Published in The New Yorker 7/5/1993

Last summer, someone with the moniker “lawmiss” posted a comment on the website of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Lawmiss wrote something nasty about a relative of a Plain Dealer reporter. The more than 80 comments posted under the lawmiss moniker since 2007 covered a wide range of Ohio and national current events, and showed a familiarity with the inner workings of the Cuyahoga County government and Judge Shirley Strickland Saffold’s courtroom, in particular.

Many of the most recent comments involved legal issues in three high-profile criminal cases before her, and Judge Safford hears some very high-profile cases, even capitol cases. But oddly, it was the comment about the reporter which prompted the newspaper to investigate the source of the posting. It turns out that the newspaper was able to trace the lawmiss username to the personal AOL account of Cleveland judge. The Plain Dealer removed the comment for violating cleveland.com’s community rules, which do not allow personal attacks.

Anyway, it seems uncertain whether the judge posted the comments—she claims it was her 23 year old daughter. Either way, the judge (who appears to be a bit of a loose cannon) is under investigation for ethics violations. Saffold’s daughter declined to talk about the specifics of her postings. “I don’t think the content of my posts is necessarily pertinent,” she said. “I know all of the people I spoke about . . . I don’t see why I owe any explanations about my blogging activities.”

But the story of Judge Safford and the Plain dealer is just the background to a larger issue that is now being studied by news sites—that of the anonymity of posters.

News Sites Rethink Anonymous Online Comments

When the Cleveland Plain dealer acknowledged that it had broken with the tradition of allowing commenters to hide behind screen names, it broke a kind of fourth wall, and broke the barrier of anonymity. It may not be guaranteed. The editor of The Plain Dealer said that perhaps the paper should not have investigated the identity of the person who posted the comments, “but once we did, I don’t know how you can pretend you don’t know that information.” And the fact that it turned out to be a judge made that story more important than merely the anonymity of their posters.

When news sites first went on line, they didn’t all allow comments. But they soon learned it drew readers and clicks, and, therefore, advertisers. They also used the rationalization that now anyone could weigh in and remain anonymous. A virtual Town Hall, if you will. The policy of allowing anonymous posts is now coming under attack, and journalists are questioning whether anonymity should be a given on news sites.

Leonard Pitts Jr., a Miami Herald columnist, wrote that anonymity has made comment streams “havens for a level of crudity, bigotry, meanness and plain nastiness that shocks the tattered remnants of our propriety.”

We’ve all been there—The Huffington Post. And we all use avatars and monikers whenever we posted there or elsewhere. There is legitimate value in letting people express opinions that may get them in trouble at work or offend their neighbors. And there is the issue of identity theft and plain old privacy too.

“But a lot of comment boards turn into the equivalent of a barroom brawl, with most of the participants having blood-alcohol levels of 0.10 or higher,” a dean at Columbia’s journalism school said. “People who might have something useful to say are less willing to participate in boards where the tomatoes are being thrown.”

The Washington Post plans to revise its comments policy over the next several months, and one of the ideas under consideration is to give greater prominence to commenters using real names. The New York Times, The Post and many other papers have moved in stages toward requiring that people register before posting comments, providing some information about themselves that is not shown onscreen. I always use my real name when I comment on the NYT’s site and I really like their feature of opting to see other comments ranked most popular by other Times readers. It weeds out the trolls very effectively, as they are at the bottom of the rankings. The Times also has someone review every comment before it goes online, to weed out personal attacks and bigoted comments. That is too expensive for most news sites, especially ones with a huge readership.

There is still the problem of those paid trolls though. Sites may have to guard against a concerted campaign by a small group of people voting one way and skewing the results. The Wall Street Journal’s site gives readers the option of deciding to only see comments by WSJ’s subscribers, on the theory that the most dedicated readers might make for a more serious conversation. Since I rarely visit the WSJ, I don’t know if that is the case.

Huffington Post

According to The New York Times, Puff Ho will be announcing changes to their comments policy, including ranking commenters based in part on how well other readers know and trust their writing. The more fans, the higher the reliability is the rationale. That means Hume Skeptic will now be the featured commenter on every thread, I suppose. He’s over 2000 fans now and actually, that’s fine with me.

“Anonymity is just the way things are done. It’s an accepted part of the Internet, but there’s no question that people hide behind anonymity to make vile or controversial comments,” said Arianna. “I feel that this is almost like an education process. As the rules of the road are changing and the Internet is growing up, the trend is away from anonymity.” I disagree. People still want to be able to state their opinions without fear of retaliation from their bosses. They still worry about cyber stalking. They still want to be able to speak their mind without their friends knowing exactly how radical they may be.

“There is a younger generation that doesn’t feel the same need for privacy,” Huffington said. “Many people, when you give them other choices, they choose not to be anonymous.” She’s probably correct in that assessment—Facebook and Twitter seem to confirm that. But that’s because most young people have no idea about the dangers that lurk on the internet—they post all kinds of personal information. Having two teenage daughters, I can attest to their scary naiveté.

Some news sites moderate comments after they are posted, but again, they do not have the resources to do serious review. And then there is always banning. Besides, if I were forced to provide my name, I would probably use a fake name. My email address wouldn’t contain my name either, so I don’t think that’s the answer. When you get right down to it, you either moderate or allow everyone to post—until they become so offensive they are banned. It’s like driving—lots of people have no business being on the road and should have their licenses taken away. Same with posting.

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dildenusa
Member

From Ramdom House College Dioctionary.
1. Troll – In scandanavian folklore any of a race of supernatural beings, whether a giant or dwarf, inhabiting caves or subterranean dwellings.

2. Troll – To sing or utter in a full rolling voice. To catch fish with a moving lure.

So with I’m a little confused. In regard to HP and Fox news, which of these definitions does “troll” apply to.
Based on my own experience I would say that a “toll” is a fishing lure.

Pepe Lepew
Member

I agree. “Trolls” got their names because they go online and do what they do just to “troll” for reactions out of the people. It’s a fishing reference.

kesmarn
Admin

Then again, the image of an unsightly little creature lurking under a bridge to leap out and attack unexpectedly works, too.

Pepe Lepew
Member

Not allowed to embed:

kesmarn
Admin

😆 Pretty much, Pepe, pretty much!

msbadger
Member
msbadger

Hi,folks. Interesting development- I wondered how long it would be until something like this began. I have to confess I’m a PuffHo addict, for several reasons. I don’t take their news as anything but a place to start, and certainly not necessarily always good journalism- LOL! I like getting the gist of things, and seeing other people’s reactions. I take it from there, and do my own thinking. It was a good way to get into some discourse with folks new to me.
The social part is seriously dysfunctional, for all the reasons stated in your comments. Pepe knows me from there and we share a horror of the worst of those trolls! This is all new to me as an experience. I knew about it but had never been part of any online community until HP. The addiction part for me is that I’m a very solitary person right now. I lost my job in Oct.’08 and I’m partially disabled. It’s almost impossible for me to get out enough to get my social needs met. Many of my friends were co-workers, and my outside friends either still work full-time or have left the area with retirement. I’m not ashamed to admit I’m full-on lonely! Much to my surprise, I was welcomed warmly by many people there. I never expected that, really. I have made some good friends, and I treasure them. As for the cliques, I have seen some of that, but I think highly of most of the people that are part of one of them in particular. As to HS, I was a big fan of his at first, but his attitudes about certain things have put me off. Of course, folks disagree but there are things I can’t abide.
There is so much fun and social, emotional benefit for me that I disregard a lot of what I see that’s less than ideal. I still feel I learn a lot almost daily, about things I had not known much if anything about. So, I don’t trust or feel really great about Arianna’s commitment to the Left, she’s definitely money-oriented. I take almost all the articles with a grain of salt, with few exceptions. The trolls are despicable but I usually ignore them, except for those awful stalkers. I’m just plain happy to be part of the community, bottom line. I would be so lonely and miserable without them. And I enjoy this forum too. Glad to have discovered POV and thanks for having me! (Hi, Pepe and Khirad, and others!)

whatsthatsound
Member

Hello, fellow woodland critter! Spring has come to the forest and Bambi has lost his fawn spots!

Pepe Lepew
Member

It’s snowing where I live. A LOT!

msbadger
Member
msbadger

Thanks! Woodland critter power! LOL

whatsthatsound
Member

ferret says hi too

WLA
Member

Ms. B, I hope you stay at HP and here too. You are one of the happy people.

I hope my troll smacking at HP does not offend the nice people like you.

Your friend.
WLA

msbadger
Member
msbadger

Oh, WLA- never fear! I love a good troll-smack as much as the next person. No offense felt- and I may be “nice” but I’m not THAT nice! LOL- Thanks, though. I always enjoy your posts and the trolls exist to be smacked, as far as I’m concerned. See you soon!

WLA
Member

Have you folks heard of China’s “50 Cent Army” AKA: “50 Cent Party?”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/50_Cent_Party

Just throwing that out there for discussion.

KQµårk 死神
Member

Hey WLA great to see your moniker again! I’ll have to check it out your link.

WLA
Member

I’ve been around. Just busy.

So I was watching this BBC documentary “The Virtual Revolution” and apparently, the Communist party pays these blog commenters 50 cents per post to troll.

I also know for a fact (through work) that corporations, through various agencies, hire a LOT of people to monitor their wikis and post on blogs.

I have no reason to believe that lobbying firms don’t do the same. In fact, they would be remiss NOT to.

KQµårk 死神
Member

Paid trolls seem to have a bigger presence on mainstream responses to articles on the wire service stories if you ask me. You look at news on Yahoo and AOL and it’s almost all right wing responses.

escribacat
Member

Same goes for my local news site. Some very toxic sick people posting regularly there. I rarely even look any more.

WLA
Member

YEP. I am almost certain of that. Network news sites too.

escribacat
Member

Interesting. I’ve encountered several posters on HP who seemed to be employed on such a mission.

Pepe Lepew
Member

Where I’ve seen examples of what appears to be *obvious* paid posters is on Fox News threads!

WLA
Member

Hard to tell. FOX viewers are such zombies that just repeat what FOX drills into their heads all day anyway.

Pepe Lepew
Member

What I’ve seen — more than once — is on a thread putting Fox News in a negative light, a whole slew of brand new posters with no comment history and no fans.

My skunk senses have tingled that it’s Fox News interns.

escribacat
Member

Yes, and aren’t those threads usually fully moderated nowadays?

WLA
Member

Oh you mean on other sites. Yes indeed. Amazing are the clones that defend self-confessed clown Glenn Beck. Like he is their prophet.

VegasBabe
Member

Couple thoughts. It almost seems a bit cowardice of me NOT to post my real name when blogging, but having heard some of the same horror stories regarding employers reading blogs and posts of employees and then terminating their employment, not to mention the potential stalking aspects of revealing one’s true identity certainly turns me off. I’m no coward, but I’m no idiot either.
There WAS a time I held great esteem for HS but there were a few posters he has since attacked, including me for NOT supporting amnesty, that has turned me waaaaaaaay off. I didn’t get attacking lornejl and/or sassysafrine. I’m just waiting for him to assault ThunderClapNewman and then I think folks might wake up a bit. HS’s posts have lost their luster for me and I remain disheartened about that. My point and my belief has always been and shall always remain that we MUST agree to disagree amiably on certain subjects, and leave it at that. HS accused me of having “deep seeded prejudices” because I don’t support amnesty. I’d say that was going a bit to far and several others agreed. Lornejl continues to keep me in stitches and I believe HS had some involvement in getting him banned. He’s back now, thank goodness. Perhaps it’s something to do with getting to big for one’s britches….I don’t know. I generally attempt to submit posts with a tad of humility, appreciating always that though I may not be the brightest bulb on the tree, my opinion nonetheless, is valid. I don’t spend as much time at Huffie as I once did. My time in fact has become so taxed with obligations, I haven’t the energy. But I am glad for PlanetPOV and I trust that I may continue to post here whenever time and energy permit, and though we may NOT always agree, I can do so without the threat of assault. Adlib has all but assured that infact. Jeepers, guess that means it’s time for another donation!! 😉

Khirad
Member

Same observations here.

KQµårk 死神
Member

We’ve had disagreements on amnesty too but I understand your position. My position is quite simple. I don’t think the last immigration bill was amnesty by any means with it’s touch back clause. Every undocumented alien needs to be punished for breaking the law and while I think the punishment should be light others think they should be stiffer.

Khirad
Member

Summed up why I like anonymity. If you hide behind it, you’re just a dick. Me, I’m not na

whatsthatsound
Member

What is it with Hume and all the fans, anyway? Do people just feel they have to jump on the bandwagon, does he really increase the QOL of peoples’ lives over there, or is there some benefit that accrues to fanning him that I am unaware of?

I’m not jealous (me and my paltry dozens of fans, ha!), I’m just wonderin’ what gives?

SueInCa
Member

WTS, IMHO he is a bit caustic for my taste but in the past he did post alot of good info that was pertinent to Obama’s performance. In my opinion, Rich Misty was a much better poster with his informative list of info, kind of like Cher over here. He was driven away by the trolls because he just could not get through.

whatsthatsound
Member

Hi, Sue, Cher; I agree with you, I have found him caustic at times, but I respect Cher’s opinion too. I guess I was just wondering if by fanning him, you get some privileges or something. I suppose that would mean being alerted to all posts and the storehouse of information they so often contain. Puzzle solved!

Khirad
Member

All I ever got from Rich Misty was a heavy dose of Republican bashing – and links to back it up. Not like that’s a bad thing!

SueInCa
Member

No, not a bad thing at all but he also had some very interesting info on political doings too.

KQµårk 死神
Member

Rich misty was my one of my all time faves at HP and both of us being a scientists was a big part of it. Like him I think when you do have substantive arguments you have to back them up with facts.

Kalima
Admin

Hume could run rings around any of the trolls on HP without even trying and some of the constant whiny Dems there over the past years. He knows exactly what HP has become and it baffles me sometimes why he’s still there. One thing I know for sure is that he won’t stand for any bs and is not afraid to take people of either side on when he hears it.

whatsthatsound
Member

I mostly agree with that, K. But sometimes one person’s “bs” is another person’s deeply held truth, and I have found his certainty regarding the ascendancy and superiority of science over spirituality to be off putting. I much prefer OUR resident skeptic, KQ, who is never less than tolerant, nor is he ever snootily dismissive.
I’D fan KQ a couple thousand times for sure!

Kalima
Admin

Yes, I think that eventually a bit of the the seedy side of HP rubs off on most of us unfortunately, but most of us have the sense to leave when that happens.

KQ is my favourite scientist for sure. 🙂

P.S.
Is that sunshine I see?

Khirad
Member

Get him talking about Sufis.

KQµårk 死神
Member

😳 You make me blush.

HS is and will probably always be one of my favorite posters. I’ve said many times I am very suspicious of people who are so certain of their beliefs because that’s all they are, beliefs. Believing or not believing in God is a person’s belief system. Science does not disprove or prove the existence of God in any way because science has not proven the existence of God and science cannot prove a negative. I think people who try to use science to disprove the old supreme being thing are just as mistaken as people who try to disprove science through belief in God. Science and beliefs are just totally separate concepts to me and allays will be.

So to me it comes down to an issue of respecting people’s beliefs when it comes to faith because no one really can prove their hypotheses either way.

Pepe Lepew
Member

I’ve never once had a problem with him … and I don’t always agree with him, but I’ve seen people on BOTH sides of the spectrum just savage him. I think some of it IS jealousy over his fan count. The guy has been there probably 5 years; that’s where he gets the 2,000-person fan count.

Kalima
Admin

You are right Pepe, he’s been there from the beginning I believe and yes I’ve seen some pretty nasty fights over there where some vile poster thought it was ok to try to take him to pieces, although it was a worthless effort.

The only disagreement I have had with him was about religion when I was still naive enough to talk about it over there, but I decided it wasn’t worth it and would endeavor to keep my trap shut.

escribacat
Member

Yeah, I’ve seen some people really go after him for no clear reason. His comments are generally really strong (and I almost always agree with him). I’m a fan.

WLA
Member

Hume is good, but WilliamG is probably my favorite because he comes armed with great links and info.

Pepe Lepew
Member

Yeah, William knows his stuff … and can be quite funny, too.

And knows a lot about hockey!

escribacat
Member

What puzzles me is how a smart rational poster like him could get banned. Makes no sense. I still think they use the eenie-meenie-minie-mo school of banning and scrubbing.

Pepe Lepew
Member

He got banned? I didn’t know that.

WLA
Member

Neither did I. That sucks.

escribacat
Member

Yeah, he used to be williamg. He came back as gmailliw (many months ago).

WLA
Member

Yeah that was during The Great Banning.

Kalima
Admin

Good evening everyone, just a quick hello before I have to start to get ready for an appointment.

As usual a very interesting and thought provoking piece Cher.

I don’t know if I would continue to blog if I had to use my real name everywhere, not so much for any worry about myself, although it would be like the dream where you are suddenly walking down the street stark naked, but more out of respect for the privacy of my family and friends. Some people just give out far too much personal information, it wouldn’t be that hard for someone in the same area to recognize you and who knows, that could be a dangerous or unpleasant experience. I don’t feel the need to bring my family into my blogging, the odd mention yes, but not their life stories.

I have a confession to make. Last week after posting the Bob Cesca link on HP on MB, where he was exposing Becky as a fraud, I went to read some of the comments, something I haven’t done for a year. Some poster who had been there even when I joined in 07, was still there, saying exactly the same bs things.

Now it could have been my crack on the head on the 28th, in fact, it must have been (help me) but I found myself so PO that I left a few comments only to realize that although I didn’t know most of the posters, the general tone of the comments were the same. I left there at the speed of the “Bullet Train” hung my head in shame and went to sleep feeling embarrassed. Please don’t ever let me do that again. 😯

KQµårk 死神
Member

K the memories must be painful but this too shall pass.

Kalima
Admin

Hey K! 😆

“I’m off to see the Wizard, the wonderful Wizard of Knees.”

KQµårk 死神
Member

Great piece and topic Cher.

But I have to *sigh* and *cringe*. I guess we have to accept that Aryanna is the defacto leader of the progressive blog sphere. But that’s as frustrating for me as it probably is for moderate conservatives having Rush Limbaugh as their defacto spokesman.

Blogs have to be anonymous ask people who have given their real names in the past like AC and they will tell you why it’s a no brainer.

Aryanna is constantly trying to have the tail wag the dog like she accused President Clinton of doing int he 90’s. She builds up faux outrage after outrage like she is doing on the front page of Huffy now complaining about the fact that mine investigations are secret like they have been for decades. Huffy and her droogs know shit about the history of coal mining in this country. The investigations are secret to protect miners and even mining management from retribution in by the industry. The fact is these investigations are secret for a good reason based on history. Now just to drum up more progressive angst she puts an article like this on her front page like it’s all Obama’s fault again.

Like Adlib alluded to Huffy is the worst of all possible worlds. The protect the Huffy insiders from criticism by heavily moderating responses to their often bullshit columns while letting trolls run amok on other threads. They scrub on topic comments and limit meaningful discourse to 250 words or left to promote constant combativeness. They ban long time users and let anonymous trolls flood the sight with racist and other right wing comments. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen an new moniker beat the screeners by posting the “N” word tied together dozens of times while Huffy let’s those posts stand for over an hour. Worse of all every right wing tactic Aryanna used against President Clinton with all the guilt by association, hyperbole and personal attacks have come to the progressive blog sphere. The Cold Civil War rages on and people like Aryanna are pouring petrol on it and like any war the real casualties are human dignity and respect.

AdLib
Admin

Well said and summarized!

As Cher mentioned below, I think their “Combat Blogging” exploitation tactic has finally maxed out and losses of reasonable bloggers are exceeding the gains of outraged Dem clicks.

I think many of us anticipated that this would finally come about, when you gin up hatred between trolls and Dems purely for profit on an alleged Progressive blog, things would eventually get toxic enough that the benefit would be outweighed by the cost.

Still, as you say, there is no principle or values involved in this tact. It is purely about what they think might create more clicks and visits.

SO when this high school popularity contest explodes into backstabbing and vitriol, as long as clicks and visits are up, it will stay as policy…until it too becomes less profitable.

KQµårk 死神
Member

Aryanna and the right wing echo chamber are the same. They are like the entity that fed on fear and hate like in the original Star Trek episode “Day of the Dove”. Now that’s an obscure reference for you.

escribacat
Member

Is that the one where the entity grew stronger and brighter the madder the humans and klingons got? And at the end they all laughed and the entity went *poof*.

Pepe Lepew
Member

Yes, now ask me about the giant amoeba episode!

escribacat
Member

Let’s see, there’s the horta, who walks through rock and had to get fixed with cement after being injured (“I’m a doctor, Jim, not a bricklayer!”) There’s the gaseous thingie that smelled like honey, a bad memory from Kirk’s past. There was the planet-eating thing eating planets that looked like a giant “bugle” (junk food bugle). I can’t remember an amoeba one.

Pepe Lepew
Member

The amoeba one is the best one!

That’s the episode where Dr. McCoy says, “Shut up, Spock. We’re trying to rescue you.”

escribacat
Member

Actually, I think they’re more interested in ginning up battles between far lefties and moderate lefties. I still think AH is a phony lib.

Khirad
Member

It is funny I take a slightly less quiet tact of me in HS. I’m a clique unto myself. I try to stay friendly with everyone, but beholden to no one. Only a few really capture my ire. As to the petty feuds, leave me out. I’ll only step in with creepy stalkers, etc – not to name names.

Pepe Lepew
Member

That headline and article on the mining investigation were both pure B.S.

Of course, it’s secret. That’s why it’s called an “investigation!”

nellie
Member

Very interesting developments, Cher.

I think the effort to bring comment sections into some kind of sphere of civility is admirable, but useless. I’d dispose of them altogether. The news should be the news. Report it and that’s the end of it. If people want to discuss it, then let there be websites for that purpose. I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t want opinion with my news. Whether it’s from a pundit or a blogger.

I also think Americans have become addicted to rage, outrage, and anger. It’s very unhealthy. The entire country seems to be in the second stage of grief — and perhaps we are. We’re so depressed and angry at everything — to the point where we have lost the ability to reason. So many people don’t seem to want to think — I don’t know whether it’s because they’re so angry they can’t think, or they’re so poorly informed they don’t have enough information to think, or whether it’s just too hard to think — to do that work. Al Gore’s Assault on Reason is so timely. It explains the current discourse environment very well.

The health care process was a real eye-opener for me. So little information about the bill and its provisions — so little discussion about THAT. Instead, just mud slinging and hyperbole from both sides of the political spectrum. Left me very disinterested in policy discussions unless they were with people involved in the actual work.

But I’m glad to see this is a topic of discussion at the websites. It’s long overdue. Maybe at some point the telecoms will start thinking about the lies and vitriol pouring out of talk radio. Now THAT would be progress.

PatsyT
Member

Great topic Cher…

Last Friday in the Vox Populi Afterchat
Kesmarn posted this site and said

Speaking of Tea Party people, my son discovered this anti-tea party site. I thought it was pretty amusing.

http://www.crashtheteaparty.org/

http://crashtheteaparty.org/

Amusing – and then some

This seems to have become a magnet for tea bagger patriots types
defending their cause.
If you want to know what their minds are up to check it out

Loads of Laughs
Scary laughs

nellie
Member

More personal tit for tat. I don’t know.

We have a long way to go with the discourse in this country.

PatsyT
Member

I think some of the real threats were scrubbed
I could not believe what I was reading there over the weekend
I do think the site is keeping some dangerous people busy.
But the cause is hilarious.
I give them credit
They are getting out there and beating the baggers at their own game.

nellie
Member

I like the idea of “Party Crashers.” And I like the idea that they are so open about their disgust for the Tea Party. That’s a positive thing.

When it comes to the posts, though, it’s more of the same. I begin to wonder if people know how to do anything but throw mud at each other.

SanityNow
Member

The positive quality of my life has increased exponentially since my near complete cessation from HP posting. Way too greasy there. The only really good thing I gained from HP was to “meet” folks like AdLib et al and migrate to a safer, saner place like the Planet to explore and discuss current affairs.

still think it might be time to add defamation/libel insurance to my homeowner’s policy though.

nottoolate
Member

DKos is also going through some sturm und drang about posting standards. I’m beginning to use that site the same way I do Huffie: scan for late-breaking news, collect more information from multiple other sources. Kos comment threads often degenerate into dogfights, IMO, though Meteor Blades means well.

http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2010/4/7/225332/3575

SueInCa
Member

The idea of putting one’s real name on the internet is not realistic. Since the early 80’s there has been identity theft going on in the face to face world. How much easier would it be on the internet?

Personally I think especially in Hairyanna’s case she is too tight to put any real effort into moderation. And the managing of proprietary information would be a nightmare. They need more sites like this one who are careful about the posting content, not identity information that could result in a financial disaster for anyone who chose to participate.