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Identity Crisis

There's honor to putting a name to one's comments.

It is Patch corporate policy that comments are allowed to be submitted with a pseudonym.  Although I did not craft the policy nor do I speak for the editorial staff of the organization, it is my understanding that they believe this policy allows members of the community to speak honestly and freely without fear of personal attacks in return.

I have written this column for an entire year and have received criticism both anonymous and from very pointedly named sources in the comments, in private emails, and phone calls to my home.

I have also been treated to Patch-related commentary while shopping at , and .  

While I do not enjoy being chastised while I try to purchase soccer shoes for my child, my concern about the way in which comments are submitted has nothing to do with the tone of the comments.

Patch is a publication.  As such, the word "public" is crucial to its purpose.  While anonymity is great for love letters of a certain sort, it is highly problematic as a discursive stance. 

Commentary from an unknown critic might encourage honesty but it also divorces the comments from the responsibility the writer has for the words, ideas, and positions stated therein.

It is easy to sit in a room and write with authority when cloaked in the assurance of protection from attribution.  It may be cowardly and childish to lob verbal grenades from behind a stone wall, but the publication permits this behavior and the abuse of the privilege is a forseeable problem.

What I most fear is that the policy of allowing pseudonymous comments stems from a practical problem.  Even if Patch were to require a name to go with each comment, there is no way to compel the writer to use his or her actual name.  Email addresses are as disposable as paper airplanes and almost as easy to create.

So, commentators, I suppose the choice is your own.  You reserve the right to remain nameless and untethered to responsibility for your words and readers reserve the right to dismiss you because of it.

Friends of the Reston Regional Library August 15, 2011 at 09:07 PM
Justine, this is KELLEY. I have seen in other Patch jurisdictions that they disallow anonymity, citing Patch policy. Is the policy consistent across the board? I think if people are calling you at home and accosting you in the stores, they're being rude. Unfortunately, rude people abound in this area of lofty ambition and overstuffed egos. And perhaps ... you're being effective which prompts people to respond. If they're doing so publicly in stores, at least you know who they are. Keep up the good work. I don't always agree, but I almost always at least smile at what you've written. And a few times, I've snorted my coffee.
Karen Goff August 16, 2011 at 12:57 AM
Kelley - official Patch policy is you must have an email address to register (and editors can see that email address, but readers cannot). You can call yourself whatever you want as your sign in though. Therefore, people can be anonymous. Don't know where you saw anything about disallowing anonymity, as there would be no way to monitor that.
Friends of the Reston Regional Library August 16, 2011 at 03:47 AM
I'm pretty sure I've seen it on Chantilly's Patch site where the Patch editor broke in to a comment stream to address it. I wish I could remember the series of articles. It might have been in relation to IB issues? It just struck me at the time because I knew there were people over here who used pseudonyms. Doesn't really matter -- as long as I get my Justine daily dose!
Friends of the Reston Regional Library August 16, 2011 at 03:51 AM
Oh, and by the way, JUSTINE, my neighbor is a teacher at your kids' elementary school e-mailed me this referring to YOU: "She's a sweet, sweet lady. I know two of her kids from (school name). They are good kids, and she's as delightful in person as she is in her articles. SO THERE TO ALL THOSE MEAN PEOPLE!
Justine van Engen August 16, 2011 at 11:34 AM
Thank you so much, Kelley. I am also glad to hear from teachers that my children are behaving well in public.
Connie Hartke August 16, 2011 at 02:39 PM
I completely discount anything written by cowards who won't admit who they are. Not at all interested in what they have to say.
Richard Holmquist August 16, 2011 at 05:17 PM
I would prefer that Patch disallow anonymous commentary. Maybe it can't be entirely prevented, but neither are including fake swear words (%$@@!!!) or insulting people, which Patch already restricts. There are a few good reasons for permitting anonymous commentary - primarily to encourage minority opinions and eliminate any concerns one might have to speak up - but in practice the policy spirals down into a situation in which intelligent debate is discouraged or drowned out by the bitter and the rude. Just look at most internet message boards, Washington Post commentary and on and on. Patch could set itself apart and make itself even more appealing to readers by compelling commenters to use their own names.
Margaret Perry August 16, 2011 at 06:43 PM
I proudly state my opinion and comments whether they are liked or not or even read. Heck I got free cupcakes by posting with my name. Here here to using our names and being proud to stand behind our words.
Steve L August 16, 2011 at 06:46 PM
Welcome to the internet. Just exercise the powers you have given the Patch Terms of Use. Writing an article such as this only further encourages malicious behavior from those with personal issues because they know they're getting to you. If anonymity is your main issue, you'll have to take it up to corporate. If it's acceptable behavior, reference the TOU.

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