A new comments policy — now with real names

Starting today, I am going to implement a policy I’ve considered for well over a year but have hesitated to try until now. If you want to post a comment, you’re going to have to use your real name — first and last.

I realize this will mean fewer comments. My expectation is that this will be a good thing, as the signal-to-noise ratio will improve and the quality will rise. Perhaps some of our frequent pseudonymous commenters will come out from behind their online personae and continue posting. Perhaps some folks who have held back from commenting for fear of being anonymously attacked will now feel safe to weigh in. (I’ll confess I haven’t been as tough in moderating comments as I should be. I’ll try to do better.)

My thinking has been influenced by Howard Owens, who insists on real names at The Batavian and who swears he can always tell when someone is faking. I’ve also been influenced by the high quality of dialogue at the New Haven Independent, even though editor Paul Bass does allow anonymous comments. The Independent also has the greatest comments policy I’ve ever come across, and I recommend it.

Here is Media Nation’s comments policy:

1. The use of real names, first and last, is required. If you have information (such as a news tip) that you want me to be aware of but you don’t dare to identify yourself, you can always send an e-mail to da {dot} kennedy {at} neu {dot} edu.

2. The purpose of comments is to encourage civil discourse. Personal attacks will not be tolerated. If you wouldn’t say it to someone’s face, then don’t say it here. And now we’ll know who you are.

3. Comments on this site are moderated. Comments are posted to a queue, and will not appear on Media Nation until I have approved them. If you believe I should not have allowed a comment to be posted, send an e-mail. I’ve been known to change my mind.

4. Media Nation shall be held harmless. Under the Telecommunications Act of 1996, Internet-based interactive services — including Media Nation — are not responsible for material posted by third-party contributors.

Media Nation is an ongoing experiment, and this is not likely to be the last word on comments. We’ll see how it goes.

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23 thoughts on “A new comments policy — now with real names

  1. Howard Owens

    Congrats on giving it a try, Dan.

    As I said on Twitter, it might be harder to enforce outside the geographic bounds of a real community, but it’s also well worth the effort for a relatively well defined cyber community.

    I also applaud the effort because Media Nation is essentially a site for media professionals. If media professionals expect to weigh in on the topics of the day and remain credible, they should do so as their real names. I don’t understand why professionals expect to be taken seriously when they hide behind pseudonyms.

    One slight clarification — I wouldn’t say I ALWAYS catch the people not using their real names. I’m pretty confident that all of the current regular contributors to The Batavian are using their real names, but there is no way to guarantee 100 percent compliance. But the fact is, it’s close enough that our contributors feel its a safe commenting environment and that people trust the credibility of dealing with people as they are really identified.

    I would say the policy is working for us because we maintain pretty darn good comment volume and by-and-large, pretty civil discussions (not always, but usually).

    The hardest part of moderating our community at this point — and I suspect it can be a common problem — is defining “personal attack.” There are all kinds of subtle ways to demean another person without it coming across as a direct derogatory comment and seeming like legitimate discourse, and we have a couple of people who have honed this argumentation style to an art form. That’s probably the most difficult thing I have to deal with now.

    As for identifying people — I have the advantage of being able to make local investigations of suspected fake names. A geographically dispersed blog like yours might make that tougher.

    I will say, people who repeatedly make uncivil comments should be considered suspects for using a fake name, though I’ve been known to get pretty uncivil at times and I’ve never hidden behind a fake name. Even so, that’s always the first clue.

    Good luck!

  2. Tom Underwood

    OK, my is Tom Underwood (aka. Tunder) and I occasionally post on this blog. Now that I’ve “outed” myself I’ll be able to sleep better tonight. How liberating!

    Go for it lkape, o-fish… reveal yourselves!

    1. Dan Kennedy Post author

      @Tom: lkcape already has — he’s L.K. Collins. See how easy that was? Hope Fish will follow.

  3. Steve Stein

    First off, Dan, you are our host; this is your place and you make the rules. And it’s a nice place you have here, with a community of thoughtful and intelligent commenters. (Not that ALL the comments are intelligent and thoughtful, but the commenters do seem to be.)

    That said, I’ve been participating in online discussions for almost 30 years now (first post 1982), and I’ve never had a problem with pseudonymous commenting (as opposed to anonymous commenting, which I deem mostly useless and often abusive). To my mind, if someone uses a consistent handle, I don’t care that it’s not a “real name”.

    Do we really need to know who “Peter Porcupine” is? Even though she’s used that handle for years in many different fora? Isn’t the handle enough to identify her?

    But in this new age, where “journalists” like Howie Carr are holding you personally responsible for everything that’s said in comments, I guess you can’t be too careful.

  4. Mike LaBonte

    I have participated in a number of social media forums over the years, and now that I think of it, the only ones that I am actively participating in today all require real names. Hopefully policing this won’t be too much work.

  5. Doug Shugarts

    Great move, Dan. This blog should be just like town meeting: stand up, identify yourself, and own your words.

  6. Christopher Marcisz

    Good. I’m so pleased to see this that I’m making my first comment here after years of quiet reading. In my experience with blogging, I’ve found the most depressing part of it is dealing with comments when they degrade into red-faced, spit-flecked nonsense, which is too often. I’m glad to see you taking a stand on this, as I can see no compelling reason why blog comments shouldn’t be held to at least the same standards a letter to the editor should meet.

    I was shaped by my experience as a reporter, when my name was always out there, and people could and did reach me through emails, letters to the editors, phone calls, and in person at the grocery store, etc. I almost always had time to listen and talk. But I never had any interest in or respect for anonymous remarks. If an idea isn’t worth putting your name on, often it just isn’t worth much.

    Clearly, in some times and places, anonymity matters, but I think our default setting has to be that the strength of our civil society and freedoms of expression rely on their open and honest exercise. Comments and conversation are important, and so is civility and transparency.

  7. Paul Bass

    Thanks for the shout-out!

    If I had to do it over from scratch, I think I might do it your way at the Independent. Not sure.

    We’ve tried to focus on the results we want, which is freewheeling, civil dialogue. If people abide by rules that keep the dialogue civil (and non-libelous), they don’t need to use their names. Part of my concern on a low budget is that we wouldn’t really be able to police people using fake names anyway. I’m happy with the level of participation and the quality of comments we receive. And I lvoe the diversity of the commenters.

    However I do find that we’re censoring more and more comments. (The commenters, especially the KKK-style ones, gravitate to the New Haven Register, where their comments appear uncensored.) And I’m sympathetic to the level of accountability you want to achieve here. And I share the inclination to avoid unnamed sources in stories unless absolutely necessary.

  8. Aaron Read

    Eh, I’m cool with this. I probably will end up emailing you more than before, as I don’t mind posting under my real name most of the time…but there are times when I’d like to say something about my industry (radio, specifically public radio) and it might be a little scathing, even if it needs to be said…but the industry has a long memory (I think I told you my story about being blacklisted back in the day).

  9. L.K. Collins

    :D And Dan has known the name for quite some time.

    Being outed? ‘Twill not change my take on things…never has, never will.

    More to the point, what does a name have to do with the ideas underlying the comment?

    Not much.

    Isn’t “Dan Kennedy” just an arbitrary handle for a guy who teaches at Northeastern, wears tweed jackets, and sports glasses with a black frame? Because he’s known by that name does nothing to alter the efficacy of his remarks.

    I agree with Mr. Stein. As long as the commenter uses a consistent screen name, there should be no discontent. If it comes to some sort of legal challenge, the forcing of the divulgence of a name is fairly simple process.

  10. Michael Pahre

    Yaaaaaaaaayyyyyyyy!!!!

    Yaaaaaaaaayyyyyyyy!!!!

    Yaaaaaaaaayyyyyyyy!!!!

    Props for the new policy.

    I can’t wait for Mr. Trout Fishing in America to come to visit.

    Oh, and by the way, please don’t create the corollary policy that all avatars must be true likenesses of the commenter. I’ve aged a couple years since that picture was taken…

  11. Al Fiantaca

    I always used my real first name, I just liked the anonymity, or security of having my last name off my comments. Of course, other than Dan, who’s to say that our stated last names are real, or just a consistent nom de plume that we use?

    1. Dan Kennedy Post author

      @Al: If problems persist, I still have the nuclear option at my disposal — requiring people to register through their Facebook accounts. I don’t think I’ll have to go that route.

  12. Al Quint

    … the other guy who uses the name Al… now we’ll be able to tell who is who… and considering my site is given as a link, it wasn’t too tough to figure out who I am, anyway.

  13. BP Myers

    I don’t have a Facebook account and don’t intend to get one.

    You go that far . . . it’s been fun!

  14. Chris Daly

    Hi, Dan —

    Way to go. This is a really welcome change, and I plan to follow suit on my blog. I hope it raises the level of discourse, or at least the level of civility.

    Chris Daly (my real name)

  15. Onthaxis - Mike Kallan

    I think I like the idea. It should keep people on the issues. Insults and cheap shots are so counter-productive in any forum, even paradoxical. How can you hope to exchange ideas with someone who has labled you as a mindless idiot?

  16. Chuck Tanowitz

    I agree entirely! The Newton TAB debated this issue a while back too, but decided to stick to anonymous comments.

    Though, I wish LinkedIn offered a distributed credentials rather than just Facebook. I think people are more honest with their profiles there since it has a business purpose.

  17. Elizabeth Lynch Baldini

    Hi Dan,
    I never miss “Beat the Press”, and always appreciate your thoughtful comments;just read your op-ed piece in the Globe re:insensitive,outrageous,oafish comments about dwarfism; you go get em,Dan – good for you!
    Beyond the piece’s societal implications,you are the father
    every girl wishes she had!

    Elizabeth Lynch Baldini

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