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.