Should Internet Peeps have to sign their names when leaving Comments on Websites? August 28, 2011 – Cornwall Ontario

Cornwall ON – It’s been a weird and wacky week dear viewers of The Cornwall Free News, and I have an odd conundrum that I thought I’d share with you and ask your opinions?

It’s not easy being a small independent online newspaper.    A lot of chores and never enough resources which is why it was very alarming when one of our largest sponsors dropped a bomb on me this week explaining that they had a lot of concerns about Online Posters and comments.    That would be you guys.   In particular the ones that don’t sign a name.

Now this is a very slippery slope and impacts most media sites.   We’ve had over 12,000 comments on CFN since 2009, and I think we have a good handle compared to some other media companies.

Generally people can only post negative comments if they sign their names to them, but while investigating this whole process it was presented to me that essentially even a person signing their name isn’t 100% conclusive.  At best all that could be proven, even if that, is where the message originated from and the machine it originated from.   Unless someone is sitting in a lighthouse in the middle of the ocean they could say that it wasn’t them using their computer.    Now this is a rare issue.  We’ve only made errors on a handful of comments out of those 12,000, but sponsors have concerns; image, message, positive results so we take this very seriously.

And therein lies the challenge for us.      As some of you know we’re a lot more than a “local newspaper” not that that’s a bad thing.  I love that we are the largest window to the world for Cornwall Ontario.  It’s a buzz!   But deep down we’re really a National magazine; one that’s slowly evolving.   Like they kept saying in the Facebook movie “We’re not sure what we are yet”.

Revenue is crucial to any business, but as we apparently can’t get any government grants even though we qualify for a bunch (our MP forbids us to enter his office, never mind assist us) are only now in the process of getting our first National sponsors, and as we don’t ask you our amazing viewers for contributions other than supporting our sponsors when you can, we have to depend on our sponsors to survive.   We can’t grow unless we get them results and grow our sponsor pool.   We need to hire more staff and invest in bringing you more features and expanding.

Now I can’t capitulate to that pressure.  Yes, today that would be a big chop from our bottom line, but I can’t sell my soul that cheaply, and if you give into those kind of pressures and bullying early then the line will never be drawn.

That though is a whole other story.   (The sponsor in question has asked that they not be outed at this point in time even though I feel it’s a juicy National story)

Today I want to know what you think about people commenting on websites.   Should people be forced to register and sign their names to each post?   Why shouldn’t they if you don’t think they should.   I know who many of those who use pseudonyms are.    A few others I have cracked the whip on like our old chum Smee who doesn’t get to post some of his nonsense until he signs his name, right Mike?

Our comments and posters are a huge and vibrant part of CFN.   You guys and gals have very strong opinions generally.   Would you stop posting if we made you register and sign your names to each post?

Is this simply “Big Brother” in a sense or is it simply common sense?   There are some interesting opinions on both sides of the argument.

Speaking of which here is a clip in tribute to some of our special posters 🙂


Team Cornwall



  1. The sponsor remains unnamed… how ironic.

    Indeed the sponsor is demonstrating how anonymity may sometimes be necessary, to promote open dialog free of threat… from customer and business both.

  2. If people must leave their name, they will more than likely act with courtesy. Honestly, I think the general public and sponsors will take you and the CFN more seriously if CFN insists that people sign their posts. All that being said, not having anonymity will certainly prevent people in sensitive situations from posting.

  3. Author

    Flipper that irony is not lost. But again every sponsor has the right to spend their dollars how they see fit. It’s the bigger picture I’m looking at right now. I understand issues on both side of the fence. We may have to make up close to 10% of our revenue if we don’t capitulate. While some have suggested this is a form of censorship the bottom line is that for any company to survive and grow it has to generate income.

    I guess if people truly value CFN and other media sites ability to have input from the public without a legal document there will have to be a debate and hopefully enough sponsors step up the plate and we can keep the lights on. I think I’d rather move to another market, or shut down CFN than be ultimately told what I can report on; how, and about whom….

  4. I think people should have to leave their name. I beleive many people are cowards, who can sling slurs and insults..but don’t have the balls to own up to it.
    I believe some of the comments that I have read in the past, have made your “paper” look trashy.
    Signed Len Pidgeon

  5. I am both a frequent user, a newer advertiser and a supporter of the Cornwall Free News and Jamie…but not a Liberal…lol!

    However, I do believe it would not be a personal failure to have people create an account that must be verified with a real name before they can post with any other name! I post with my full name because I am not afraid to back my comments!

    Ultimately, the popularity and success of this site is dependant on the frequency of the visitors! As a businessman with professional accounting training and through experience with my own business, I can honeslty say that sometimes we as owners must be humbled to ensure the viability of the company and the continuation of our idealogy! Although we as owners don’t want to change doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t change!

    There are certain cliques in Cornwall that stem from what many call the old boys club! If you anger one of them then eventually they will impact your business! As soon as Cornwall realizes this is a fact and not fiction then Cornwall can MAYBE start to grow! Until then it will remain tarnished in reputation and filled with empty pride!

    I love Cornwall but hate our corporate culture or what’s left of it! Certain family run organizations have dominated and will continue to run Cornwall from the inside out until NEW LIKE MINDED individuals stick together and become successful!

    Keep up the Good Work,
    Mike Bedard

  6. I just checked Canada’s two largest dailles, The Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star and both do not require a person to give their real names. The CBC has the same approach. A nickname or even just a number is acceptable for all three media. The Globe does seem to have a stricter approach as to which comments are acceptable and which do not meet their guidelines and thus not shown. I suggest that your paper do likewise even if some of your readers will claim that you are acting as judge and jury, which in fact you would be. Good luck.

  7. Author

    Hi Mike, it’s a double edged sword when a sponsor behaves this way. First off if they are seeing results, which I believe this particular one does, then they are hurting their own business. Secondly as I shared about a particular politician recently; if I know I’ll never do business with them, and if elected, would not be able to gain any assistance then they actually are motivating me to work against them as opposed to the simple “level playing field” which most businesses work under.

    I think the trick is to listen to any client’s concerns and wishes, and try and work with them to resolve them. I know in your particular business I’ve seen personally that you go way overboard to make sure your clients at Roy’s Pools are happy, and that’s something we’ve always tried to do as well.

    Ultimately though the customer always reserves the right to do what they wish. We lost one client that we sent three times the web traffic of all the other media sites combined, and they pulled their ad with us because the person making the decision is a petty little troll with really bad hair, with a competing side biz.

    Another client caved into bullying. I’m lucky that we have some truly great clients, and many of them have been with us from our first year! Client loyalty is huge in any business.

    Bottom line though is that this issue of posting under pseudonyms is a real one that impacts the internet. Hopefully a solution can be found that keeps sponsors happy and our community vibrant…..

  8. I’m curious as to what sort of comments sponsors have had issues with. I understand that foul language and personal attacks against a sponsor (business or owner), would be a problem, but aren’t they filtered out?
    Have there been sponsors who have objected to posters expressing their political or religious views?

  9. Yes indeed Mr. Pidgeon… Eric Blair, François-Marie Arouet, and Samuel Clemens — what a cowardly crew.

  10. Author

    Well Furtz, there really haven’t been that many complaints in our near 3 years of existence. There were some Traci Trottier complaints, but those were not based on facts, and after Ms Trottier oopsed on some of her spin they went poof. For example you can’t say you won in court and then state that you wrote a cheque. Writing a cheque is not connected with winning in court.

    Politics can play a role. I know in Cornwall there are a few of the “old boys” that won’t advertise with us because of the Lauzon issues I’ve had, and because I’m not a Conservative. Our MP for example refuses to wish our now 60,000 plus viewers per month Happy Canada Day or other events that normally a MP would place a notice. My good buddy Troy Hickman at Cornwall Toyota said he’d buy a big ad for example if I’d purchase a Conservative Membership card. But these are very isolated examples that can happen anywhere although it’s only recently that we’ve had our first two openly Conservative sponsors.

    We’ve never had any sponsorship from NDP affiliated sponsors. Not even any of the area unions, so as you can see we don’t base our editorial positions on client dollars.

    For the most part I’ve met nothing but great professional people in this area.

    To me this isn’t about the sponsor in question. This is about the issue of online anonymity. As Jerry stated earlier some major outlets do not require a full name disclosure. It’s the industry standard. I don’t mind being above industry standards as long as it makes sense and doesn’t impact on our product.

    I respect all of my clients opinions; value them in fact; but I’m old school. I respect people’s knowledge in that I won’t tell my mechanic how to fix my car, and I don’t expect him to tell me how to build our audience and help him reach his marketing goals with us. It’s important to listen to your client’s concerns, issues, goals, and needs, but then it’s time to do our job and I think we do it pretty darn well.

  11. I think a lot your commentators would disappear if full and correct names were required. Expressing political and/or religious views publicly can be a very dangerous thing to do career wise. I know for a fact that my last employer of 13 years would never have considered bring me on board had he known my political leanings ahead of time. I also know that both my MP and MPP hate my guts and would never help me out because of things I’ve written in various local papers over the years using my real name. Free speech is a great idea, but it can be very costly if you’re on the wrong side of the fence.

  12. I just found sixty thousand other websites that accept nicknames including Toronto Life, Macleans, Georgia Straight, The Belleville Intelligencer and just about every web site in Free Africa and Australia. I note that the web sites in Free Africa risk their lives to print some news and thoughts. I don’t need the advertising money from Cornwall to express my views to the world…no problem to move on and reward the brave with my delightful presence. I can run and play and chase the wind any where I want.

  13. It comes down to a few concepts. 1. Moderation/Moderators are important. 2. If slander/libel laws are crossed…every computer has a ping number. 3. It’s a typists playground.

    Your advertisers do their jobs well. CFN does its job well. They are separate entities. Symbiotic yes, BUT. BUT. The advertiser with concerns, should think a little harder. Like most news sites, this one provides the writing on the wall. Learn/Benefit from it if you can. Enjoy the crisis/opportunity. Anon is a gift to the world.

  14. Ahhhh yes, lets cut to the nub, it all comes down to is there really any “freedom of the press” today.
    Its not about online posters signing in or not….Its all about a sponsors ego and using the press
    for their own agenda and personal trip. Lets hear the issues as you understand them leaving sponsors name out of it. If the sponsor has a legit argument then he will want to be heard by posting to this forum.
    What ensues will be true freedom of the press.

  15. Another happy Pony….

  16. Somebody once said that the biggest threat to an elected government is an informed electorate. Someone else once said that he who controls the press, controls the country, or something like that. I think there’s some truth there.

  17. Jamie
    Considering you have posted an associated name without consent does that mean I can now post on this site again.

  18. Names should be mandatory, people should have to register to comment. I think those who wish to remain anonymous have little or no credibility. I read a lot of posts here and I appreciate the variety of opinion and idea but I find the most negative comments come from people hiding behind psudonyms.

  19. William Jones
    Could you identify which posts you are referring to?

  20. Perhaps “William Jones” is a pseudonym too…..?

  21. I get a kick out of this ‘full disclosure’ push people have toward internet communication. Seems to me that people would love nothing better than to stare some net troll down on the street, even scold them for their words, and so the argument that it may somehow it will force them to “have the balls to own up to it” thereby diminishing their troll behaviour is their battle standard in this dispute.

    Let me set up a scenario for you; A discussion flares up on say…The Cornwall Free News, and one poster, we’ll call him Mikey, starts running his mouth to another poster that we’ll call Dave. Now, because of the CFN’s disclosure policy, Dave knows exactly who Mikey is and decides that Mikey should be confronted PERSONALLY because of his inflammatory words, and so the next day, Dave approaches Mikey.

    Unapologetic, Mikey again irritates Dave, with his opinions and Dave assaults Mikey. Now, perhaps Mikey threw the first punch, or maybe it was Dave but here comes the question;

    Who is liable UNDER THE LAW in this incident?
    A: Mikey – for his defamatory comments
    B: Dave – for approaching Mikey on the Street
    C: The Cornwall Free News – for making their private information available and allowing this hypothetical situation to occur.

    If you answered C congratulations. You now understand why anonymity is essential on the internet.

  22. Google “William Jones” and it comes up with 3,210,000 results. Might take a while to track him down.

  23. I say cut the sponsor, they are just trying to pull what many here in Cornwall continue to pull and you don’t need that. Your sponsor relegates themselves to the level of Guy Lauzon and others in asking you to do that. Im totally with Jerry and other posters that have advised that just about 99% of all the major online sites allow anon posting, and if your sponsor can’t have the fortitude to allow you to act the same but instead threaten you with potentially pulling their business, that says more about them then you. And I’m totally with Antagonizer and furtz and a few others. People should be able to say, what they want, under what identity they want, so long as it doesn’t directly defame a business or anything like that (unless there is undeniable proof of course, such as what happened with the traci trottier issue – though I still think it was wrong to post that after court, but you have your own reasons of course, part of your own individual identity – which your sponsor is trying to rob from you). Another thing, it is completely legal to make fun in any way you want of any politician, so long as they aren’t a private citizen. So that means I can go and post whatever I want about Lauzon, and there is nothing he can do about it. So long as he remains our MP. But as soon as he is no longer our MP and becomes a private citizen again, that is a different story. Those of you who don’t know this fact, look it up. Why do you think political cartoon’s get away with what they say?

    So again, if the sponsor is feeling this way, don’t let them push you down. Otherwise what willie191 at one point said becomes very true around here in town “Everytime you try or take a step forward, there’s always someone around the corner in Cornwall trying to step on you for their own gain!” Don’t let that happen Jamie. Nothing is worth selling your soul for!

    Now if your sponsor is being directly attacked, that is a different story and you’ll need to handle that, but if not, then stfu you ironically anonymous sponsor!

  24. I would imagine some of your mumbers of viewing, are people who come back a few times to see if there are responses to comments. Would there be a reduction then?

    In dealing with people over the years, we see there are some who want to know more about you, just so they can feel superior or can belittle your thoughts or even your present place in life.

    I do not post my last name for 2 main reasons. Job search/present employment and to keep peace among my family and friends.Employers now google prospective employees and comments made may not fit in with theirs. Also the time stamp may be off making it look like people are posting during work times.
    Friends and family often have different views and sometimes keeping those views more low key, are helpful.

    If an MP gets a letter from one person and they think 1000 must feel the same way, can comments from real people not be used effectivily by them? Different opinions that we see on these pages should be sold as market research then….LOL

    As long as the Admin can track someone and have the ability to block, I do not want to reduce seeing the different opinions on timely articles. Can the sponsor bill of rights with an understanding of implications be included on the contract?

  25. Author

    Hi Eric,

    Sometimes; especially in dealing with a larger entity, upper management yells at middle management without fully understanding the dilemma. I feel for those in that position. Like everything in this world there are ramifications for actions and words. Early in Howard Stern’s show for example sponsors dropped his him. Of course others replaced them and of course those that dropped his show lost out on a lot of eyeballs, and traffic which ultimately is why someone advertises or markets. The concept is to attract your target demographic. We’re in a unique situation where we’re part local newspaper and part National magazine so for some clients we offer a huge opportunity while for others there are limitations. For example Ottawa has overall been our number one market with Cornwall being number two. We still have a considerable amount of people in the Toronto area reading CFN, but we don’t have local Toronto firms advertising with us…yet 🙂 The online age is rapidly changing the way media is delivered and how advertising, marketing, and messaging work. It’s an interesting ride indeed….

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