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As we are just inventing The Sacramento Press as we go along, we have many, many discussions about which way to go on any given subject. The web is above all, about options, and we're constantly assessing ours.
One such subject that has occasioned discussion here is whether to allow commentators to use aliases instead of their real names. Community contributors, who write articles for the site, must use their real names, which goes to the credibility and transparency of The Sacramento Press.
But commentators, who respond to what has been written, need not use their real names. Thus we get "Doug" commenting, or "HillWalker." These names are not identifiable to anyone the Doug or HillWalker haven't clued in. While this is entirely permissible, I find it inadequate for several reasons.
First off, I always wonder why people post under aliases. Are they hiding their real identities so that they don't have any responsibility for what they say? Freedom without responsibility sounds like a good thing, but it's not realistic, or socially desirable, in real life. And we at Sacpress aim to record real life in our city. I hope The Sacramento Press feels, above all, like real life in our community.
Even assuming that people are hiding their real identities because they would otherwise not be free to state "the truth" - they are, say, whistleblowers, afraid of retribution if they reveal something the powerful don't want revealed - I haven't seen much whistle-blowing here.
I also think that aliases take us out of reality - if I'm arguing online with, say, Geoff Samek, I know who I'm arguing with. If I'm disagreeing with "midtownmom" I have only the slightest inkling of who this person might be - or rather, "type" of person "she" might be. Yes, I don't really even know if she's a man or woman. And she knows I don't know.
Our names mean something. Our name is our bond in society, and keeping "one's good name" strikes me as a very baseline motivation for anyone, on- or off-line. We don't check, via drivers license or other means, the identity of our community contributors when they sign up. People on The Sacramento Press are who they say they are. But the more honest we all are with the rest of the community, the more the bonds of community will grow.
Kids fantasize about doing things without anyone knowing about it; some adults do, too. It is perhaps human nature to want to do whatever we like without any consequences. It remains a juvenile, if understandably appealing, impulse.
It is also potentially dangerous. Imagine trying to keep order in a school yard where anyone could do anything to anyone else without any repercussions. Chaos. Anarchy.
Some say that this anarchy is the nature of the Wild Wild Web. It surely can be, and I have certainly availed myself of some of the advantages the anonymity of the web can offer. Indeed, for some of us, the anonymity of the web has been liberating. Closeted gay teens and questioning "straight" marrieds have been able to assert their true identity and reach out to others from behind the cyber veil of internet anonymity. The New Yorker cartoon got it right at the turn of the last century, with a dog seated at a computer and the caption, "On the internet, no one knows you're a dog."
But The Sacramento Press has as one of its goals the creation, or further co-creation, on- and off-line, of community. People in communities know each other. We want people to come here and speak their minds, but we want them - you - to be yourself. Be a member of your community, let your words, not your anonymity, be your strength. Let the power of your argument, not the vehemence of your disdain, be your rhetorical sabre.
Watching The Sacramento Bee's website has been enlightening, though in often disturbing ways. Sacbee.com allows anonymous posting, and it has been rewarded with comment threads that are so juvenile, so full of bile, provocation and plain rudeness, that they prove the school yard metaphor to be true. You do not go to The Bee's comments threads for intelligent discussion. Do you?
The comments on The Sacramento Press are on a different level so far, and I hope they stay there. I attribute that to the fact that most of our commentators post under their full names. They are taking responsibility for what they say, and I think that's good.
Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor made a memorable appearance on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart earlier this week. She noted that the nine justices, despite holding very different views on a variety of subjects, may have gotten into heated arguments, but they never got personal. She noted that the Supremes are appointed for life, and life can be a very long time indeed. They knew that they were going to see each other year in and year out, possibly for decades, and that bad feelings occasioned because of a disagreement over a particular subject taking a personal turn could make that long term relationship difficult.
We are building long term relationships at The Sacramento Press. We are here to stay, both online and in this town, and we do not want disagreements over small, near-term issues to tear holes in the fabric of community. We can disagree with each other, online - that is, in public - and still keep it civil. And one way to keep it civil is to own our opinions and our language, and stand behind what we have to say with the full faith and credit of our good names.
We are not trying to control this. You may post comments under a "handle" or alias if you want to - our official position is that we do not want to limit the free expression of opinions - but I'd like to make a personal pitch for using your full name when you comment. If it's worth saying, and you really believe in what you're saying, I think it's worth saying it as yourself.
If you are posting under a "handle" and would like to change to your real name, it's easy to do. At the top of the Front Page, click the "profile" box, then go to "edit profile." Enter your first and last names as you'd like them to read, then click "Submit" at the bottom of the page. Now you are you, and we can put a name - a real name - with the opinion.