26 November 2013

No Room For Anonymous

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that laws were needed to combat the "growing problem" of cyber bullying and other forms of Internet harassment, and trolls which set out to disrupt proper, constructive discussions by hurling abuse and stirring hate.

He said that "we" must fight back against trolling and provide a safe, responsible online environment which promotes constructive participation.

Over time, a framework must be developed to take full advantage of the new media. This will widen the space for constructive discourse and participation among Singaporeans, allow different perspectives to surface — not just those of a vocal minority — and protect responsible users from those who abuse cyberspace, especially anonymously.

Accordingly — although it is not entirely clear how Mr Lee's reasoning set out in the preceding paragraphs leads to this conclusion — the Government's feedback channel REACH will soon require users to log in.

Emulating TODAY, The New York Times
Mr Lee cited the example of TODAY, YouTube and The New York Times, which require their readers to log in with their Facebook accounts before posting comments.
He claimed that it had worked well and raised the quality of discussion.
That's his view.
Take for example the reports on the interim nuclear deal with Iran.

The New York Times's "Longer-Term Deal With Iran Faces Major Challenges" garnered 229 comments by 11 am ET 25 November.

The Washington Post's "After Iran Nuclear Deal, Tough Challenges Ahead" garnered 1,822 comments. Comments on the Washington Post require only an e-mail address for registration.

It is arguable whether the comments in one are superior in content in the other.

Although The Straits Times requires commenters to register with their e-mail addresses, writers to its forum page must provide their full names, addresses and contact telephone numbers. The names of its forum page contributors are displayed in full (English and Chinese names), but this does not apply to its reporters nor political office holders (e.g., Grace Fu not Grace Fu Hai Yien and even Barack Obama not Barack Hussein Obama). President Tony Tan Keng Yam is one of the few people who gets (or wants) his name reported in full.

It is noted that few prominent people write to the press. Could it be that they don't want to be identified or are too busy?

That said, the mainstream media can do what they want in pursuit of journalistic ideals and/or profit. It's their prerogative.

REACH is different. REACH is the Government's feedback channel.

To govern effectively, the Government needs feedback.

It should not matter that comments are anonymous. If any comments are vitriolic, REACH can easily remove them.

Perhaps the Government is only interested in receiving praises and compliments, or trying to reduce negative comments. But that is missing the point.

Whatever the reason, it is a serious mistake.

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