A weekly editor has hit out at the practice of allowing anonymous comments and letters from “faceless people” to be published by newspapers and their websites.
Roger Hawes, who leads the Bucks Herald, has written a comment piece questioning why the press and other media organisations let nameless people “give the world a piece of their mind from the safety of their virtual world”.
He asks whether it is time for editors to turn away anonymous “armchair critics” and demand names and addresses from contributors, unless there are exceptional circumstances.
In common with most newspaper websites, the Johnston Press-owned Herald itself continues to allow anonymous comments but in his piece Roger argued for a return to the days when people’s views were only respected if they were prepared be named.
He wrote: “In this world of online banter it seems OK to hide behind a handle, lashing out, antagonising, being critical and sometimes downright rude, from behind the ‘safety’ of a keyboard.
“This culture has to some extent become part of social media too although if you engage on the likes of Facebook, you at least know who the abuse/comments are coming from.
“Now, the letters pages in this and many other newspapers are becoming littered with writers unwilling to publish their full addresses and often names.
“Some would say that surely the decision to publish lies with the editor. Well that is true but the tide of anonymity is now so ingrained in the digital and print media that it has become common practise to adhere to the requests of your readers.”
He said that increasingly members of the public who appeared in stories also did not want to be named because of a fear of retribution.
Roger added: “However, offer the chance to have your say using some silly made up name, online in particular, and suddenly you can tap in to a culture of emboldened critics, very happy to lash out and give an opinion whatever the subject.
“So is it time for editors to stand up and be counted, to turn away these faceless people and to shut down the channels to these hoards of armchair critics happy to give the world a piece of their mind from the safety of their virtual world?
“Given that the unnamed contributor has to be monitored (online) 24/7, and the legal dangers they pose, I think perhaps it is time to turn back the clock and unless there are exceptional circumstances, no name and address, mean no God-given right to an audience.”