Identity revealed in best interest of public

Correction, Oct. 16, 2008: A phrase was added to this column for clarification. (Highlight changes)

The newspaper has done something unusual today in disclosing information about a user of our Web site.

In the article on Page 1B, we disclose that online comments supporting demoted Investigator Richard Roundtree are linked to an account with his name, birthdate, work e-mail and work address.

Although the newspaper does not require viewers of the Web site to register, we do require such information for a user to be a contributor -- someone who posts photos or comments or participates in other interactive features.

We feel the public has a right to know that the comments praising Investigator Roundtree are linked to his account. We expect honesty and integrity from our public safety officers. We feel the strong possibility that a law enforcement officer could have misrepresented himself and posed as the mother of a murder victim to garner public support is a matter of public interest.

As Online Director Jonathan Dozier points out, it is possible for someone other than the registered user to access an account.

To be a user of AugustaChronicle.com, members agree to accept responsibility for all activities that occur under their account or password. Users are responsible for maintaining the confidentiality of their passwords and for restricting access to their computer.

The Terms of Service that users agree to state that we may disclose user information in response to a court order, and/or whenever we deem it appropriate or necessary to give such information to law enforcement authorities.

Reporter Adam Folk took the online comments to Richmond County Sheriff Ronnie Strength this week.

As part of the reporting on this article, we learned that another public official, Judge Duncan Wheale, has posted an online comment in support of the three-year sentence he gave to a former deputy jailer for the sheriff's office who behaved inappropriately toward an inmate.

"I work in law enforcement," read the July 23 post that provided detail on the evidence against Joseph K. Smalls. The posting bore the judge's display name -- slimjim.

"I did publish that, and it was accurate. It was supported by the transcript," the judge said Thursday. An employee of The Augusta Chronicle 's online staff removed the post because it contained information regarding criminal conduct that was not included in The Chronicle 's article about the case.

This is the only posting the judge has ever made to our Web site.

To protect users' safety, our online Privacy Policy states that we do not allow users to divulge personal phone numbers, addresses or other information that can be used to identify or locate them.

The Chronicle does not monitor all online comments, but we do review a portion of them daily to check for content that might be considered vulgar, profane, abusive, racist or otherwise inappropriate. We reserve the right to remove such comments and offer an alert option on every page so users can bring objectionable content to our attention. The comments linked to Investigator Roundtree's account were noticed during such a routine check.

On the Web, users can portray themselves however they choose. Though some disclose their true identities on the Internet, via their full names or photographs -- most do not. To do so is a security risk, and law enforcement advises against it.

Anonymity is part of the culture of online use.

We do not wish to erode our online users' trust in us to keep their information private. These were unprecedented circumstances.

Reach Elizabeth Adams at (706) 823-3348 or elizabeth.adams@augustachronicle.com.

See the comments that were posted online


TIMELINE

"Gratefulmother" began posting on The AugustaChronicle Web site on June 3 under a story about Investigator Richard Roundtree's involvement with Dad's in Action, a group that provides male mentoring for area middle-school students. "Gratefulmother" has posted 24 comments over the past four months.. The majority of the entries regard Investigator Roundtree and are comments on stories about an ongoing investigation into the files of seven murder cases left in his former apartment. Shortly after 7 p.m. Thursday, the display name on the account was changed to (?). To read the posts, go to augustachronicle.com/metro

SUSPICIOUS POSTINGS

"Gratefulmother" began posting on The Chronicle's Web site June 3 under a story about Investigator Richard Roundtree's involvement with Dads in Action, a group that provides male mentoring for area middle school pupils. "Gratefulmother" has posted 24 comments over the past four months. The majority of the entries regard Investigator Roundtree and are comments on stories about an ongoing investigation into the files of seven murder cases left in his former apartment. Shortly after 7 p.m. Thursday, the display name on the account was changed to (?).