NorthEndWaterfront.com is once again allowing anonymous comments to articles on the home page (and on the Forum), with some caveats. If you are a registered user (and hundreds of you are already registered), your comments will post immediately. If you are not registered, your comment may be moderated (i.e., not shown until approved by an editor). Moderated comments may take a while to show up. So, although it is not required anymore, there are still benefits to registering, including having a profile and subscribing to threads. (You can register here.) Real names are encouraged, but not required. This is in effect for both registered and non-registered users. (Registered users can change their displayed name in their profile at any time.)
Why the change? In the prior six months when NorthEndWaterfront.com stopped anonymous comments, it has been quieter, but I am not sure it has been better. I have talked to a lot of readers about the issue and there continues to be intense public debate on the subject (read the defense of anonymous comments here and the “real name” argument here. If you are wondering who are the people that post lots of anonymous comments, read this article.)
I still think the trend is away from anonymous commenting, but most websites will never give it up completely. More commenters are comfortable using their real names as shown by Facebook and Twitter. In my opinion, using a real name gives comments more credibility.
The best argument in favor of anonymous comments is to have a robust, yet open conversation where commenters feel at ease to say what is on their mind. Under the former policy of requiring real names, some readers told me they were hesitant to post because they feared some type of negative consequence or retribution. The hesitation was by those with business relationships, employees, public officials/staff, tenants and some that simply did not want to directly offend residents or business owners. One reader said he wanted to comment about dog issues, but feared his dog owner friends would take it personally.
Many readers said they were reluctant to have their names and comments archived by “Google” for eternity and possibly used against them later. When we previously asked for real names, some folks were simply lying anyway which undercut the policy. (Why are folks such bad liars?) As recently discussed in this NY Times article on the subject, the most reproduced New Yorker cartoon is the one with the quote between two dogs, “On the Internet, no one knows your a dog.”
Here is another caveat. Comments that are considered inappropriate, will be more aggressively deleted. This will especially be the case for anonymous comments. Unfortunately, some folks hide behind anonymity to make vile remarks with the sole intent of harming others. Moderating comments is by its very nature, a subjective job. When we had anonymous comments initially, some folks were furious their comments were deleted from the site. We will try to be fair, allow discourse and contrary views, but there is no guarantee we will be consistent from day to day.
The good news at NorthEndWaterfront.com is that the number of readers has continued to grow with over 10,000 unique visitors per month (sometimes double that) and over 1,000 regular subscribers through the e-newsletters, Facebook & Twitter. That’s not bad for a website focused on a neighborhood of 11,000 people (even when considering that many of our readers don’t live in the North End/Waterfront area).
Feel free to let me know what you think in the comment section below or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read the current version of the Comment Policy for all the details.