Editor’s comment: Why do we allow rude people to hide behind anonymity?

Roger Hawes
Roger Hawes

I have said it before and I will say it again I can’t abide the way in which we allow a culture of anonymity in our media.

That is not to say there isn’t a place for protecting correspondents and readers given the right circumstances.

But I come from a time and place where your views were only respected in open debate provided you were prepared to be named.

However in this world of online banter it seems OK to hide behind a handle, lashing out, antagonising, being critical and sometimes downright rude, from behind the ‘safety’ of a keyboard.

This culture has to some extent become part of social media too although if you engage on the likes of Facebook, you at least know who the abuse/comments are coming from.

Now, the letters pages in this and many other newspapers are becoming littered with writers unwilling to publish their full addresses and often names.

Some would say that surely the decision to publish lies with the editor. Well that is true but the tide of anonymity is now so ingrained in the digital and print media that it has become common practise to adhere to the requests of your readers.

This is also creeping into stories as well where comments are increasingly being attributed to a member of the public who ‘did not want to be named’.

What I don’t buy into is the fear factor from readers of retribution, even when dealing with the softest of subjects.

Recently a mum who had given her opinion in the BBC row with Jeremy Clarkson demanded her name and address be witheld as she genuinely feared that a Clarkson fan may track her family down and do them harm. Yes it’s true.

Other correspondents, prepared to give politicians a piece of their mind have too demanded anonymity for fear of reprisals. Even complaints about the council’s rubbish collections have seen critics worry for their personal safety, how crazy is that?

However offer the chance to have your say using some silly made up name, online in particular, and suddenly you can tap in to a culture of emboldened critics, very happy to lash out and give an opinion whatever the subject.

So is it time for editors to stand up and be counted, to turn away these faceless people and to shut down the channels to these hoards of armchair critics happy to give the world a piece of their mind from the safety of their virtual world? Or, providing they stick to the rules of decent debate allow this platform to thrive and engage the new world reader?

Given that the unnamed contributor has to be monitored (online) 24/7 , and the legal dangers they pose, I think perhaps it is time to turn back the clock and unless there are exceptional circumstances, no name and address, mean no God given right to an audience.