Say It Loud: No More Anonymity

By Mike Phillips

Recent events have convinced me that our reader comments service needs a bit of housekeeping.

The issue is that once in a while, our usually thoughtful, civil and interesting comments go off the rails. When that happens, people can forget about the article they are supposed to be talking about and start arguing with each other on points of law or what the Bible says or abortion or….well, fill in the blanks.

It becomes an intellectual train wreck.

Our content is archived for most of the Observer’s history. We have, at the moment, 20,901 comments on file. If they were better organized, they would make a good manual of human nature.

But even a disorganized browse yields a good insight or two.  One, which has been driven home to me recently, is that people who write under their real and full names are more likely to be civil and thoughful in their comments than people who don’t. A few people write under just their first name or a nickname, but generally their email addresses reveal their given names. And then there are a very few people who simply don’t want you to know who they are.

Whenever there’s a comments trainwreck, I’ve observed, there are one or two of those hidden people in the mix. And they often are stirring the pots of controvery, anger or flat-out misrepresentation of the facts.

That will have to stop. Our discussions should lead to a better-informed and more understanding community. Not the opposite.

So I will start from the bottom up. If we don’t know who you are, we’ll give you a week or two to introduce yourselves. If you refuse to be known, then we will no longer let you comment.

If you are commenting under less than your full name but you have a good reason, and we know who you are and how to contact you if need be, we can work that out.

But anonymity is off the table.

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Michael Carabetta
Michael Carabetta (@guest_70225)
3 months ago

I think this is a serious mistake. You can solve the problem by verfiying the email address and still allowing a person to comment with nicknames and/or first names. Upgrade you technology – it’s a simple fix – before you force censorship on your readers.

Joan Cipriano
Joan Cipriano(@islandcipscomcast-net)
3 months ago

Sounds like a sensible decision to me. Someone who would never be willing to admit his/her name, even to you privately, is a troll.

Jerry Torchia
Jerry Torchia (@guest_70227)
3 months ago

Good plan. If you’re ashamed to put your real name to your opinions, you probably shouldn’t be a part of the discussion.

Paula Mutzel
Paula Mutzel(@paula-m)
3 months ago

Good idea…

Richard Timm
Richard Timm(@rtimm-ontheislandgmail-com)
3 months ago

Seems reasonable.

Nicholas Velvet
Nicholas Velvet (@guest_70230)
3 months ago

Then Sir I strongly suggest you read your American Revolution history. Pen names have been around a LONG time. Plain and simple, they have saved lives.

Back at the height of Covid here on AI (perhaps you were not here) when the Nassau County Commissioners issued Proclamations(remember those from King George?) that covid was in the ocean waves and therefor walking on the beach was deemed an “offense” some of us raised up. Yes, there were Nassau County Sheriff’s on their pa systems in their 4WD SUV’s(heaven forbid they walk) warning “clear the beach~~you leave immediately “. Beach walkovers where taped off “police”, etc. One 80 plus year old woman was one of the “instigators”. Real threat there.

You are not the only one locking in on “who is this person!!!!! WE demand to know!!!!!”. A FREE PRESS is just that, free. No conditions. Period stop. When anyone including you decides to be the “gatekeeper” this freedom is gone. Like you Proclaimed, anonymity is “off the table”, who are you to press your “rules”? A free press is just that, free. Sadly, your behavior in the interests of “nicey nice” is sign of the times. Shame on you as a “reporter” not to see the shallowness of your decision and the simple fact that the Observer “it’s not your table”.

Robert Warner
Robert Warner(@rswarner)
3 months ago

Sorry, Nicolas. Credibility demands accountability.

3 months ago
Reply to  Robert Warner

By this account there are ZERO news corporations with any credibility

Tom smith
Tom smith(@high-n-dry)
3 months ago

I agree completely

Patrick Golden
Patrick Golden (@guest_70237)
3 months ago

I was one who commented about the beach closure back then – I opposed it and thought it was stupid. But I was fine with stating those opinion under my name.

BTW, I don’t recall anyone claiming there was “Covid in the ocean waves.” It’s hyperbole like yours that appears to be a reason they’re making these changes

Roger Conrad
Noble Member
Roger Conrad(@conrad2k)
3 months ago
Reply to  Patrick Golden

The COVID beach closure was dumb from the point of view of stopping COVID, but it was explained to me all the beaches south of us were closing, so if we didn’t close it, then we’d be inundated with day trippers from Jacksonville and points south.

Bill Fold
Bill Fold(@bill-fold)
3 months ago


Robert Weintraub
Trusted Member
Robert Weintraub(@rukbat23gmail-com)
3 months ago

Nicholas, You don’t understand the concept of “Free Press” As a former journalist my editors and teachers drummed into me the importance of responsibility to keep press free. There are many protocols in place to maintain objectivity. Mike Phillips, as a professional journalist, understands this.

Roger Conrad
Noble Member
Roger Conrad(@conrad2k)
3 months ago

In this case, I believe the point Fernandina Observer’s ‘no more anonymity’ policy is simply to to attempt to make commenters take responsibility for their comments and perhaps reduce some of the toxic comments that have popped up from time to time. This is not a violation of Free Speech or Freedom of the Press. Many reputable newspapers have guidelines that reflect their desire for civil, well-informed comments, and it is common for them to not allow personal attacks, vulgarity or off-topic comments. When commenters are required to use their real names when commenting, they are more likely to take responsibility for their comments. The Fernandina New-Leader requires name and address with letter to the editor, and even then does not guarantee they will publish the letter. 

Free Speech is guaranteed by the constitution, but people often forget Free Speech is the government’s promise not to limit speech. It does not apply to private entities. I can ask someone to leave my house if I don’t like their point of view, and Twitter or the Fernandina observer can refuse to post any comment they don’t like. Freedom off the Press is similarly the government’s promise to not interfere with the press in a similar way. As an individual, I don’t have to watch MSNBC or Fox if I don’t like their viewpoints, and nobody has to read the Fernandina Observer if they don’t like the comment policy.

Anonymous One Last Time
Anonymous One Last Time (@guest_70231)
3 months ago

My cancellation will be sent. Your policy will create the echo chamber you are looking for.

Al MacDougall
Al MacDougall (@guest_70251)
3 months ago

It is already an echo chamber…..hellooooooo

Richard Cain
Richard Cain(@richardcain)
3 months ago

Farewell. Adieu, adieu. Your insightful comments will be missed …

3 months ago

You are correct

Ron Hebron
Ron Hebron (@guest_70232)
3 months ago

Making one responsible for their actions (or words), what a concept!

Joyce Tuten
Joyce Tuten(@jjtutengmail-com)
3 months ago

Great idea! Discussions leading to a “better-informed and more understanding community” is laudable. And in the age of fake email and social media accounts, AI and bots, more guard rails seem like a good idea!

Cliff Morris
Cliff Morris (@guest_70234)
3 months ago

no name equals no comment. With the social media world as it is today and many foreign players taking on the roll as “agent provocateur” it is only right that the most basic of identity verification is in order.
Hiding under the banner of free speech does not automatically grant the speaker the right to a nameless and faceless status. No one is arguing the right to Free Speech, but we are saying this right is only valid to “real people or entities”. It is not a constitutional right extended to ghosts or to people only wishing to stir up dissent hiding behind a digital wall.

Michael carabetta
Michael carabetta (@guest_70238)
3 months ago

A simple confirmation of the contributors email by sending a confirmation link to the email insures the person is real regardless of what name they use. Conversely, so easy to create a dummy name and email address so this policy will not chase away the bad contributors. This policy accomplishes nothing other than chase away comments from reluctant readers. I moved here from a place where had I posted a conservative view in my local paper – I would have been ostracized by my community. Don’t do it here please. 

Last edited 3 months ago by Michael carabetta
Jo-Ann Leimberg
Jo-Ann Leimberg (@guest_70239)
3 months ago

This doesn’t constitute “censorship”. Rather simply asks, yes, requires, a writer to be responsible for what he/she writes/espouses as opposed to hiding behind anonymity.

Jason Collins
Jason Collins(@jc18holes)
3 months ago

I didn’t think I would ever find myself saying this but I agree 100% with Mr. Phillips on this. As long as The Observer doesn’t shut down comments that don’t fit their narrative (which they haven’t and I respect them for not doing so) then “anonymous” should step out of the shadows and say what they think or feel in a way that isn’t vulgar or disrespectful to others. Use your real name and email address. There will always be differences of opinion and disagreements on policy. Use your real name. Don’t be a coward and stand up for what you believe in!

Cheryl Grant
Cheryl Grant(@cheryl-grant)
3 months ago

Totally agree. You say it, you own it. Freedom does not exclude personal responsibility.

Tiffany Grantham
Tiffany Grantham (@guest_70242)
3 months ago

Sounds good to me. Thanks.

Doug Mowery
Doug Mowery(@douglasm)
3 months ago

Thank you, Mike!!

3 months ago

I used to comment under my full name, and then a very angry very liberal reader came to my house and threatened me, there is a police report on record for those who will accuse me a lying. This policy will create danger.

Frank Quigley
Frank Quigley (@guest_70247)
3 months ago

On the internet, no-one knows you’re a dog.

Wes White
Wes White(@wes-white)
3 months ago

I choose to use my name. Others may not wish to use theirs.

“Doxing” is a reality that can’t be ignored. Give your name and anyone can easily find out where you live, your financial resources, your family members, any criminal history, your neighbors, your social media history, and it goes on and on. Throw in government involvement, and virtually everything is open for analysis and privacy is effectively, and sometimes dangerously, nullified.

Better moderation might be a preferable path.

Jacquey (@guest_70250)
3 months ago

Love this! Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but own your own opinion. Or stop talking.

Troy Walker
Troy Walker (@guest_70252)
3 months ago

Supreme court tied the right to be anonymous to freedom of speech and press. Slippery slope.

John Goshco
John Goshco (@guest_70258)
3 months ago
Reply to  Troy Walker

I believe the Supreme Court compared the “right” to be anonymous to the right to privacy and to be left alone and live in peaceful solitude. Nothing about leaving that solitude to interact with the public.

Marc Goldstone
Marc Goldstone (@guest_70253)
3 months ago

This is an issue as old at the Internet itself. On the one hand, many site owners want civil discourse on their fora. On the other hand, some posters value anonymity. IMHO, the balance should always tilt toward civility; trolling, ad hominem attacks, and a lack of basic courtesy in posts simply eviscerate the value of the forum. Constitutionally speaking, all rights are subject to reasonable limits, so I’m very comfortable in stating with certainty that there’s no right to unfettered speech on this forum. If you don’t want to post with your identifying info, then don’t post. Note that there clearly exist fora that do tilt the balance the other way; in fact, for almost no cost, you can create one yourself. If, however, you want to tell the site owner how to conduct their business, well, so long as the site owner is compliant with the law, your best tool is to vote with your feet (or ISP, so to speak) Sort of like the folks who are against drag shows: if you don’t want to see a drag show, don’t go. If you don’t want to pay taxes … well, in that one, you kinda go to jail. Mike, you are providing a wonderful forum here, and I, for one, greatly appreciate these guidelines.

John Giffin
John Giffin (@guest_70254)
3 months ago

This is a good solution. The witty and caustic comments infrequently contain a plausible solution. Such comments are often submitted with anonymity because the authors would shrink from saying such things to their neighbors in person.

Tamila (@guest_70255)
3 months ago

This is fantastic.

Mark Tomes
Mark Tomes(@mtomes)
3 months ago

There is no freedom without a correlating responsibility, and one of those is to own up to your opinion. While the possibility of an angry conservative or liberal person threatening someone of the opposite opinion, we have police for that. Next step: reduce the availability of guns, so that those threats cannot be made manifest!

Sherry Harrell
Sherry Harrell(@sherry-harrell)
3 months ago

As is evident from my email address, I am all for being transparent instead of hiding in anonymity.
On another note, there are many times that I try to upvote or downvote a comment when I get a message stating I am not allowed to vote on this comment OR, that I have already voted, which I had not. Not a big deal, just letting you know.

John Goshco
John Goshco (@guest_70259)
3 months ago
Reply to  Sherry Harrell

Happens to me all the time.

Alan Hopkins
Noble Member
Alan Hopkins(@dawaves)
3 months ago

Thanks Mike I hope this leads to more free speech and better dialogue. Our Founding Father’s risked everything for our right to have free, not anonymous, speech. They also wanted to protect an individual’s right not to speak at all. Thanks again for providing us this choice.

Lynn Cunningham
Lynn Cunningham(@lynn-cunningham)
3 months ago

I’m seeing in some comments a basic misunderstanding of what freedom of the press is about The Fernandina Observer belongs to Mike Phillips, and he can publish what he wants to as long as he stays within the bounds of libel and slander. He does not have to print anything, which includes comments, that he as the owner of the press does not want to. If someone feels their comments are not appreciated they are welcome to establish their own press. For example, if someone sends a letter, or comments, to the Jacksonville Florida Union-Times, the Union Times has no obligation to print the letter. It is their press. Not having a letter or comments printed is not censorship, either, it is exercising the rights of the owner of the press to have a ‘free press’. An earlier comment mentioned how the founding fathers used anonymity when printing flyers and pamphlets – that is true, and they also printed them themselves, or paid to have them printed. That is also an exercise in the free press – they didn’t use someone else’s press for their own gain. Please correct me where I am wrong or where the concept can be expanded.

Lynn Cunningham
Lynn Cunningham(@lynn-cunningham)
3 months ago
Reply to  Mike Phillips

Thanks, Mr. Phillips, I appreciate your work.

Jane Philips Collins
Jane Philips Collins(@jane-philips-collins)
3 months ago

I just had to comment on this post, but found I couldn’t log in. Guess I don’t comment often enough! So, I have registered again. My last user name was Jane Collins. My new user name is Jane Philips Collins. I hope that tells you how I feel about the anonymous posts that I sometimes see. If you can’t own up to what you have to say, then bugger off, if you ask me. It was so interesting reading the various points of view in the comments and it’s a small lesson about democracy in action. And, of capitalism, too, actually. Owners of media have rights. The right to keep a good dialog going without the snarky negative comments that bring a discussion to its knees. Thanks, Mike, for continuing with the great reporting that has been the foundation of this site that Susan Steger initiated after she was mayor of Fernandina Beach. And, if any of you don’t like what I have to say and come to my house, my 100 pound doberman will meet you at the door!