As a journalist, I believe people should stand behind their opinions.
We ask our news sources to be quoted by name in our stories. We ask our readers to sign their true names to their letters to the editor. And now we’re requiring that commenters on our website, www.davisenterprise.com, post their thoughts by signing on through their Facebook accounts.
No more anonymous comments. No more fake names. No more posting multiple comments on a story using different personas. Now, you have to be you when you post a comment on our stories.
The change is scheduled to take effect Friday. Current comments will disappear and we’ll start with a clean slate.
This decision has been made with lots of thought and care. For months, we have been struggling with how to encourage dialog with our readers without merely offering you a platform for rampant vitriol. We’re not alone: Popular Science has totally eliminated comments from its site. The Huffington Post now requires comments submitted through Facebook accounts. The Chicago Sun-Times has temporarily suspended comments while it re-evaluates its policy.
Sun-Times managing editor Craig Newman reported in a blog that the forums “too often turn into a morass of negativity, racism, hate speech and general trollish behaviors that detract from the content.”
At The Enterprise, we have observed the same type of behavior and, despite our best efforts to moderate the comments, we continue to see abuses. This week, in particular, has been particularly troublesome as commenters have stooped to new lows in casting blame and pointing fingers in the wake of an 18-year-old Davis man’s death after he fell from the trunk of a moving car.
We’ve also seen disgusting language, personal attacks and even impersonation of other people. We believe the switch to comments through Facebook will resolve those issues.
We’ve also heard many complaints from readers who don’t want to become mired in ugly, downward spirals of dialog. Readers who come to newspapers for intelligent, vetted comment are often repelled rather than engaged by that kind of talk.
Sasha Koren, deputy editor for interactive news, community and social media at The New York Times, said it best: “You can allow for passion. You can allow for a certain amount of strong wording, without it degrading into personal attacks and incivility, which is the kind of environment that’s a turn-off to read, as well as to participate in.
“But I think we’re all struggling — publishers, in general — about how to make a good space that people want to engage in, and maybe add something to the journalism, rather than detract from it.”
Our goal always has been to foster meaningful discourse among readers in our community, and it will remain so. Now, however, you’ll have to rely on your Facebook profile to post comments.
You don’t have a Facebook account? Get one! Then, let us know what you think.
— Debbie Davis is editor and assistant publisher of The Davis Enterprise. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter at @DebbieDavis15