By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

New York Times upgrades comments with Facebook

The New York Times unveiled a new online commenting system today. Jeff Sonderman of Poynter and Chris O’Shea of FishbowlNY cover the changes pretty thoroughly — as does Chris Lefkow of Agence-France Presse, who interviewed me for his story.

The Times deserves a lot of credit for taking comments seriously enough to do a rethink. The centerpiece to its new policy is that “trusted commenters” — invitation-only contributors with a track record of being thoughtful and civil — will be able to post without pre-screening as long as they are willing to do so using their Facebook accounts.

Why does Facebook matter? Yes, it’s the social network that we all love to hate. But it also requires its users to provide their real names. And we’ve all become accustomed to behaving a certain way on Facebook.

We share our pictures, we wish each other a happy birthday, we send cheery messages to friends from high school whom we haven’t seen in years. All of this is the antithesis of the nutty, often racist comments that pollute many newspaper sites.

Comments matter. They can be a way for news organizations to establish a community and carry on a conversation with their audience. They haven’t worked out as we might have hoped 10 years ago. But that’s no reason not to keep trying.

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  1. Mike Benedict

    As much as some would like to believe otherwise, plenty of identities on Facebook as a phony as a three dollar bill.

    • Dan Kennedy

      Mike: More are real than not. Although the Times actually isn’t going this far, I think requiring people to use their Facebook accounts to comment on newspaper websites would solve 95 percent of the problem. And as we all know, solving the last 5 percent often takes just as much effort as the first 95, and isn’t worth it.

  2. It’s coincidence … at least, I *think* it’s coincidence … but the Nashua Telegraph rolled out its new, Facebook-based comment system today. Not quite as fancy as the Times’ system, alas.

  3. I’m not really convinced that this will solve 95% of the problem. Many individuals, including some that I know, use the social sites only to bookmark a website that they are promoting, and under a different name. Some hire outside firms to post these bookmarks and they use whatever name suits their fancy. I guess you have to start somewhere, and if you don’t try it, you may never know. Good luck.

  4. C.E. Stead

    DK – one of your ‘former’ commenters has a vibrant FB page. And more friends than I do.

    • Dan Kennedy

      C.E.: True. But the Times wouldn’t invite that person to be a “trusted commenter.”

  5. L.K. Collins

    Much prefer the “page” approach than the new “more” tab

    We’ll just have to wait an see how it works with comments on Krugman’s columns. Don’t think it will be an improvement.

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