Before you read Richard Perez-Pena's New York Times article on newspaper websites cracking down on anonymous comments, you should read something else first:
The cause of America is, in a great measure, the cause of all mankind. Many circumstances have, and will arise, which are not local, but universal, and through which the principles of all lovers of mankind are affected, and in the event of which, their affections are interested. The laying a country desolate with fire and sword, declaring war against the natural rights of all mankind, and extirpating the defenders thereof from the face of the earth, is the concern of every man to whom nature hath given the power of feeling; of which class, regardless of party censure, is
It's from the introduction to "Common Sense" by Thomas Paine, the anonymous political tract that did so much to inflame rebellion against the British Crown when published in February, 1776.
Now that we've put what newspaper editors are complaining about in proper context, let's check out Perez-Pena's article.
“Anonymity is just the way things are done. It’s an accepted part of the Internet, but there’s no question that people hide behind anonymity to make vile or controversial comments,” said Arianna Huffington, a founder of The Huffington Post. “I feel that this is almost like an education process. As the rules of the road are changing and the Internet is growing up, the trend is away from anonymity.”
The gist of the article is that the dreck is forcing out the valuable in online debates, which editors resent because thoughtful comment sections create page views, which create ad revenue.
Perez-Pena notes that eliminating anonymity won't solve that problem, and that there are several other options for getting to the same result. I'm a fan of the WSJ's option of only looking at comments from subscribers, which I was unaware of until I read the article.
A popular feature on The Wall Street Journal’s site lets readers decide whether they want to see only those comments posted by subscribers, on the theory that the most dedicated readers might make for a more serious conversation.
Few news organizations, including The Times, have someone review every comment before it goes online, to weed out personal attacks and bigoted comments. Some sites and prominent bloggers, like Andrew Sullivan, simply do not allow comments.
It's best that each site have the option to control how it interacts with its audience but it is important to keep this issue in context of broader trend against anonymous comment in general. That's a vital, founding right of our democracy, no matter how irritating on a case-by-case basis.
Even in PR we can succumb to the thought that some people should just shut up and go away when we're being pressed by people we can't even respond to face-to-face but that's the world we live in now.
It's much better to come up with strategies to deal with anonymous critics than to try to restrict conversation in the first place.