The Phoenix Editorial Board is once again allowing anonymous commenting on our website. This policy change took effect on Monday and overturned a Fall 2019 policy update that required comments to be submitted under a legitimate-looking email for The Phoenix to approve them.
The intention of the now-overturned comments policy was to hold individuals accountable for their words in order to reduce anonymous hate in the comments section. The policy emerged in response to explosive waves of fraternity-related discourse throughout 2019 as well as the unrelated anonymous banter app Looped, which was briefly popular in Fall 2019 and subsequently taken down.
There are several reasons that The Phoenix’s current Editorial Board has decided to overturn this decision. Firstly, the Board believes that there is value in anonymous speech online, so long as individuals and groups do not weaponize anonymity to incite violence or attack already-vulnerable populations. The internet is perhaps the most powerful bastion of anonymous speech, and anonymity can embolden individuals to express ideas they are fearful to voice under their real name; this isn’t, however, an inherently negative quality of anonymity. The current Editorial Board of The Phoenix (of which only five members were on the Editorial Board in Fall 2019) believes the old comments policy was the result of an emotional response to a stressful wave of discourse, rather than a logical response that fully considered the implications of de-anonymizing online commenting.
Secondly, the old comments policy was questionable from a logistical standpoint. The Phoenix already moderates comments on the website to prevent the proliferation of discriminatory or violent comments. Moreover, there is no way to discern between a real email address and a fake email address; for example, while “anonymous[at]gmail[dot]com” is obviously fake, an email address such as “georgecarpenter15[at]gmail[dot]com” looks real but could be fake, and there is no way to verify its authenticity. Even if commenters did use a real email address, they could still input a fake display name for the comment since email addresses are not publicly available on our website.
In the past two years, there have been many genuine and thoughtful comments on our website that we have had to delete not because they were hateful or violent, but simply because the author did not add a realistic email address. As a newspaper, we aim to abet productive dialogue in our community, not stifle it. We look forward to seeing how this restored comments policy allows our readers to contribute to campus and community discourse, as well as adds new life to our website.
To all of our readers, go ahead. Be free. Comment to your heart’s desire, whether under a real email address or not.