Today, Knight Foundation is gathering a group of media thought leaders for a discussion about new ways for people to participate in elections through digital tools and content. Follow the conversation via #knightelect.
Traditional news media have made a destructive mistake by encouraging anonymous commenting on their web sites. But it’s not too late to simply do away with this bad idea. The upcoming 2012 election – likely to be the greatest digital political event in American history – offers the perfect opportunity to get journalism’s house in order.
This morning at a Knight Foundation brainstorming session, I was talking about this with Steven Clift, founder of E-Democracy.org. His long experience with political debate has led him to two simple rules: real names, no name calling.
Do media leaders really want the 2012 election to go down in history as the nastiest, most negative and least factual ever? Anonymous commenting in civic forums encourages our worst instincts. It weakens all fact-based brands. And allowing it is just unethical. Professional journalists only allow sources to be anonymous when there is no other way to get important information. That same ethic should apply to web comments. Only leakers should be anonymous. Let’s update the Society of Professional Journalists code of ethics to deal with digital engagement. (It hasn’t been updated since 1996).