The anonymous troll problem was not just at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, which changed it policy in June, but also at the Staunton News Leader and the Waynesboro News Virginian as well as newspapers nationwide.
Personal attacks, name-calling, and slanderous rants are common and, quite frankly, beneath the dignity of any reputable publication, something I wrote about in 2007 ("The trolls at the Staunton News Leader") and again in June ("Leaders lead ... anonymous blog trolls cower").
Most trolls have an agenda, as noted recently when anonymous News Leader commenters slammed a local Augusta County supervisor with random accusations. However, when the supervisor left a comment that included his phone number and address along with an offer to talk personally with the anonymous commenters about any issues of concern to them, it was ignored. Instead, they changed their tactic and rationalized it was a conspiracy to uncover who they were so they could be attacked, and then continued with the cowardly comments. That is not a quest for knowledge; that is an agenda.
Such is the irrational reasoning of trolls who wish to remain hidden in the shadows.
So I very much applaud the announcement today from the Staunton News Leader that they, too, will follow in the footsteps of the Times-Dispatch and join up with Facebook to alleviate those issues.
Managing editor Dave Fritz wrote today:
The idea here is that Facebook requires people to use real names, and they do a credible job enforcing that part of their Terms of Service. Real names reintroduce an old concept that should never go out of fashion: Personal responsibility.He went on to say:
People who are held responsible for their comments, people who have to look their neighbors in the eye after posting snarky comments are less likely to rush up to the edge of good taste. Or so has been the experience in other newspapers that have made this switch.Thank you to Dave Fritz and the News Leader staff for helping to bring more civility into the online community.
Fritz explained the new policy:
Next week we will usher in a new era of, if not agreement, then maybe civility in our newsleader.com story comments.The internet is maturing....
Until now we’ve required people who want to comment on stories to register with our site. They get a user name, but they don’t have to use their real name. The relative anonymity leaves some folks feeling they are free to snipe and snark, attack and accuse, poke and prod other users with impunity. We asked people to report abuses of our Terms of Service and took comments down if we agreed someone had crossed the line, but it was an imperfect system with many folks just skating close enough to the line to be obnoxious but not wandering to the level of abuse.
Frankly, it turned a lot of people off to our story comments.
We actually received more kudos than complaints when we moved the story comments to their own page, just so folks who didn’t want to raise their blood pressure didn’t have to be subjected to the comments.
Early Wednesday morning, we’ll take another step in the right direction when we require all users who want to post on stories to use their Facebook credentials to log-in.
The idea here is that Facebook requires people to use real names, and they do a credible job enforcing that part of their Terms of Service. Real names reintroduce an old concept that should never go out of fashion: Personal responsibility.
People who are held responsible for their comments, people who have to look their neighbors in the eye after posting snarky comments are less likely to rush up to the edge of good taste. Or so has been the experience in other newspapers that have made this switch.
Will we have fewer comments? Maybe at first. But if we drain the swamp, there’s a real possibility that civil, respectful, useful discussions could break out. Or at least that’s other sites’ experience and our hope.
It also more closely aligns the site with a value we’ve always tried to hold dear in print: We let you know who’s talking. We tried, couldn’t get comfortable with, and eventually discontinued using versions of story comments in print for this very reason. Now we’ll walk it back the other direction, demonstrating that the best local discussions are held with names attached.
Greg Bruno of Waynesboro wrote in 2008 in our forums, “I think that participants in forums like this one should consider using their real names for their screen names.
“It makes the conversations just that much more ‘real,’ and it seems to discourage the kind of rudeness that has become common online. When we have our personal reputations to consider, most of us behave better online.”
I agreed then, and I agree now. Finally, the online world has moved forward enough that this idea is workable.
So hang in there until Wednesday. We hope a little sanity is on the way.