By Alan McNarie
Like many Web sites that serve as public forums, the Big Island Chronicle has a troll problem. We’ve pretty much allowed comments so long as they were on point with the topics of the articles they were commenting on and weren’t obvious spam. But some people have been posting comments under pseudonyms, and even faking their e-mail addresses, and some of the comments they’ve been posting have ranged from irresponsible to downright vicious. One recent poster, for instance, suggested that an anti-geothermal activist may be taking money from the petroleum industry. The author of that comment used only a first name, and gave an e-mail address at a Web site belonging to a Florida real estate company.
Trolls such as that are common on the Web. But no responsible newspaper allows them. If you submit a comment to the Hawaii Tribune-Herald, for instance, you have to use your real name and address.
There’s a reason for that. In order to make good decisions, the public needs solid, reliable information, and it needs to be able to do its own research about the sources of that information. For that reason, when we use information in a story, we attribute the source, and if we publish a press release or a public meeting announcement, we say who we got it from. (And to avoid any confusion, Ms. Hunt and I will be posting our own by-lines with any stories that we do individually.) The only exception might be a whistle blower who’s going against the wishes of his or her boss in the public interest–and in those cases, we need to explain the situation in the article, and we’d better make every effort possible to corroborate the whistle blower’s information and check that person’s credentials. In fact, with Hawaii’s current lack of a whistle-blower law, it’s possible that we could end up in jail if we DON’T disclose our sources.
If we expect our sources to make their names known, then we should at least be able to tell them that they won’t be attacked by someone who’s unwilling to accept the same responsibility for his or her actions. So as of now, no more anonymous trolls at Big Island Chronicle. If you want to be part of the public dialogue, own up to your input, use your real name, and give us comments that you can be proud of.
And unreconstructed trolls: Don’t think that if you lie, we won’t catch you. We are journalists, after all.