Tomorrow the Statesman Journal in Salem, Oregon joins an increasing number of web sites and blogs that require commenters on stories/posts to have a Facebook account.
The paper's announcement has created a frenzy among the many rabid, profane, uninformed, hateful, and profoundly clueless people whose main joy in life is leaving anonymous flaming troll comments on the Internet.
So far, the online announcement has provoked 554 comments.
That's more than I can recall any other Statesman Journal story getting. To increase online readership, I guess newspapers should regularly fiddle with their commenting system, since that generates more interest than, say, efforts to combat hunger, bring about world peace, or cure cancer.
Appropriately, these were the first two comments on the story about moving to the Facebook commenting system.
1:51 PM on November 29, 2011
Well, that will be the end of my commenting. I refuse to join Facebook for any reason.
1:55 PM on November 29, 2011
This comment was left by a user who has been blocked by our staff.
To StellarRat, and others like him/her, I say: "Goodbye and good riddance. If you want to hide behind a fake name, feel free. But this isn't how people should relate with each other."
Regarding Name withheld: as a blogger, I too have had deal with jerks who abuse the privilege (yes, a privilege, not a right) of being able to leave anonymous comments on a web site paid for and managed by someone else.
So I understand why the Statesman Journal is choosing to move to a real name commenting system that, in the newspaper's words, should "create a more civil environment for conversation, and to give everyone an easier way to share with their friends."
Most of the 554 comments on the new Facebook commenting system express disgust and disdain for it.
Some of the reasons make sense, such as the inability of state workers (or anyone else) to share sensitive information confidentially. Others don't, such as the notion that this move is a plot by the left-leaning newspaper staff to silence conservative commenters. I can tell you that among the progressive community, people don't consider the Statesman Journal to have a liberal slant.
Browsing through the first few pages of those 526 comments, I came across -- shock! -- a well-informed, thoughful comment from someone who seemed to know what he was talking about. His comment was fairly lengthy, so I'll include the whole thing in a continuation to this post.
Here's some excerpts:
First, no, Facebook is not greasing the palms of anyone in Salem or the Gannett corporate offices in Virginia. But what they are doing is offering a commenting system at a much lower cost to the company than what Pluck can afford to sell their service for.
...Second, I'll bet anybody here a thousand buck this decision is made at the corporate level, not in Salem. Generally, comment moderation systems are contracted at corporate and the individual papers must abide. So it's a far better idea to direct your complaints to Virginia, since nobody in Salem is behind the decision. Although the odds of your complaints having any effect on this decision are zero (reference the first point above).
Well, I did some investigative blog reporting on this corporate level issue. After an exhausting whole 30 seconds of Googling (Pulitzer Prize, please), this search result popped up: "USA TODAY switches to Facebook comment system." USA Today is owned by Gannett, as is the Statesman Journal.
And when is the above-linked USA Today announcement dated? Yesterday, November 29. Hmmmm. Sure seems like moving to Facebook is a broad Gannett policy, not a local decision.
I think this is a good move.
I'd seriously consider requiring a Facebook log-in on my own blogs if TypePad had this as a commenting option. When the issue of anonymity has been raised by visitors to my blogs, I've responded in this fashion.
Envision yourself sitting in a coffee shop, having a pleasant conversation with some friends. Then a guy walks up to your booth. He's wearing a mask. He starts yelling at you, spitting, cursing, ranting and raving about something or other. You can't really tell what he's so upset about, he's making so little sense.
"Calm down, dude," you say. "You're bothering us, the way you're acting. If you want some companionship, take off your mask, tell us your name, and sit down with us courteously and respectfully."
"F__k you, jerk!" he yells. "I go by SuprfreekXXX99. I'm not going to reveal who I am, or take off this mask. I'm going to continue to stand here and say whatever I want." At that point, I'd start looking around for a cop. Or someone to diagnose this guy's mental illness.
Yet masked anything-goes anonymity is how a disturbingly large share of the Internet works. This encourages people to say things they'd never speak out loud in public to someone face to face, when their identity was known.
Congratulations to the Statesman Journal for making this move. I think it's going to work out fine.
BlueOregon, a leading political site in this state, moved to the Facebook system for reasons described here. Excerpt:
Nearly six years ago, we launched this site and declared, "BlueOregon will be the water cooler around which Oregon progressives will gather." At first, we weren't sure what we were building exactly. But it became clear very early that our community needed a place to hang out - and BlueOregon became that place.
Unfortunately, BlueOregon has also become a place where trolls have shown up - from all sides on the political spectrum - to throw stinkbombs and create havoc. We've been deluged with folks who aren't interested in chatting around the water cooler, just barging in and screaming at whoever's in the room.
The first foundation of community is identity. Whether your metaphor is a water cooler, or a small town, or a bar called Cheers, you have to have a place "where everybody knows your name" if you're going to create meaningful relationships.
We know this will be controversial. When we first started BlueOregon, many of us defended anonymous comments. After all, anonymity has a long and respected history in American politics. And we were building one of the only places for people to talk about Oregon politics.
But today, there are lots of places. And lots of ways for someone who is dedicated to anonymity to have their say. Here at BlueOregon, we've decided that the benefits no longer outweigh the costs. It's not even close.
It can be pretty demoralizing when you spend time writing a thoughtful post or comment, only to see an instant visceral reaction from an anonymous jerk hurling unfounded charges, insults, and rhetorical nonsense.
Amen to that. Here's the full comment on the Statesman Journal article mentioned above: