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Newspaper announces plan to reveal commenters’ real names retroactively

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Internet trolls love comment sections because they can be as awful as they want while hiding behind a digital mask of anonymity. But now one newspaper is changing its policy so that commenters’ names are exposed, both going forward and retroactively. This, predictably, has a lot of people up in arms.

The Montana Standard has always required users to register with the site by providing their real names. Once commenters are through that process, though, they can use a screen name when they post comments (this is fairly standard stuff). As of Jan. 1, 2016, the Butte, Montana-based newspaper is making all comments, going back years, appear with attributions to commenters’ real names.

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It’s one thing to tell users that all their future comments will be attached to their real names. But is it fair to suddenly unmask people who believed they were posting anonymously? The Washington Post quotes Paul Levy, of the Public Citizen Consumer Law & Policy Blog, who expressed concern about how this might imperil some long-term users:

[I]t is…quite possible that some of the commenters may have made comments that place their economic or even physical security at risk from the individuals or companies that they criticized in online comments. Or, their comments might have revealed something about their own experiences or past conduct that they were willing to share with the public anonymously, making a valuable contribution to a discussion, but would never have been willing to provide had they known that their own names would be attached. The Standard could be putting livelihoods and more at risk through its retroactive changes.

The Post also points out that the newspaper’s privacy policy explicitly states (or has until now) that commenter identities are protected. The site’s policy states that users must register with their real name to post “story comments,” among other things, but that, “We will not share individual user information with third parties unless the user has specifically approved the release of that information.” A bit further down, it adds, “Of course, our use of information gathered while the current policy is in effect will always be consistent with the current policy, even if we change that policy later.”

David McCumber, an editor at the Standard, emailed a statement to the Washington Post. He says he “extensively investigated that possibility” that previous comments could be omitted from the change, but that “content-management software experts [told him] that such a configuration is impossible”:

Based on that, I am trying to do what is most equitable to all of our readers. I believe that some of our challenges here are unique to community journalists. When a relatively small city is at the center of your market, just about everybody commented about is known, and the anonymous comments sting. I personally believe that very few of our readers are concerned about employers’ retaliation; I think that instead the relatively few posters who consistently offer destructive and noxious comments enjoy the cloak of anonymity in order to avoid community accountability. I believe that our site is and should be a community meeting place, and as such, rules of conduct should apply. That said, I am as ardent a believer in free speech as you are likely to find in this profession. I also believe in transparency and accountability.

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There’s a lengthy comment reaction thread to the policy change on the Montana Standard site. Suffice it to say, most people, understandably and perhaps justifiably, aren’t very happy.

(h/t Washington Post)

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Matt Gaetz forgot which network he was on: Surprised CNN anchor said ‘I’ve never been called Sean Hannity’

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Rep. Matt Gaetz seemed to confuse cable news networks during a Thursday appearance

Gaetz was interviewed by CNN's Chris Cuomo, who aggressively challenged Gaetz on the facts as the Florida Republican attempted to defend President Donald Trump.

Despite the fact Cuomo's interview was nothing like the puff segments Gaetz is used to on Fox, the congressman seemed confused by the end.

"Congressman, you are always welcome, wherever I am, at nine or eleven, whenever," Cuomo said.

"Thanks Sean," Gaetz replied.

"Did you just call me Sean?" Cuomo asked. "Did you just call me Sean?"

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California lawmaker who chaired Republican Assembly caucus leaving GOP — to become an independent: report

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On Thursday, the Sacramento Bee reported that California Assemblyman Chad Mayes, the former Assembly Minority Leader, is leaving the Republican Party and registering as No Party Preference.

"Instead of focusing on solutions for the big problems that we've got, we focused on winning elections," said Mayes in his announcement. "For me, I'm at the point in my life where I'm done with gamesmanship."

Mayes, a controversial figure who was implicated in an affair with a fellow public official, represents Yucca Valley. He is the second Republican Assemblyman this year to leave the party, after Brian Maienschein of San Diego, who Maienschein of San Diego.

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‘Quantum physics generator’ incident in Ohio results in evacuation — hazmat found no radiation

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Authorities in Columbus, Ohio evacuated dozens of homes after a man called 911 to report being burned by a

"Firefighters say nothing threatening was found in a northwest Columbus garage," WCMH-TV reported. "According to firefighters, a man called and reported that he received ‘RF burns’ while building some sort of ‘quantum physics generator’ in a garage. The man used words like ‘particle accelerator,’ ‘alpha rays,’ and ‘radiation’ while describing how he was burned."

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