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

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).

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  1. We probably wouldn’t have gotten a Bill of Rights placed into the Constitution had the Anti-Federalists been forced to use their real names.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Scott: Is there a shortage of places on the Internet where people can contribute anonymously? Is there a crisis that only news sites can meet?

  2. The Daily Item of Lynn ( instituted a pay wall — excuse me, membership program — on July 22, and I’m pleased to report that the thoughtfulness of reader comments has soared even as the number has plummeted. We’re still parsing “The Wired City” in search of wisdom on how to proceed with a real names policy, but we’re encouraged by what’s happening so far.

  3. @ Scott: Two entirely different things. One has to do with protecting those who give us information anonymously because they legitimately fear for their personal safety. We have, and will continue to provide, appropriate means for them to do that. What we should not tolerate are commenters who use anonymity to engage in vicious personal attacks or, as White puts it, “vitriol, bigotry, obscenity, cheap shots and juvenile taunts. That’s just enabling cowardice.

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