Media outlets banning anonymous comments

As much as I hate the Facebook-ification of the web, my hometown paper The Tennessean, along with other Gannett and non-Gannett online news outlets, are doing away with anonymous commenting and are using Facebook logins for commenters.

While it is rank hypocrisy for me to post this from behind a fake name, I welcome this development. Anonymous comments were always just a way for newspaper sites to drive traffic - they liked that the cranks showed up day after day to post outrageous shit. But things got out of hand, so they are trying to restore “civility” by making commenters stand behind what they post.

One critic fears that doing away with anonymity will scare off whistleblowers and others who “speak truth to power,” but the comments section was never a good way to do that. Newspapers don’t run anonymous letters to the editor, so why should they allow anonymous comments?

What do you think?


What’s to stop people from creating alternate Facebook accounts for exclusively posting in online comments section? I mean I know Facebook says they try and stop people from doing that but it’s trivial to set up a new gmail account and start up a Facebook profile under an assumed name, say Jane Smith or whatever, and a profile pic carefully selected from Google image search.

That’s like five minutes of actual work and boom, you’re posting anonymously again.

Like any security feature it won’t stop the truly determined. Does that mean you shouldn’t lock your doors at night?
It’ll stop the casual idiots who think they’re some sort of master puppeteer when people react to their stupid shit and it’ll highlight the sad, sad internet people who would do something like that.

comments on internet articles are the tail end of the shit-covered illusion of meaningful speech and advocacy that internet has given John Q. Fucktarded, inviting him to wax eloquent about the damn mexicans and FIRST

If I were an alien, my finger would be on the “kill everyone on this planet” button the first time I read any youtube comment, ever

I don’t know if I would describe the erosion of online privacy as a “security feature” but different strokes I guess.

Furthermore, I don’t really think forcing people to comment under their own names is going to cause an increase to that effect nor do I think people posting “outrageous” crap in comments sections of online papers was a problem to begin with. I mean, really, who reads the comments section anyway? If someone really has something they feel they need to say to the paper they will write a letter to the editor like they’ve been doing since the beginning of newspapers.

Also the line of argument of “If you wouldn’t say something with your own name attached…” smacks to me of the whole “If you’ve got nothing to hide…” argument.

It more smacks of “in someone else’s playground”. Apparently the owners felt the comments on their site were going to far to the point where they are implementing these measures. Neither of us are equipped to question that (of course you seem to live in a fantasy world of polite comment sections on news sites so…)

And “the erosion of online privacy” is a ridiculous thing to say about comments on a news site. But, again, you live in some fantasy polite world so…I don’t think we can find common ground when yours is imaginary.

This. All of it.

Ha! No, I just don’t read comments sections on news sites so there’s no fantasizing on my part about how polite they are. I’m aware they can be a bit of cesspool but even cesspools are worth studying every now and then. An anonymous comments section is like a window into the collective id of a certain subsection of people (those who post in online comments sections).

And I’m not ready to abandon the privacy argument just yet. In this specific instance it might not be much of an erosion of privacy but as a demonstrative trend is most certainly is representative as an example of such because anonymity is one of the best (and worst) things about the online world. Anonymity allows people to air private thoughts in a public space that they might not otherwise be able or willing to do for whatever reason. Taking away anonymity and thereby privacy has the potential to limit the range of free expression. In this specific instance it will likely limit the kinds of comments that people are willing to post in that specific comments section to the kind of milquetoast “safe” opining that is painfully common in “civil” discussions.

On the flip side posting under your real name and owning every word and etc. has been a thing since the internet started getting popular. But for every person who is just fine letting their freak flag fly for all to see there are just as many who for whatever reason are not comfortable doing so and need that special kind of protection anonymity offers before joining in with everyone else. I think having more opinions aired, even extreme or repugnant ones, is more valuable on the whole than implementing measures that only select for a certain type of opinion. That’s ultimately where I’m coming from as far as the principle of the matter, rather than the matter itself.

It is interesting that you bring up the issue of ownership. A newspaper is privately owned but provides a public service and it’s not always clear where exactly the line is drawn when it comes to a right to privacy. You might argue that the line is drawn by the owner wherever the owner pleases because it’s their newspaper and they’re fronting all the costs and so forth. Ultimately it depends on what the owner of the paper is trying to do. If they’re just trying to disseminate information that’s one thing but if they’re trying to create a space for open public dialog it’s another because then the owner is no longer the sole actor in the equation.

They’re doing the same here and it won’t matter. As others have said the idea of reader involvement via the comments is a pipe dream to begin with. Reader involvement and public journalism is just buzzwords that desperate newspapers are grasping at without realizing it can’t be done for free and just by removing anonymity.

The determined will get around and anyway the real crazies has no problem writing their idiocy under their real names. Just look at the current Republican presidential candidates.They believe what they write and don’t see anything wrong with it.

Wait, Jerri Blank isn’t your real name?

Or it’s a place where not too bright people go to pretend to be even less bright and thus “win” something by being the loudest to shout slurs. Can you explain why it’s worth looking at cesspools?
Yeah it might be a window blah blah blah, or it might be a bunch of bored pre-teens. There’s a reason serious studies are done in controlled environments.

In the end, however, it’s probably a monetary issue. The paper feels the comments will need less moderation and they’ll save money and it is their site so they get to do whatever they want.

A cesspool can be worth studying to see what kinds of organisms are able to thrive in such an environment and to determine other potential uses for the organisms. I think if I were imaginative enough I could come up with a serious study that looked at comments sections across various swaths of the internet and pulled something worth knowing out of all of it.

I agree that it probably does boil down to money (doesn’t everything?). However, I do think there is value to be had in thinking about the potential consequences to privacy-defeating trends regardless of their ultimate causes. I apologize for slippery-sloping but it’s not hard to find actions like the link in the OP worrying.

Bah, I honestly don’t see any value in it nor do I believe in giving legitimate bigots or bored 14 year olds anonymous stumps to spew hatred.

If you derive value from the denizens of a cesspool only by treating it as a unified body, then you are basically admitting there is no value in the denizens as individuals.

I enjoy reading the first few comments from articles on Yahoo to see how crazy some of the posters are. I’ve never thought to derive any actual value from the comments. I know that’s a national site versus the local paper in the OP, but I don’t doubt that I’d use the comments section there any differently.

It should include a person’s real name, phone number and a giant red button next to their comment that states “Push this if my comment is really hideous”. When you push the button it then would deliver a swift punch to the stupid poster’s genitals.

This. I’ve never seen anything posted in newspaper comments where I thought, “How brave, insightful and dangerous! Thank goodness he could post that under the cloak of anonymity.” Most of the crap they’re trying to discourage is ignorant in any number of ways and does nothing to enlighten.

Obvious counter example would be the anonymous posting to keep the rest of the world in the loop by the various folks involved in the Arab Spring.

Ignoring that slightly incendiary example, I think the bigger story is that Facebook profiles are now accepted as being real without question by newspapers. Facebook is a private company that doesn’t take privacy seriously until virtual riots occur over it. And it’s also notoriously easy to whip up a fake profile. It reminds me of the slow transition regulatory agencies had, where they started as profit earning corporations and ended up being written into various laws.

It’s weird, and also rewards and entrenches Facebook’s position at the top of the social networking shitheap. Not a good thing in my opinion.

My local paper and the SF Chronicle both require “registering” before you can post on their sites. And while I have never seen it on the local paper, the Chronicle is moderated with posts often being removed for violating some policy.

I don’t see a problem with it, but like others have said there are easy ways to get around it if you wish to.