Anonymous news site commenter outs herself after newspaper agrees to ID her

Shelly Snider says she's the one who commented on the Pantagraph's website, saying a company knew of unsafe working conditions before a building collapsed this summer in Bloomington, Ill.

Snider said in a phone interview that she criticized the company in comments posted under two different user IDs and that the comments have since been deleted. The company, H.W. Holdings, says the comments were defamatory, demanding in court that the newspaper reveal the names of the commenters. The newspaper has agreed to do so.

As soon as Snider learned that, she said, she went on a couple of websites that had written about the issue and posted comments to the effect of, "I don't know what the big deal is; here I am."

The Pantagraph's privacy policy says that the newspaper may decide to disclose personal information in some cases; complying with a legal action is one of them. If so, Snider said, that means it's up to the user to read that. But "nobody reads that crap when they sign up. I didn't read it. I assumed I was anonymous."

So while she's comfortable coming forward, she also questions the value of pseudonyms if a company can so easily get the newspaper to turn over the names. "That kind of changes everything in regard to the Web," she said. "People need to know that before they comment on a form or a blog, that you can just call up and say, 'I need their information.' "

In fact, she called Lee Enterprises on Wednesday and asked for the identities of all other Pantagraph users. She said she was referred to a company lawyer.

  • Steve Myers

    Steve Myers was the managing editor of until August 2012, when he became the deputy managing editor and senior staff writer for The Lens, a nonprofit investigative news site in New Orleans.


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