Tag Archives: comments

No change in comments for now

I recently floated the idea of morphing the real-names requirement into a registration requirement — you’d have to sign in with WordPress, Twitter, Google Plus or Facebook, which meant that you’d be posting under a verified identity but not necessarily a real name.

I’ve decided to leave things alone, at least for the time being. A few people really think the real-names requirement is something I ought to keep. And if I’m going to do that, then there’s no reason to require registration with a third-party service.

If WordPress.com ever makes it possible to add a service like Disqus or Open ID, I may revisit the issue. For now, those services can only be used with hosted blogs using WordPress.org.

What are your thoughts on tweaking comments?

I’m thinking of making a tweak to commenting on Media Nation. Rather than requiring real names, first and last, as I have since 2010, I might shift to requiring online verification instead.

There’s a function I can turn on that would require people to sign in using their Facebook, Twitter, WordPress or Google Plus account before commenting. I would still screen comments before posting them. But no longer would I be tracking people down to remind them to use their full names — something that causes me to lose a fair number of comments.

Most of the commenting energy has shifted to Facebook anyway. (If you don’t follow the conversation when I post a Media Nation link on Facebook, you’re missing a lot. You can follow my public feed by clicking here.) But I feel like I need to give the on-site comments a jolt.

A word about Facebook: If you comment on Media Nation using your Facebook account, your comment will not appear anywhere on Facebook. It’s simply a log-in mechanism. Still, I have no doubt that Facebook tracks you for its own internal advertising purposes.

As for the alternatives, logging in with WordPress is probably the most benign. WordPress is part of a nonprofit organization and it’s not a social network, at least not in the sense that the other three are. You can sign up for an account without having to start a blog. If you’re comfortable posting comments in public, then you shouldn’t have any problem registering with WordPress.

Thoughts?

Correction: WordPress.com’s owner, Automattic, is in fact a for-profit company. See this comment.

Using news site comments to build community

News site comments can be toxic. Yet, properly managed, they can be a tool for building media literacy, civic engagement and, ultimately, a news organization’s audience.

The following presentation incorporates some lessons I’ve learned over the years, many of them from researching my book about online community journalism, “The Wired City.”

I delivered a lecture based on this presentation earlier today in Professor Steve Burgard’s Journalism Ethics and Issues class at Northeastern.

The Eagle-Tribune joins the real-names brigade

The Eagle-Tribune of North Andover and its affiliated weeklies — The Andover Townsman, The Derry News and The Haverhill Gazette — have adopted a real-names policy for online comments. Editor Al White explains:

We tried hard to make our website’s comments feature a forum for the exchange of opinion and information.

We failed.

Sure, many commenters posted thoughtful remarks and adhered to the highest standards.

But far too many used the feature to spew vitriol, bigotry, obscenity, cheap shots and juvenile taunts, no matter how hard we worked to keep the conversation civil.

The Eagle-Tribune will let people register under their real names using either Facebook or Disqus.

White also raises an interesting issue — that news-site comments may have run their course, as much of the online conversation has shifted to Facebook, Twitter and other social media. “We have almost 8,000 Twitter followers, for example, 5,000 on our text alert service and more than 4,000 on Facebook,” he writes. “Those numbers are growing. I’d guess we have fewer than 100 ‘regulars’ commenting on Disqus, and that number appears to be shrinking.”

It’s a phenomenon I and many others have noticed. Comments on Media Nation posts have dropped off considerably in recent years. But when I link to a Media Nation post on Facebook, the responses roll in.

Some sites, like the New Haven Independent, have done a good job of integrating anonymous comments into the conversation. But a real-names policy can definitely be part of a well-tended comments garden. Good move on The Eagle-Tribune’s part.

Earlier: GateHouse papers ban anonymous comments (June 27).

GateHouse papers ban anonymous comments

Anonymous commenter reacts to new GateHouse policy

Anonymous commenter reacts to new GateHouse policy

Friday update: MetroWest Daily News columnist Julia Spitz offers her take.

Yet another major news organization is fighting back against the scourge of anonymous, hateful comments. GateHouse Media, a national chain that owns about 100 newspapers in Eastern Massachusetts, is now requiring readers to use their real names and log in via Facebook or LinkedIn. The new rules kick in today.

Here’s how the reason for the new policy was explained in the GateHouse-owned Patriot Ledger of Quincy earlier this week:

For some time, we’ve received complaints that the anonymous commenting system we’ve hosted on our online stories does little to enhance the conversation within our community. The criticism has been that some of the comments are hateful and sometimes, downright objectionable. We heard you and we agree.

Most of GateHouse’s Massachusetts papers are community weeklies, but there are also a few medium-size dailies — most prominently The Patriot Ledger, The Enterprise of Brockton, The MetroWest Daily News of Framingham and The Milford Daily News.

The new policy pertains to all of GateHouse’s properties, which include more than 300 daily and weekly papers, according to a tweet from Nicole Simmons, regional digital editor for GateHouse Media New England.

In discussing the new policy on Facebook this week, I’ve seen praise for the decision to banish anonymity and criticism for relying on third-party services such as Facebook and LinkedIn. My sense is that the new policy is a step in the right direction, and how well it works will depend on the willingness of local editors to engage with their audience.

In other words: better some places than others.

Cohasset selectmen back off

The Cohasset selectmen have backed away from their plan to subpoena The Patriot Ledger of Quincy and its sister paper The Cohasset Mariner in an attempt to find out whether town employees have been posting offensive anonymous comments to the two papers’ websites, according to a report by Patrick Ronan.

The papers are part of the GateHouse Media chain.

Still at issue is a former selectman who’s pursuing a libel action against two anonymous commenters, and who subpoenaed the Mariner in an attempt to find out who they are. According to an article published on the Ledger and Mariner websites, the papers turned over the information as requested.

According to Ronan’s story, town officials have decided to wait and see if the libel suit reveals that any of the comments in question were posted from town computers.

Cohasset selectmen seek to muzzle commenters

Cohasset Town Hall

Cohasset Town Hall

Something very strange is going on in Cohasset, according to The Patriot Ledger of Quincy and an affiliated weekly, The Cohasset Mariner.

The Cohasset selectmen, according to reports in both papers, are engaged in a snipe hunt to ferret out the identities of anonymous commenters to the Ledger and Mariner websites. The papers are owned by GateHouse Media, a national chain that owns about 100 newspapers in Eastern Massachusetts and publishes websites under the name Wicked Local.

Town officials have gone so far as to consider a subpoena to the two papers to force them to turn over the IP (Internet Protocol) addresses of some particularly unhinged commenters to see if they are using government-owned computers at town hall. (Each computer on the Internet has a unique IP address.) Such activities, the selectmen say, would violate town policy.

Last Thursday, the selectmen canceled a meeting when their lawyer was unable to produce a draft subpoena for their consideration. But, in a parallel action, the Mariner has reportedly received a subpoena from a former selectman who has filed a libel suit against two anonymous commenters. In a sidebar to a Ledger story that also appears on the Mariner site, there is this:

GateHouse Media has complied with the subpoenas to the Cohasset Mariner and released the IP address and emails related to those screen names in accordance with its privacy policy.

There’s a lot going on here, but let me offer a few observations.

• The selectmen are way out of line in even thinking they can demand that the newspapers turn over identifying information so that they can punish their own employees. I hope GateHouse officials will stand firm if they receive a subpoena demanding such information.

• The libel suit is an entirely different matter. Under federal law, website operators are not liable for content posted by third parties such as anonymous commenters, according to the Digital Media Law Project. But the commenters themselves are not immune from libel suits or other actions, and website operators may be compelled to help those bringing suit find out who they are. It doesn’t sound like GateHouse did anything out of line in turning over IP and email addresses, though I would certainly like to know more.

• The First Amendment is one thing; best practices are another. Though GateHouse has every right to let anonymous commenters vent in public, such behavior has an effect on the newspapers’ brand and reputation. GateHouse should put an end to anonymous comments (as Media Nation did several years ago) — or, at the very least, screen all comments for taste, offensiveness and libelous content before allowing them to be posted.

Finally, though GateHouse reporter Erin Dale seems to be doing a good job of covering her employer’s own story, this cries out for some outside scrutiny. I’d love to see The Boston Globe dig into this.

Further reading:

Photo (cc) by ToddC4176 and published under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

Naming names

I’ve seen an uptick in anonymous, pseudonymous and first-name-only comments recently. Some of them are really good, but I won’t post without a real name, first and last — clearly spelled out when you try to post. Here is the full Media Nation comments policy along with some of my reasons for implementing it.

In some cases, it may just be a matter of how you registered with WordPress. (Note: Registration is not necessary.) If you think that’s you, please read this.

WordPress.com members and comments

If you are already a WordPress.com member and have logged in, you’ll find that submitting a comment is very simple. But if you are not using your full name in your WordPress profile, then I can’t approve it. (In the case of a few people who have submitted comments using their real names in the past, I’ve done it for you.)

Assuming you don’t mind using your full name (otherwise, why would you by trying to post something at Media Nation?), there’s a simple solution. Go to your WordPress settings and click on “Public Profile.” Now you can change your “Public Display Name” to your full name.