Daily Princetonian Debates, Decides to Keep Anonymous Online Comments

The Daily Princetonian is keeping its online commenting system anonymous. After a laudably transparent evaluation process tied to the construction of a new website, top staff at the Princeton University student newspaper agreed with a reader that “[a] few nasty comments here and there is an infinitesimally small price to pay for truly free, unabridged speech.”

The two main arguments in favor of anonymity, from the Prince perspective: 1) Anonymity breeds greater reader engagement.  As editors note, the paper’s “comment boards have earned the reputation as the most active compared with those of the other Ivy League newspapers.”  And 2) It enables readers to feel comfortable discussing more intimate or controversial topics or expressing more unpopular views– without being held back by fear of damage to their short-term or long-term Google prints/reputations.

In a column late last week headlined “We’re Keeping Anonymity,” Prince editor-in-chief Henry Rome wrote, “While we acknowledge that some users hide behind anonymity to make mean-spirited or offensive comments, the benefits of anonymity far outweigh the perceived cost. On a small college campus, requiring names or log-ins that can be traced back to University accounts will stymie public dialogue. As the comments on coverage of the University’s Greek ban or of the suicide of lecturer Antonio Calvo demonstrated, members of our community who are nervous about speaking out use the ‘Prince’ comments as a way to make their voices heard. More recently, the comments on the Love and Lust in the Bubble series show the value of an honest dialogue about sensitive issues of sex and relationships that would not happen without anonymity.”

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The Prince’s anonymous pledge is against the wishes of Princeton University president Shirley Tilghman.  As she argued in a letter to the editor late last month, “Anonymity invites candor, to be sure, but it also invites thoughtlessness, not to mention malice and spite.  In an academic community like ours, anonymous comments strike me as entirely out of place.  They are antithetical to our Honor Code, whose guiding principle is that ideas are the coin of the realm.  The Honor Code demands that students ‘own their words’ in their academic work.”

There were 54 comments posted in response to her letter, expressing an array of perspectives.  One retort to Tilghman’s refrain: “Some people use anonymity as an opportunity to be cruel and spiteful.  Others use it as a way to share the truth that should rightly be shared, but which people in power want suppressed.  If the Prince prohibits anonymous posting, then the former will find other forums for their malice, while the latter will more likely be silenced.  But more importantly, as a reader I would rather have the opportunity to see all opinions expressed than miss out on learning about opinions that are unpopular or unfavorable to those in power.  I can always ignore the trolls when they post.  But I can’t read the legitimate critics if they’ve been silenced.”

Related

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Princeton Student’s Column Criticizing Annual Giving Prompts Online Comments War

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