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Black Press bails on anonymous comments

November 21, 2011

Today, Black Press announced that it was changing its online comments policy and will henceforth only allow readers to comment after signing in with their Facebook identity.

Rob DeMone explained the move thusly:

The policy has led to some unpleasant and mean-spirited postings. It’s also raised an inconsistency in our Black Press​ brand. Our community newspapers don’t print anonymous letters, yet we’ve allowed our websites to become a place where people can hide their identity while occasionally taking shots at one another.

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DeMone notes that the move is of a kind with those made by other media companies which have introduced similar policies. He says it has resulted in good discussion with less sniping and assholery.

The downside is obvious: no Facebook profile, no comments. Indeed, it has already drawn the ire of commenters for that reason.

But DeMone has responded by noting that those people can always send a letter to the editor. Which seems like a good comeback.

My take is that, all things considered, only a tiny fraction of those who read Black Press papers end up commenting online. So even if you drive all of them away, it’s probably not going to hurt the paper. But by putting a name to a comment, the policy should encourage the less-crazy-but-still-opinionated slice of society to take part. It may also (although I’m unsure of the law surrounding comments) insulate the chain from the legal risk posed by anonymous comments. It sure can’t hurt.

Of course, you can still leave a comment on this blog, anonymously or not. I continue to allow anonymous comments because sometimes, when discussing one’s employer, it’s necessary to avoid using one’s name. On other topics, it’s less desired. I would block a comment that uses anonymity to attack another journalist, but fortunately the blog’s readership is such that I’ve never had to do so.

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  1. November 25, 2011 at 9:12 pm

    Interesting development. I’m not sold that logging in via Facebook is going to raise the bar on the quality of comments.

    I wrote a post about this issue today. It will be interesting to see what comments are received on it.

    I couldn’t help but notice that in the comments on the article on BCLocalNews.com that announces the change to Facebook logins someone points out that the article has no byline… that in fact it was posted anonymously.

  2. Not Anonymous
    November 21, 2011 at 3:54 pm

    Interesting choice. Though it should be noted that creating a “fake” Facebook account is very easy. As simple as creating another email address at yahoo, gmail or wherever.

    Will this just scare aware the majority of commentors and the obsessive, vitriolic ones wanting anonymity will just create a new account? Well, we have our guinea pig in Black Press.

  3. Andrea Doesn't Use Her Last Name on Facebook
    November 21, 2011 at 2:30 pm

    It’s also worth pointing out that it’s not that hard to game your Facebook profile so that your real identity isn’t immediately obvious — don’t show a public pic, use your first and middle name instead of a last, etc. I know plenty of people who teach and don’t want friend requests from middle school students who do that sort of thing, and it seems more and more popular since Facebook got (even more) awful w/r/t personal privacy.

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