Date: Sat, 27 Mar 2010 09:18:36 -0400
From: reinke ferdinand
Subject: Plain Dealer sparks ethical debate by unmasking anonymous poster
Plain Dealer sparks ethical debate by unmasking anonymous Cleveland.com poster
By Henry J. Gomez, *The Plain Dealer*, 26 Mar 2010
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By unmasking an anonymous poster at its companion website, The Cleveland Plain Dealer finds itself in an ethical quandary, stirring a debate that balances the public’s need to know against the privacy concerns of online participants.
The newspaper traced the identity of `lawmiss’ after someone using that moniker left a comment about the mental state of a relative of reporter Jim Ewinger. The comment was removed for violating cleveland.com’s community rules, which do not allow personal attacks.
Users are required to register with a valid e-mail address before posting at cleveland.com. Upon learning of the Ewinger issue Monday, an online editor looked up lawmiss’s e-mail address, which like all others, is accessible through software used to post stories to the website.
“It does raise the question of the wisdom and fairness of the newspaper using the registration system of the website for reporting purposes,” Steele said in a telephone interview.
The newspaper’s decisions could have a chilling effect on conversation at cleveland.com, said Rebecca Jeschke of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an online privacy rights group.
“I would think twice before participating in a message board where I had to give my e-mail address knowing that management could access it at any time,” Jeschke said. “It seems appropriate in this case, but … it’s hard not to imagine scenarios where it’s abused.”
Other news organizations already hide such information from their editorial staff, said Steve Yelvington, a strategist for Morris Digital Works, the online division of Morris Communications. The company runs 13 daily newspapers in Florida, Georgia, Texas and other states. “We are careful to firewall our business records from our journalists,” Yelvington said.
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Regardless of where one comes down on the issue of Internet privacy (IMHO there ain’t none), or how much should you trust anything on the inet (IMHO zero trust), and technology in general (IMHO we give boobs the equivalent of loaded guns and they are astonished when some one gets hurt), this was completely preventable.
Use a “disposable” e-mail account!
Haven’t these people ever heard of GMAIL? No invitation required now! You can even use multiple ones! Ask any “child” who wants to break free from Mom and Dad’s supervision. That’s without even getting “tricky” of using one of the “disposable websites that create e-mail addresses that only work for a very limited time; perfect for “e-mail validation” requirements. If Chinese bloggers can hide form their oppressive regime, then we can conclude that most of us who want “privacy” can figure out a way to do it. In this case, the technology-naive are getting a very expensive education in “technology”.
And, this wasn’t even the government seeking to find out who made a nasty comment. Wait till the Internet-using public says something the government doesn’t like. Such as “taxes are too high”, “the <insert favorite government agency> is inept, corrupt, or stupid”, or quote Jefferson, Lysander Spooner, or Sam Adams. Then, the proctology exam will begin.
Replies will b