I couldn’t agree more with Waldo Jaquith on this one: the Virginian-Pilot’s new commenting system, “requiring proof of identity in order to comment on the editorial section of the site-verified in the form of a $0 credit card charge-and displaying people’s full names and locations above each of their comments” makes a huge, positive difference in the quality of commenting on its website.
Having viewed the reams of vile, hate-filled, racist, insane garbage spewed at sites like the
Washington Kaplan Post, which apparently has no standards whatsoever in its comments section (and declining standards everywhere else, from what I’ve observed over the past few years), it’s like night and day when you actually make people register (as we do here at Blue Virginia), and even reveal their real names (as they’re doing at the Virginian Pilot).
The problem is that – as Waldo points out – although “anonymous commenting is sometimes a good and necessary thing,” it also encourages people to tap into the darkest recesses of their (often warped) minds, to have no respect for others, to attack the authors of the articles or editorials, to completely disrupt any hope of having a sane or intelligent conversation, with essentially complete impunity. That should not be acceptable on any newspaper or blog, unless your goal is actually to facilitate the nastiest and craziest among us to spew their sewage around.
Here at Blue Virginia, we’ve only had to ban a small handful of users (13, of which a couple were robo-spammers) out of nearly 800 registered users over the past year, all for clear violations of our stated rules against profanity, personal attacks, bigotry, and/or “trolling.” Just to be clear, you are NOT considered a “troll” here simply for stating views that disagree with the editorial board of Blue Virginia. You ARE considered a troll if you come on here to lie (we’ve debated whether to outright ban climate science deniers, and it’s very tempting…), slander, insult, or post dozens of repetitive and/or obnoxious comments that do little more than disrupt the community.
One more important point: this is not a “free speech” or 1st Amendment issue, as private websites and blogs are just that – private (e.g., not the government). As such, it is purely their choice whether they allow all comments, some comments, or no comments at all. My personal opinion is that allowing readers to comment is an important part of what blogs are all about. However, if you let anything go, then the “trolls” quickly take over. If you establish clear rules of conduct and enforce them, then you have at least a fighting chance of maintaining civil discourse and intelligent conversation.
In the case of the Virginian Pilot, they’ve gone even further than we’ve done here, requiring people to list their real names and addresses. According to their Editorial page editor, the results have been excellent, with the content of comments – albeit a lot fewer of them – improving dramatically, with almost nothing “trollish or racist or otherwise inappropriate.” Quality over quantity? That seems like a smart tradeoff, especially when “quantity” on the internet usually means EXTREMELY low quality, as in “complete crap.”
Speaking of “complete crap”: over at the
Washington Kaplan Post, I defy you to read the comments section of any article on any subject – sports, style, Metro, politics, you name it – and not be quickly repulsed by the vicious, crazy, idiotic, nasty sludge you’ll find there. What on earth the Post thinks it’s accomplishing by allowing that to go on is beyond me, but it’s certainly not going to save their business if that’s what they think.