Sunday, July 06, 2008

A Shver Shver?


Remember this letter, by the extremely ungrateful supported sons-in-law? The one that caused much outrage (with good reason)? Well, apparently, it's a fake... or maybe not. Larry Lennhoff has the letter to the Yated from a regretful father-in-law claiming that he, in anger at his son-in-law, wrote the (fake) letter to make a point. However, a commenter at Baruch Pelta's blog (Orthodox Freelancers) says that there's another letter [update: here it is] claiming the follow-up is fake, since the 3rd letter writer is the one who wrote the first one. (Follow all that?)

Whether the first letter is true or not, the second is true or not, and the third letter exists or not, the second letter writer makes possibly the best point of all in questioning the Yated's publishing of the letter:
I must admit to being disturbed by the number of people who take letters in the Yated - many of them totally anonymous letters, mind you - at face value and allow themselves be carried away and be taken for rides. I have nothing against readers expressing opinions. But that is all it is: an anonymous opinion. Just because a letter is signed, “A Mental Health Professional,” or “A Teacher,” or “A Hurting Mother,” or “A Son-in-Law,” does not guarantee in any way that any such person wrote that letter.

For all any of us know, someone wrote it for the kicks, or to get people upset, or to support a cause, or for any other number of reasons. ...

You don’t know that any such person ever wrote any such letter. These letters in the Yated get quoted, posted, e-mailed, talked about, and they take on a life of their own. It becomes ‘fact’ that such and such a person said such and such a thing about such and such a topic. All this shows is how many people are gullible. It shows little else.
While I don't think it shows people are "gullible" per se (people have no choice but to place their trust somewhere, and they presume that a responsible publication vets their letters), the writer is absolutely correct about trusting such anonymous letters in general. For the same reasons that anonymous blogs and bloggers should have [and do have] a much harder time building trust, as they have little 'on the line', anonymous letter writers have even less of a reason to be trusted - or actually, none.

But the biggest fault lies at the feet of the Yated itself. A publication should never accept an anonymous letter, particularly one which is as clearly inflammatory as the original letter here was; even letters which are published anonymously should still have identities which are known to the editor. There should be no occasion for a second letter to be published claiming that the original was a fake without the publication knowing whether or not this is the case.

A friend recently discussed with me that a publication they are affiliated with was considering a section that would be made up of letters on subjects that are more difficult to discuss in public - from abuse to depression to anything else that a person might wish to write about anonymously. While finding the idea noble in thought, my friend questioned the idea, wondering if I agreed that this was a bad idea and set a horrible precedent in regard to accepting anonymous material in a publication wishing to be taken seriously. I agreed emphatically, noting that this would lead to numerous false letters and lack of responsibility for one's words, as it would allow people to hide behind this veil of anonymity to say whatever they want - true or false, right or wrong. There's a clear difference between an editors or journalists knowing the identity of a letter writer or a person being quoted and publishing their words anonymously, and a letter that is completely anonymous in its origin. The former can, if used properly, bring light to important subjects; the latter is a disservice which cheapens the very ideals it wishes to represent through its lack of credibility.