Local Commentary

Editorial: The Town Hall Vs. On-Line Anonymity

Thank goodness for this thing called “institutional history,” the benefit that comes from having been around, and attentive, for a while. In the case of the mighty Falls Church News-Press, it’s been for almost 1,200 consecutive weeks by now since our first edition in March 1991. There’s no one on the City Council, or at City Hall, who’s been paying attention to what’s been going on around Falls Church as long as we have.

Of course, we say this with deference to venerable City legends such as former Mayor Carol DeLong, who served four terms in the 1980s and still bird-dogs the Council, and to the father of the International Baccalaureate program in the Falls Church public schools, the greatly esteemed Lou Olom, and others here before we were. We are speaking only of institutional memory with respect to current Falls Church officialdom.

But this applies to a lot of citizens in The Little City, too. With a surprisingly high rate of turnover in the City population over more than two decades, a special tribute goes to keepers of the flame such as leaders of the Citizens for a Better City (CBC) such that the political demographic of the City has varied little – it’s remained about two-to-one Democrat over Republican here just as it’s always been.

It has to do with values imparted, favoring those who prefer an environment where children can enjoy a personalized, hands-on education, as contrasted to large and relatively indifferent systems which may be more fiscally efficient, for example.

It’s not to say there aren’t always voices expressing contrary points of view. We are proud that our newspaper gives such voices, all voices in fact, a way to be heard by the entire community.

Inherent with that, however, is the frustration that can arise from discovering people who think they’ve just invented Falls Church, and come with a degree of hostility over what they perceive to be poor government without any real knowledge of the issues and how they’ve played out over years.
This is especially true for those who are allowed to comment on websites without identifying themselves. As newspaper editors, we have a particular disdain for this form of unnecessary anonymity, which comes across more like an entitlement to not check facts and to spout off with none of the usual restraints of civility and neighborliness.

Not that everyone does it, but for those who do, there is a danger that civil discourse is being undermined in a way that corrodes some of the core tenants of democracy.
It is the absolute opposite of the storied tradition in America of the town hall meeting, and it’s good that we still value them in little Falls Church. In the town hall meeting, citizens come together to greet and look each other in the eye and discuss their differences, if they have them. But, sadly, anonymity discourages that. Instead, it rewards cowardice and incivility.