym, is still fine.

I know this won't solve all the problems. Devoted readers know that the most inflammatory letters often come from posters with fixed screen names. But we also found that people we warn about violating our terms often start posting anonymously, making it a little bit more difficult to enforce our promise to revoke their letters privileges. And, overall, it's impossible not to notice that the option has simply helped some readers who have wanted to take anonymous cheap shots at others.

The last time we debated this change, some of you made thoughtful arguments for preserving anonymity. A few people argued that we'd discourage whistleblowers and other tipsters from sharing information. Honestly, I'm not sure we've ever acquired information like that via letters; anyone wanting to contact us anonymously can do that through "readermail 'at'," and you can find every staff member's personal email address in our staff directory. Several people told us that they normally post with a screen name, but wanted the option of anonymity to post in threads about personal issues, like Cary Tennis's "Since You Asked" column and other Life stories. I'm sorry to remove that option for those who use it. But on balance I think this is the right decision for Salon. We want to encourage conversation, debate and dialogue, and we feel that's best encouraged by a system that requires a fixed if pseudonymous screen name.

We've also heard your advice about reader moderation tools that would let you rate posters and ignore those you are sick of, and we'll be rolling out some improvements to letters in the months to come, as well as new tools to encourage reader participation. I'll have more to say about all of it in a few weeks. If this change to our anonymous policy makes it harder for you to comment in good faith, or causes you problems we haven't anticipated, please contact "lettersproblems 'at'" Meanwhile, if you have more suggestions about improving the tone of letters and comments, leave them in my comments thread or send your ideas to "readermail 'at'"

By Joan Walsh

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