Michelle Turnberg: I’m For Freedom Of Speech Except When I’m Not

Former television reporter Michelle Turnberg pens a column for the Fargo Forum in which she slams anonymous comments.

As a journalist, I am all for freedom of speech and being able to speak one’s mind. However, I believe comments ought to be attached to a name. Using an anonymous “username” is cowardly. It’s easy to talk about others when you don’t attach your remarks to your identity. It’s disturbing to see how anonymity causes people to gleefully indulge their dark sides. And how sad is it that so many people are willing to toss mud when they don’t know the truth?

I welcome feedback and suggestions. If you have ideas for this column or wish to offer a comment, good or bad, feel free to contact me by email or on Facebook. I will not read comments without a legitimate name, so speak your mind but stand by what you say.

I have a hard time believing that Turnberg doesn’t read anonymous comments, or won’t be reading them going forward. In fact, I’d suggest that it’s probably all the anonymous comments Turnberg read related to her DUI arrest and very-public dismissal from her previous job that informs her current position on anonymous comments. And to be fair, I can understand why she’d be irate. As the target of no small number of nasty comments from anonymous internet users, I can empathize.

That said, since when must one attach their name to speech in order for it to be free? There’s a rather proud tradition of anonymous commenting in this country. The Federalist Papers, for instance, were written with pseudonyms. Ben Franklin was rather famous for writing into various news publications anonymously. Here on Say Anything my co-blogger, The Whistler, writes anonymously about Grand Forks matters and has broken some big stories. He writes anonymously because he fears retribution for his work, but who he is doesn’t really matter. What he writes does.

But at the end of the day, you really have to wonder why it matters who wrote a particular comment. To me the comment is about the substance of the comment, and not the person. Usually those who want to know who is posting a comment have that desire because they wish to make their response to the comment about the person and not the comment.

Anonymity, far from being the negative Turnberg makes it out to be, can be a positive. “Man is least himself when he talks in his own person,” Oscar Wilde once wrote. “Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.”

I believe that.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com. In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters. He writes a weekly column for several North Dakota newspapers, and also serves as a policy fellow for the North Dakota Policy Council.

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