Starting October 3, 2011, the Chestertown Spy will not generally accept anonymous comments or aliases in our comments section. While exceptions may be made on a case by case basis, such in the case of a note of support, or a thoughtful question to the author or community, most comments will be posted only with the writer’s full name and email.
As many regular readers know, The Spy has struggled with our comments section since the very first day of publication. While it is an impressive metric that the Spy has generated over 10,000 comments to date (most of them thoughtful and helpful), we have come to believe that our policy of allowing anonymous messages has contributed to a growing movement towards incivility in our society.
I was reminded of that when I heard a lecture by the British social critic Os Guinness over in Royal Oak a few weeks ago. The great grandson of the noted Irish brewer, Guinness addressed the issue of civility as a significant crisis in our culture. His central point was that our civil public square, once the pride of the American experience, has been reduced to a certain barbarism as the rights, responsibilities and respect of citizens have become increasingly marginalized through such things as anonymous postings on websites like the Spy. I sadly must agree with him.
In the end, civility, Guinness notes, is not an issue of good manners, but rather a way for us to co-exist with deep and profound differences of opinion and in ideology. As we’ve moved from the physical (the New England town meeting) to the metaphysical (representative government) to the virtual (the internet), our respect for these differences has been severely compromised.
This depressing condition however can be corrected, but it must start at the local level. Our differences can not be so great here in Chestertown that we must use false names to offer strong opinion. While the case of freedom of speech is profound, and should be upheld at all costs, in the life of a small community, and a small town e-newspaper, incivility should have no home.
For those who feel they are not able to voice opinions publicly without retribution or other consequences, the Spy will find a safe way to ensure those points of view are expressed.