NorthEndWaterfront.com now requires commenters to use their real name, first and last. The full policy is posted here and available under the “About” menu. You will also find a link to the policy above the comment box at the end of each post. Comments submitted without real first AND last names will not appear on the site.
Why? The short version: The old anonymous comment system was out of control with too many offensive comments that could not be posted. In addition, there were many borderline or “grey area” comments that were simply nasty even if they did not violate the comment policy. Using real names, I believe commenters will think twice before throwing out insults and hate. In researching the issue, I looked at hundreds of other blogs and news sites. In the end, I was not comfortable moderating anonymous comments anymore. Anonymous comments can be popular, even humorous, but I feel that readers should know who is talking to them especially on a community site like NorthEndWaterfront.com.
Why? The long version: For those of you paying close attention, I used the mid-January 2012 rollout of the new website style to implement the “real name” policy. I posted an update then as part of a longer list of website changes. This post elaborates on the decision and some new modifications.
When I first changed to the real name requirement, I also installed a Facebook comments system for verification and cross-posting. After a short trial, I removed the Facebook system. It brought bugs, slowed down the site and several readers complained about Facebook for various reasons, such as privacy and firewall access issues. I thought, perhaps incorrectly, that web users had become more accepting of logging in through Facebook because several major news sites had adopted the system. In any case, I received enough complaints from long-time commenters to remove the requirement to login through Facebook (or anything else). By the way, nothing has changed with the NorthEndWaterfront.com page on Facebook. I know many people read and comment on the posts/photos there.
You do NOT have to login or register to post comments on NorthEndWaterfront.com. This is an option for the future, but I want to make it as easy as possible to post comments. (We all have enough logins to remember.) Just write your comment in the box at the end of the post, enter your real name, first and last, email (not published) and click “submit.” I will still moderate comments before they appear on the site, but the turnaround should be very quick. If there is no real name, first and last, with a comment, I will not post it.
In addition to having comments appear at the end of each post, there is a tabbed widget on the front page that lists recent comments posted on the entire site. It is a convenient way to see what people are talking about on NorthEndWaterfront.com. All previous comments have been restored on the new format and will remain on the site. Generally, new comments get turned off on posts more than 3-4 months old.
I have looked at literally hundreds of other blogs and news sites. One of the sites that I kept coming back to is Dan Kennedy’s Media Nation. I appreciate his thoughtful observations and references on the issue. With his permission, I am re-posting slides he presented at a Journalism Ethics and Issues class at Northeastern University. I found the slide toward the end, “Comments are so 2005” to be thought-provoking, but will save that discussion for another time.
We have been here before, you and I. NorthEndWaterfront.com has changed a few times over the years between real name and anonymous commenting. Real name commenting resulted in less comments but a more constructive discussion. Anonymous commenting resulted in 20%-30% of submitted comments that were so offensive, I could not post them. I am not talking spam, but unproven accusations, defamation and personal hate. Moderating anonymous comments became overwhelming and very depressing. In addition to the obvious offensive comments that I could not post, there were many borderline, “grey area” comments. I probably should have used the delete key more often, in retrospect.
The trend is definitely away from anonymous comments, although there will always be websites that allow anonymity. Just not here. The best argument in favor of real names is that readers should know who is talking to them so they can make their own judgements about the discussion.
Most commenters on NorthEndWaterfront.com are neighbors and that fact augers well for the use of real names. Although real name commenting brings fewer comments, it also allows people to comment without fear of being attacked by an anonymous hater. I hope that regular anonymous commenters using pseudonyms will decide to participate under their real name. (FYI – If you are thinking of trying to use a name that sounds real, i.e., a pseudonym, this is a relatively close-knit community. It is not difficult to figure out fake names, after which I will delete all your comments.)
Like everything on NorthEndWaterfont.com, the comment policy could change and evolve over time. If you have any questions, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment below.
Thanks for reading and commenting (with your real name).