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Newspaper Outs Anonymous Poster

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(slfisher)
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Here's a switch. Instead of newspapers trying to protect the identities of the people posting to their websites, the newspaper is the one outing them.

As described by editor Kurt Greenbaum of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, someone posted a vulgar word in the paper's online commenting system, and re-posted it after a newspaper staffer deleted it.

"I deleted it, but noticed in the WordPress e-mail alert that his comment had come from an IP address at a local school," Greenbaum reported. "So I called the school. They were happy to have me forward the e-mail, though I wasn’t sure what they’d be able to do with the meager information it included."

The school managed to track down the offending (literally) poster, who turned out to be a school employee, and when confronted, the person resigned.

Since then, however, the incident has resulted in a great deal of discussion about whether Greenbaum acted responsibly, especially for a newspaper.

"t's still troubling that a journalist with 27 years of experience didn't question whether it was wise to out one of the paper's readers -- a decision that certainly seems to violate the paper's own policies," noted The Daily Online Examiner. "The site's privacy policy states: "We will not share individual user information with third parties unless the user has specifically approved the release of that information. In some cases, however, we may provide information to legal officials.""

The blog went on to say that Greenbaum denied having revealed individual user information, and made fun of him for apparently not realizing what an IP address was.

"Am I the only one who thinks that doing this goes way beyond the normal course of editorial behaviour?" wrote media blogger Matthew Ingram. "[T]here is no way that I would contact someone’s workplace about a comment unless they had done something extremely egregious — such as making death threats, or repeatedly making abusive comments."

The Greenbaum case stands in stark contrast to other examples. Earlier this year, another news site fought a court order demanding that it reveal the identity of anonymous people posting to its website. Instead, the Maryland Court of Appeals reversed the lower-court ruling, and issued guidelines for how such requests should be made in the future. Another news aggregator site is fighting a similar attempt in Texas.

Several people have suggested that, in the future, Greenbaum's paper should moderate comments instead.

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MktgRob
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Well, is some of the more interesting web-related legislation that the Obama administration is pushing, like net-neutrality laws, having your identity revealed will be the least of your problems. I do think the newspaper employee in question was acting innocently but this I also agree with the final line of your post.

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InsightsDigital
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This is another example of one of the social media tenets of "transparency".

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prep
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The newspaper may have been acting innocently. If you are a blogger, what are you supposed to do ? Should you examine the content and make a decision ? What if you are unable to decide in a factual matter because you may not have access to full facts ?

This is where it gets complicated. There is the interesting question of a blogger trying to resist a search for anonymous commentator. Ethical and moral questions involved, along with the legal questions (http://speakoutened.wordpress.com/2009/10/31/blogger-resisting-anton-piller- search/)

In a world where your identity is recorded somewhere or other all your waking hours, I think the ethical and moral challenges will become larger than the legal ones. Thank you for posting this.

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