The Huffington Post will soon no longer allow anonymous comments. In a post published Monday afternoon, HuffPost Media Group Managing Editor Jimmy Soni said the news organization “recognizes that many people are not in a professional or personal situation where attaching their name to a comment is feasible.” They’ll have to verify their identity when they create an account, “which will reduce the number of drive-by or automated trolls.”
Good news, Conan: “Existing accounts will be grandfathered into the new system.”
.@HuffingtonPost is set to ban anonymous comments. I guess “SexxxyGingerNotConanOBrien” will have to move on to greener pastures.
— Conan O’Brien (@ConanOBrien) August 25, 2013
Soni says HuffPost now doinks three-quarters of all comments “either because they are flat-out spam or because they contain unpublishable levels of vitriol.”
And rather than participating in threads and promoting the best comments, our moderators are stuck policing the trolls with diminishing success.
The debate over whether anonymous comments are uncivil has been thus far unburdened by empirical evidence, Arthur D. Santana writes in a paper published earlier this year. So the University of Houston professor (and former reporter for The Washington Post, The Seattle Times and the San Antonio Express-News) coded comments in groups of newspapers that allowed anonymity and others that didn’t.
Among other criteria, “uncivil” comments contained person attacks, ethnic slurs or foul language; “civil” comments were “rational, well reasoned and free of insults”; and a third group “could be spirited and forceful” or express derision “without resorting to hateful language.” The researchers also grouped comments they couldn’t categorize under any of those criteria.
Santana found that at papers that allowed anonymous comments, 53 percent were uncivil, compared with nearly 29 percent at newspapers that insisted on real names or Facebook comments. Non-anonymity “is presumed though, of course, not guaranteed,” the study said.
Reached by phone, Santana said he spent a year and a half reading online newspaper comments.
“There were times when I felt like I was wading around in the muck, but I wanted to understand what people were saying,” he said. Again and again, he found, civil comments led to civil conversations — and not necessarily those where people agreed. “When people start getting mean or rude, people start closing their minds,” he said. “So simply by extension of that a civil conversation is one where people remain open to ideas.”
Santana said he doesn’t leave online comments as a matter of policy, but that “there were times that I would bristle at some of these comments.” I asked him whether he thought comments add value to online stories.
“I think perhaps if you do away with anonymity the quality begins to rise, and it can be useful,” he said. Comments provide “a small snapshot, perhaps not an ideal one, into the consciousness of a community. I think there could be value if they’re done right.”
Related: How the Huffington Post handles 70+ million comments a year | Anonymous comments can be ‘a frothing, bubbling cauldron of insanity’ | Anonymous comments not the problem, ignoring the conversation is