Beginning of the end of nasty anonymous comments?

Arianna Huffington announced that Huffpost is moving toward eliminating anonymous comments. This is remarkable given the high level of commenting activity on the popular news site.

It is well known and often remarked about how the civility of our society has been degraded by the Internet–well, not the Internet, the amazing number of people who are rude, nasty, impolite, over-opinionated, and downright ugly. I read a recent academic paper (sorry, lost the reference) which linked the quite dramatic loss of trust in government in part to the sheer nastiness and extreme partisanship of our online conversation. I was conducting a workshop yesterday when one participant commented that the Internet created essentially a global small community which is true, but, unfortunately this quaint little town we live in called the Internet seems to have been overtaken by the most vulgar, inarticulate and cynical citizens of the planet.

(Do you have any idea yet how I feel about the Internet nastiness?)

That’s why I heartily welcome this move by HuffPost as well as the rapidly emerging trend of requiring users to sign in using their Facebook or Twitter accounts. It simplifies sign-ons and does make it a bit harder to hide, although Twitter to best of my knowledge still allows people to hide behind anonymity (such as @theeviltweeter).

Anonymous comments represents a dilemma for organizations wanting to use interactive tools during a crisis or emergency. It makes it harder to verify online information that could be important for emergency response. It makes it more challenging to determine actual sentiment. It poses the dilemma of whether or not to delete comments or end a nasty thread, thereby entering into the conversation in a controlling way which is anathema to the digital mob. What is particularly great about HuffPost requiring actual identities, if they indeed do this, is it may turn into a trend and certainly something organizations experiencing the nastiness to also eliminate anonymous comments with the statement that HuffPost does it.



5 thoughts on “Beginning of the end of nasty anonymous comments?”

  1. Sadly, most people won’t say in person (or in front of their spouse, mother,etc.) what they freely say online. And the more reinforcement they get for these nasty online exchanges, the more likely that they’ll continue/increase.

    On G+ anyway. I’m particularly fond of the BLOCK button and on my own business site, “no identity = no participation”.

    Good for Huffington.

  2. We’ve been blogging as a city for three years, and our policy from the start has been to require commenters to use their real names. As a result, we don’t have tons of commenters, but the conversations we do have are respectful and remain on topic.

  3. Gerald:

    I couldn’t agree more. And in fact, at #NCRSMEM I presented an entire slide on how anonymous online commenting leads to stigmatization during public health emergencies. Numerous studies have shown that racial and ethnic minorities accused of being a disease source suffer very real mental, physical and economic abuse during outbreaks. The two biggest and most recent ones were the Chinese community in Toronto during SARS and Mexicans and Hispanics in the US during H1N1.

    And those examples weren’t during the heyday of anonymous commenting. I fear, fear, fear if MERS-CoV goes large and what it’ll do to the Muslim community here in the US.

    I think I referred to the newspaper site comments as a cesspool during my presentation, too.


  4. Couldn’t agree more about anonymous commenting, Gerald – especially in a crisis context. I think we’ll need to wait and see before declaring any kind of trend though.

    TechCrunch did a similar thing a couple of years back and eventually did an about turn as the volume of engagement dropped so precipitously. It’s a shame, as for a while the commentary there became tolerable and actually useful versus the cesspool that Jim described above.

    For now I’ll hope that this becomes a trend, but I’ll also be watching with interest to see if HuffPo holds the course.


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