Constant Comment: News Readers’ Names Travel Fast

Do you think average readers realize how quickly and easily their names can spread across the digital landscape just by commenting on a news item?

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Probably not. News organizations’ hearts were in the right place when they abolished anonymous commenting, but the current antidote, social registration, has its drawbacks. Privacy is the casualty, and I don’t think ordinary people understand how far a simple comment can travel.

News sites need to communicate this point better than they do. They should ask themselves what’s ethical rather than just what’s strictly acceptable. I think it’s a news organization’s responsibility to explain to readers upfront and in language that’s not garbled by legalese that not only are their comments not private, they’re atomizable, distributable, marketable and monetizable. As the reader in this example so aptly writes, “Doing the right thing always costs … It doesn’t mean you don’t do it.”

I predict the next five to 10 years will see a tidal wave of digital remorse. Internet users will realize they can’t just scrub their social profiles and call it good. For many people, it’s too late for that, and while we all bear personal responsibility for not safeguarding our own privacy, digital entities are complicit, too.