Discourse / Editorials / February 4, 2010

Thoughts from the Embers: Posting secrets

The original idea behind creating PostSecret was to leave an open forum for people to genuinely express themselves and then anonymously support each other through tough times. While this might work well for a global forum, the specifically Knox PostSecret has created controversy over unkind and slanderous postings that the secret teller does not have to take credit for.

Thus, a problem with anonymous posting has ensued. Instead of creating posts about personal difficulties and asking for support, some secrets criticize others within the community. These posts are not secrets. Rather, they are opinions meant to hurt their fellow students and pave the way for other negative comments. It is unfortunate that college students such as ourselves are not mature enough to handle the responsibilities of anonymous posting.

But this controversy leads to bigger questions about how to manipulate the space on the Internet. Should we leave it open for anyone to publish however they please, regardless of the content? Right now, the person who provides the space on the Internet is not necessarily responsible for the content other people post there.

If people are allowed to post things anonymously, then there is no one to take the responsibility for such hurtful actions.

There have been many cases of negligent Internet postings that led to disastrous results. One example is the MySpace Mom in Missouri who impersonated a boy in order to break a young girl’s heart. The girl was so distraught when her “boyfriend” said the world would be a better place without her that she killed herself. The MySpace Mom was caught, but this was only after her terrible deed was done under a false identity.

We’re not saying Knox students would ever go this far, but the possibility remains. We here at TKS feel that students should take responsibility for what they post on the Internet, especially if it is a brazen attack on another student.

This is why there are rules to the TKS Web site comments. Currently, everyone with an account must identify themselves by name and only people with a knox.edu e-mail may leave comments. This is to make sure anyone who posts takes responsibility for their words. We take down those that violate our rules, such as making personal attacks.

We’ve considered making anonymous posting before, which surely would increase the number of comments we receive on stories, but at what cost would that come? We’ve all seen other newspaper Web sites where anonymous posters, under the veil of the Internet, write despicable things that do nothing to further the discourse. Rather, they sidetrack the discussion with their off-base content.

But are we right to force anyone who comments to do so under their own identity? Are we hindering free discussion by providing a space where people might not feel comfortable attributing their name to what they truly want to say? We at TKS feel we have a responsibility to ourselves and the community to keep the discourse on our site civil and respectable, which has become more important than those other things.

Since forcing people to take responsibility for their words on the Internet is not possible in all forums, we implore students to take that responsibility up for themselves. If you wouldn’t feel comfortable telling somebody something to their face, you shouldn’t post it on the Internet, especially not without attributing it to yourself. That is a cowardly thing to do.

Last night, the creator of PostSecret Frank Warren visited Knox and gave a presentation. We hope those who created the hurtful secrets went to hear him speak and remind them what PostSecret is for: supporting others through their difficult times.

TKS Staff

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