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The Media

Montana Newspaper Plans To Out Anonymous Commenters Retroactively (washingtonpost.com) 246

HughPickens.com writes: Eugene Volokh reports at the Washington Post that in a stunning policy shift, The Montana Standard, a daily newspaper in Butte, Montana, has decided to replace commenters' pseudonyms with their real names. "The kicker here is that the change is retroactive," writes Paul Alan Levy. "Apparently unwilling to part with the wealth of comments that are already posted on its web site under the old policy, but also, apparently, unwilling to configure its software so that comments posted before the new policy is implemented remain under the chosen screen names, the Standard announces that past comments will suddenly appear using the users' real names unless users contact the paper no later than December 26 to ask that their comments be removed." In a November 12 editorial outlining the new real-name policy, the newspaper said, "We have encountered consistent difficulty with posts that exceed the bounds of civil discourse — as have many sites where comments from anonymous posters are allowed."

The paper's new policy has proven controversial among readers. "This is the end of open and honest comments on this site," wrote one user, who goes by the name BGF. "It is easy to put your name to your comments if you are retired. But it is another thing altogether if you have to worry about upsetting your peers and bosses at work." The newspaper editor, David McCumber, says he has extensively investigated the feasibility of configuring the newspaper's software to keep comments posted before the new policy is implemented under the chosen screen names. He says he was told by his content-management software experts that such a configuration is impossible. "Based on that, I am trying to do what is most equitable to all of our readers," says McCumber. "When a relatively small city is at the center of your market, just about everybody commented about is known, and the anonymous comments sting."

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Montana Newspaper Plans To Out Anonymous Commenters Retroactively

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  • Implying .. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by PPH ( 736903 ) on Friday November 27, 2015 @12:23PM (#51013561)

    .. that the 'real name' and e-mail addresses submitted were in fact correct.

    • .. that the 'real name' and e-mail addresses submitted were in fact correct.

      But..but...my name really is Captain Morgan! ...you dare to doubt the Captain?

      • by jedidiah ( 1196 )

        There is a real Captain Kirk. The only thing keeping him from commanding the next Enterprise is the fact that he isn't an aviator.

  • by MeNeXT ( 200840 ) on Friday November 27, 2015 @12:26PM (#51013575)

    this should be as simple as testing comment date if less than transition date then post pseudonyms.

    Not sure why some people have computers.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Clearly this is a shot across the bow that's aimed a little too low. Of course they could solve this easily without making the new policy retroactive. They don't want to. Even if they are "forced" to make an about face now, the message is understood: "We know who you are. Be civil or else..."

      It's astonishing how many people in journalism don't understand the importance of anonymity. You can have a civil discourse without it, but if you are at all interested in hearing what people really think, there is no s

    • The technical sides are always simple.

      Now legal, contractual, support, managerial and vendor issues on the other hand could take years to sort out.

  • And with a paper that size, it'll only take one or two of them succeeding to replace it with a smoking crater.

    I'll go start the popcorn--BRB.

  • by frovingslosh ( 582462 ) on Friday November 27, 2015 @12:27PM (#51013587)
    So some people signed up to use the paper's website but gave their real names even though they posted under a pseudonym. Didn't the people who gave their real names create the problem in the first place? Sure, the paper is wrong in doing this, and some crackpots who took offense ar something said are likely to kill some people. But in the end this will serve as a good lesson to the survivors to not give your real name on-line when there is no good reason to do so.
    • My former newspaper's former comment system was (loosely) tied to your actual newspaper subscription - it's possible that's the case here as well.

      As an aside - the reason the Tacoma News Tribune is my "former" newspaper is actually slightly related to this topic. They also had a perceived issue with online commenters behaving badly. Their solution was to move to a comment system that requires Facebook authentication. At that point I'd been a print subscriber for over 20 years, but I ended my subscription. A

  • Betrayal (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 27, 2015 @12:28PM (#51013593)

    Your readers posted comments with the expectation of anonymity. Why should they ever trust you again? This is less desirable than simply deleting all existing comments.

    Also, I don't know the specifics of this content management software, but your expert is most certainly wrong.

    • Re:Betrayal (Score:5, Interesting)

      by JaredOfEuropa ( 526365 ) on Friday November 27, 2015 @02:45PM (#51014329) Journal
      Is it even legal? Not sure how this works in the US, but over here, information can not be shared with 3rd parties without prior consent, and can not be used for anything other than the purpose (as stated in the terms & conditions) for which is was collected. In this case, unless the newspaper's explicitly states that your real name may be published at a later date, they are in violation. And if they required a real name but offered the use of pseudonyms, a judge might well argue that this implicitly denies permission to publish the real name.
  • by BarbaraHudson ( 3785311 ) <barbarahudson@NOSPaM.gmail.com> on Friday November 27, 2015 @12:30PM (#51013605) Journal

    They are breaking the terms under which posters made their previous posts. So much for ethics. While some of us don't mind using our real names, if the site allowed nyms in the past, they should at least honour that. Who do they think they are to say, in effect "I have changed the terms of the contract. Pray I don't change it again," because now they've shown that their agreements are not really agreements.

    And just how are they going to check that people's names are their real names? "Oh, this doesn't sound like a real name ...?" Or people who had good reason to post anonymously to avoid being sued in retaliation for whistle-blowing? Or being outed as gay, lesbian, trans? Or a Ben Carson supporter? Or, with the current wave of Islamophobia, a Muslim? Hope their reporters complain that their "off-the-record" sources have dried up and fix this.

    • by Jhon ( 241832 )

      "They are breaking the terms under which posters made their previous posts."

      Did you read the terms? I didn't -- never signed up for that site. I have ready many terms of sites I have signed up for and virtually all of those include some line where they can change the terms in the future. Not saying they had that -- but you are talking as if you read the terms and know exactly what it says and are full of righteous indignation.

      If you haven't read the terms, then you are full of something other than righte

      • by Calydor ( 739835 )

        Most EULAs have a clause stating that they can change the terms in the future; most don't say that these changes will be retro-active.

        Imagine if contracts worked like this (hint, EULAs are generally treated like contracts). After years of paying, say, ten dollars a month the contract gets changed retro-actively to 100 dollars a month, and you're stuck owing thousands of dollars.

        • by Jhon ( 241832 )

          "most don't say that these changes will be retro-active." Actually, they do. Kind of. They use terms like

          Such updates, revisions, supplements, modifications, and additional rules, policies, terms, and conditions (collectively referred to in this Agreement as "Additional Terms") will be effective immediately and incorporated into this Agreement.

          "Imagine if contracts worked like this (hint, EULAs are generally treated like contracts). After years of paying, say, ten dollars a month the contract gets chan

          • by BarbaraHudson ( 3785311 ) <barbarahudson@NOSPaM.gmail.com> on Friday November 27, 2015 @01:36PM (#51013981) Journal
            There's a HUGE difference between "these changes will be effective immediately" and "these changes will be effective retroactively."
            • by ranton ( 36917 )

              There's a HUGE difference between "these changes will be effective immediately" and "these changes will be effective retroactively."

              I don't see anything being done retroactively. They are merely changing the code for displaying user names going forward. Without a time machine they cannot retroactively change the HTML generated in the past. But effective immediately, the database field user names will be pulled from for display purposed will change from User.Alias to User.FullName. Nothing retroactive about it, from a legal stance that it (although IANAL). From a moral stance, it is more murky.

              • There's a HUGE difference between "these changes will be effective immediately" and "these changes will be effective retroactively."

                I don't see anything being done retroactively. They are merely changing the code for displaying user names going forward. Without a time machine they cannot retroactively change the HTML generated in the past. But effective immediately, the database field user names will be pulled from for display purposed will change from User.Alias to User.FullName. Nothing retroactive about it, from a legal stance that it (although IANAL). From a moral stance, it is more murky.

                Modern content management systems store comments, etc, in a database and dynamically change the page as the data changes. Example - change your sig, and then go look at your old posts - they will all have the new sig.

          • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 )

            Clauses in legally binding agreements that grant one party the ability to unilaterally change the terms of those agreements are illegal in most places where the rule of law has any meaning. That's one of the reasons almost every contractual agreement, of which EULAs are one kind, have a clause that says if any of the terms are illegal they are void.

      • "They are breaking the terms under which posters made their previous posts."

        Did you read the terms? I didn't -- never signed up for that site. I have ready many terms of sites I have signed up for and virtually all of those include some line where they can change the terms in the future. Not saying they had that -- but you are talking as if you read the terms and know exactly what it says and are full of righteous indignation.

        If you haven't read the terms, then you are full of something other than righteous indignation. I leave exactly what that is up to the reader's imagination.

        They themselves are admitting that the previous terms allowed anonymous posting, and that this change will be made retroactively unless you tell them by the day after Christmas to delete all your comments. Or did you not even read the summary???

        If anything, they should make the default, if any, be to remove all anonymous comments unless you give them permission to show your real name. Even though even that is stupider than just enacting the new policy going forward, and leaving comments posted under the pr

    • by gstoddart ( 321705 ) on Friday November 27, 2015 @12:50PM (#51013695) Homepage

      Who do they think they are to say, in effect "I have changed the terms of the contract. Pray I don't change it again," because now they've shown that their agreements are not really agreements.

      Sadly, EULAs and the like tell them they can do this. Courts have upheld it. Which means taking them at their word is pretty much useless.

      I don't disagree with you, but corporations who wish to make money off your personal information, they don't give a crap about your privacy or any fallout to you.

      Real names policies exist because companies say "what value can I get from selling the fact that SuitWrinkler53 commented on the website?" and deciding that they can't sell that information.

      They claim it's so they can police the content and keep things civil. But those comments add value to those sites, which is why they want to keep them.

      But never ever assume you can or should trust a website with this information. Unless you're doing a transaction in which they need a billing address, giving random websites your actual information pretty much guarantees your information will be sold, collated, analyzed, and used for marketing purposes.

      It is not that I am âoeunwilling to configure our software so that comments posted before the new policy is implemented remain under chosen screen names.â I extensively investigated that possibility and was unfortunately told by our content-management software experts that such a configuration is impossible.

      And then you realize they don't know much about the underlying technology, and are probably using something like WordPress.

      You can trust a corporation to do one thing: look out for their interests. And you can safely assume they don't give a crap about your interests, which means the more you stop giving websites your real information the less they have it.

      If I was faced with a website which wanted my real information, I would choose not to use it. Because I don't give a crap what most websites think, and I don't give a damn why they feel entitled to that information.

      When I walk into your store, if you asked me for my real name and address, I'd tell you to fuck off. Why on earth would I give this to you when I visit your website?

      The problem is people keep pretending like the internet is trustworthy, or that those agreements are binding or permanent. They just have to remind you it's technically private property, and that the license says they can change the terms if they wish.

      Oh, and don't forget that the comments are probably managed by a 3rd party, who has their own license, and doesn't give a crap what you think about it.

      • Sadly, EULAs and the like tell them they can do this. Courts have upheld it. Which means taking them at their word is pretty much useless.

        What? If the user who wants to participate in online discussions on a private company's web site agrees to a EULA that states that the owner of the web site reserves the right to change the conditions of using the site, then that's exactly what you signed up for. The only "sadly" involved is users sadly not reading what they agree to. Most people in the gimme-dat-free-stuff mindset don't think things through anyway.

        Real names policies exist because companies say "what value can I get from selling the fact that SuitWrinkler53 commented on the website?" and deciding that they can't sell that information.

        Or, if you're a publisher, those policies exist in order to spare the publishers huge ongoi

        • The only "sadly" involved is users sadly not reading what they agree to.

          In general I disagree with the premise of contracts which one side can change unilaterally ... but I acknowledge it exists, which was what I was saying.

          Oh, so you DO get it. What are you bitching about, then?

          Maybe you should read my fucking post and the person I was responding to?

          I'm not defending it. I'm saying it exists, it's widespread, and at the end of the day short of not participating in it, or giving them false information ...

      • Legal or not, this is an asshole move by that newspaper, and I hope a bunch of people take them to court over it. The guy talks about how it's a small town. Did they even consider for a moment how many people's lives they could be ruining by doing this? I haven't seen the 'uncivil' comments he's talking about, but I've sure as hell seen enough 'uncivil' discourse on the Internet over the last 10 years to last me several lifetimes, and I hate the way people act when they can be completely anonymous in that w
      • Sadly, EULAs and the like tell them they can do this. Courts have upheld it. Which means taking them at their word is pretty much useless.

        Citation please or I call BS.

    • Ethics, schmethics! The lesson to learn is to never give out your real name, use prepaid cards and throw-away email, and if they snoop your IP, use a proxy.

      • Ethics, schmethics! The lesson to learn is to never give out your real name, use prepaid cards and throw-away email, and if they snoop your IP, use a proxy.

        Sure, but some of us would rather give them the opportunity to do something dickish and then hold their feet to the fire - otherwise, it will just continue and eventually become "best practices" and "industry standard" :-)

  • "In a November 12 editorial outlining the new real-name policy, the newspaper said, "We have encountered consistent difficulty with posts that exceed the bounds of civil discourse — as have many sites where comments from anonymous posters are allowed."

    Like the "real names" policy of facebook ever forced people into only engaging in civil discourse ... you're a newspaper - couldn't you at least do a BIT of research on how this has not worked in the past?

    Someone doesn't know how the Internet works ...

  • by jmcharry ( 608079 ) on Friday November 27, 2015 @12:39PM (#51013645)

    They would be on much firmer ground to invite an opt in and delete all pseudonymous comments from those who don't.

  • ... consistent difficulty with posts that exceed the bounds of civil discourse...

    The paper is doing what it accuses others of doing. The retroactive revealing of the authors of anonymous comments clears the bounds of civil discourse in street shoes.

    .
    imo, The Montana Standard is violating all manner of rules of Journalism if they go through with this most egregious stunt.

  • "impossible"? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by v1 ( 525388 ) on Friday November 27, 2015 @12:50PM (#51013701) Homepage Journal

    He says he was told by his content-management software experts that such a configuration is impossible.

    No, he was told by his content management software "experts" that his experts are incompetent (they just worded it differently)

    • The other alternative is the content-management software is garbage.

      Me, I'm laying my money on that one.

      Don't go assuming these papers are building some specialized platform with software experts, they're buying a commercial product which does as much as the vendor made it to. Or worse, they're subscribing to a 3rd party to provide it, and in the process that 3rd party gets all your info anyway. I believe that's what disqus is for.

      Sometimes, a competent person will tell you that, no, the software can't ac

    • You assume that the reason for the configuration being impossible is technical. That's rarely the case.

  • Then reassign all old comments to that user. How fucking hard can that be?

  • if you give your information to a website, you should assume it will become public.

  • You'll see the "real" identify people registered under, which for this example will be "These J. Nutz".
    • I don't know about this newspaper, but my local newspaper ties your online account directly to your real identification. You can't even sign up for their website unless you subscribe to the physical newspaper. In order to register for their website (and subsequently make any comments on an article) you have to enter your address and the subscriber number that appears on your bill. There's no way to provide "These J. Nutz" as your identity, unless you managed to get a credit card in that name and are using i

  • 1) Dumb for the admins - c'mon you can't figure out how to implement policy on a date and not have it wreck old posts?
    2) Dumb for the paper's management - once your online presence dries up, people will bail on your paper
    3) Dumb for the readership - Why stick with a paper that has such stupid policies?
  • The racists are full on racist regardless that their names are shown. Every time a crime is reported, and a minority is in the headlines, you get non-stop bashing. When they fail to report the race, the comments complain that they're trying to cover up the race, and do it anyways. This is in one of the most liberal cities in the USA, too. It's so sad how far we've fallen.

  • Real names have never actually worked for improving discourse. What they've done is allow the trolls to attack people directly instead of being limited to doing it online.

  • Simple (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mbone ( 558574 ) on Friday November 27, 2015 @02:20PM (#51014207)

    Make all of the old accounts inactive. Make everyone reregister (or not, as they prefer) under their real names for new accounts. If someone can show that they were previously posting under their own name, reactivate that account by hand. That will probably be a full time job for someone for a few weeks.

    I would not be too surprised if they got sued under their plan. One lawsuit, even if they win, would cost a lot more than the costs of doing this right.

  • i look forward to the next slashdot article, "newspaper involved in class-action lawsuit for harm done to reputations of thousands of forum users"...

  • Why anyone would give a newspaper's comment platform their real name and e-mail address is beyond me. Make up a name, use a burner e-mail account from mailinator.com and don't worry about unintelligent boobs retroactively deciding to out you. Next time you're asked for your name and e-mail address, ask yourself how much you trust the service who's asking, and what value there is to you in providing accurate information.
  • Why on earth do people use their real names on sites like that?

    Other than my bank, nobody gets my real name. All the stuff I order online goes to a packet delivery machine, usually addressed to my cat, which is also the proud owner of my ISP account and other things.

  • This is why I use the editor's name when I sign up for such things.
  • I agree that this is a horrible idea and so is real name policies too. The real solution is to actually fix the problems with using real names. A recent example is this fiasco:

    http://ryanspahn.com/my-google... [ryanspahn.com]

    https://news.ycombinator.com/t... [ycombinator.com] (the first comments are not hard to find)

Multics is security spelled sideways.

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