There was a time when you could get your “daily dose of crazy” from the comments section of SignOnSanDiego.com (or so said a colleague). But, those days may be numbered as the online arm of the San Diego Union-Tribune moved to Facebook comments earlier this week.
The UT explained in an article that they hope the move away from anonymous comments will lead to “more civil and constructive” dialogue between readers. While it’s too early to tell if this has happened, several other newspapers have already instituted Facebook comments, like the Los Angeles Times, or are in the process of doing so, like USA Today, who is rolling it out on their online blogs in the coming week. And others, like the New York Times and Washington Post, are considering it.
Prior to the change, reading through comments on any SignOnSanDiego article often required the mental equivalent of a flak jacket. Because of the facelessness of the commenting system, things got ugly (and off-topic) quickly. Unsurprisingly, the media sees censorship as anathema, so comments were rarely censored.
But, by putting a face to a real name, newspapers and other media organization hope people will think twice about what they say — just like they do in real life — and employ a little self-censorship. Would uglycommenter78 still say the same thing if he was instead listed as John Smith and had his picture posted next to his name? It’s an interesting exercise and one that will be played out in the (online) court of opinion for some time.
We have a few guiding principles that we use in moderating comments both on SDSU NewsCenter and on the university’s Facebook page. We don’t mind disagreement or frustration. We dislike spam (who doesn’t?) and have zero tolerance for hate speech. Still, we rarely delete comments.
Maybe that’s because we’re lucky, that we’re all Aztecs or maybe it’s because of the system we employ, DISQUS, which lets users create profiles anonymously or based on existing social networking profiles. Either way, we’ll keep an eye on things.
So, read, comment and get a (courteous) conversation going.