printed 06/05/2020

If patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels, as the great English writer and poet Samuel Johnson observed in 1775, anonymous commenting on news websites is the next to last.

I say that after being taken to task by a pseudonymous would-be poster who objected when I blocked his comments, which sought to revisit a story involving City Hall personnel.

My reasons for rejecting the post had nothing to do with protecting City Hall or the people in it. One, I saw it as a late hit, in football terms, and, two, it was anonymous, which I instinctively dislike.

Obviously, I have an antiquated view regarding what is now common practice in public forums, where leveling harsh accusations and observations is made easier by the lack of accountability.

I don’t like sniping at people anonymously, and I try to employ rational arguments to explain to would-be posters why I fail to see how the their comments add anything constructive to the public discourse. That approach, by the way, doesn’t work.

I suppose I’m from the old school of speaking your mind and taking your lumps for having said it, and I have said many things over the years for which I have been soundly, publicly and even deservedly scolded.

But to me, that’s better than aiming to disparage someone while protecting one’s self from disparagement in return. It also makes me wonder about the author’s motives.

If it’s simply a matter of the “disinhibition effect” — feeling unrestrained by virtue of a masked identity — I have a problem. If it’s because of a legitimate fear of retaliation or persecution, that’s something else entirely. But just to criticize or re-plow the same ground to get someone? I’m not doing it without some kind of justification.

It’s not what some would call an enlightened approach to free speech. But even though the right to free speech allows us to say whatever we want, it doesn’t entitle us to say it wherever we want.

It’s my call, and if my judgments on postings seem arbitrary, unfair or out of sync with the rest of the online universe, feel free to let me know.

Stewart Dobson


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