I’m glad the News & Record is banning anonymous online comments.
From editor Jeff Gauger: “Anonymous comments invite bullies to give offense for no other reason than they find it fun. They encourage normally well-mannered people to occasionally behave badly. And they waste the time we must devote to minding comment threads gone wild.”
Initially, when I was editor there, I was a proponent of opening the doors and letting everyone in without checking their IDs. We were developing what we hoped would be a town square, where people would come to shop, hear the news, tell us and others the news, and chat with friends and newcomers. It seemed to be the way a true town square operated.
Once we realized that anonymous commenters would chase civility — and often intelligence — out to the suburbs, we asked and begged them to stop. Then we threatened. Nothing worked. Finally, we started kicking offensive commenters out. But, in a sense, we couldn’t kick fast enough. Those we booted could, and often did, create a new email address and a new identity and got in again. We discussed requiring true IDs, but couldn’t come up with a way to make it work efficiently within the content management system we had. I was in the middle of what turned out to be a long process of laying off journalists and cutting expenses. Devoting hours of someone’s time to verify online identities seemed to be the wrong use of resources.
I’m glad Jeff has figured it out.
While the N&R wants increased traffic to the site, this move is sure to decrease traffic. With anonymity, people argue passionately for days over an issue. It happens on the N&R site and happens on blogs. But my experience on the social networks is that once people use their real names, they act with more civility. As a result, conversations are muted and shortened. That may be good for community, but it’s bad for traffic.
On the flip side, it probably means that most of the content will be opened for comments. We started limiting the number of stories, editorials and letters people could comment on because we couldn’t monitor them all. Now, with only verified users commenting, there is much less danger in offensive and insulting comments. We’ll see.
Meanwhile, keep an eye on the comments on Jeff’s column. They’re starting to get good. All from anonymous commenters, of course.