NBR publisher to NetHui: comments will stay anonymous

A response to yesterday's brouhaha.

The NetHui 2011 kicked off yesterday at the Sky City Convention Centre.

Several hundred are attending this three-day InternetNZ event, which features Steven Joyce, Bill English, Chris Finlayson and David Cunliffe on its speaker list, plus the likes of Lawrence Lessig (the rockstar of IP legal wonks) over from the US. It’s a great line-up (though it could also have been called Middle Class White Guys 2011; "NetHui" from the conference’s open, consensual style, its organisers say).

I got a number of Where-are-you? messages. I had to stay close to the farm, but several people alerted me to a couple of mentions of NBR.

I won’t return to the paywall. We’ve been round-and-round the mulberry bush on that one.

But there was a new NBR flashpoint: anonymous comments.

Opening speaker Rod Drury canvassed a number of topics, and at one put up this slide (snapped by Lance Wiggs):

(I'm told FFS means "for flip's sake".)

Earlier, Rod sent me an email outlining his stance on anonymous comments after stories:

It read, in part:

I don't agree with NBR's policy of allowing anonymous comments. I hate to think of young people being put off doing public companies as the NBR has now become the Wild West. I don't see how that is good for NZ business.

Until the NBR policy changes I won't be commenting there anymore. It's a shame because I'm very pro CEO's engaging in dialogue.

The Xero boss’s comments at NetHui provoked a minor Twitter storm.

Initially, sentiment ran strongly in favour of Rod. Common themes: if people are willing to make a comment, they should put their name to it; low-brow anonymous comments make NBR look; companies can’t engage with anonymous comments [I’d argue they can still respond to a question or viewpoint, even if they don’t know who’s made it]; there’s too much “trolling” (mindlessly provocative comments, which people would presumably be less likely to leave if they didn’t have the cover of anonymity).

But then the tide started to turn. Some on Twitter pointed out that an anonymous comment facility encourages whistleblowers. And also that many New Zealand companies might punish an employee who speaks out about their own employer, or a rival (and while Rod was commenting on what he sees as an aggressive, low-brow environment overall, and he didn’t single out any individual comment – but his reaction did coincide with an anonymous comment after a Xero story that was verified, and lead to an interesting follow-up; read: Xero responds to questions over narrowed loss)

Public Address’s Russell Brown pointed out that his site allows anonymous comments, but only from registered users.

I put a quick summary of events to NBR publisher Barry Colman.

He responded:

“Our comments will remain free and uncensored so long as they pass decency and defamation guidelines. It's interesting how freedom of speech always horrifies The Establishment when it is freely practised.”

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