Though there is a rich history of pseudonymity in American journalism, there is none of anonymity. It has long been understood that if the publisher of a reputable periodical grants a writer use of a pseudonym, then that publisher knows the writer’s true identity and takes responsibility — legal and otherwise — for that writer’s words.
Printed periodicals grant pseudonymity but never anonymity. Imagine the cacophony that would result if printed periodicals published unvetted, unreviewed, anonymous Letters to the Editor or Op-Ed essays.
Yet we’re now discussing how some of those periodicals are doing the equivalent of that online. Should there really be any surprise that many of those comments are scatological, obscene, or libelous?
Publishing anonymous, unvetted, and unreviewed commentary online is hugely divergent from the policies of those publications’ print editions. It’s a different kettle of fish, one that can stink for the publishers. Indeed, those publishers and their new-media managers are being reckless. And if you think I’ve used too strong a word, poll newspaper libel lawyers and libel insurers. —Vin Crosbie —Time to get tough: Managing anonymous reader comments (Online Journalism Review)