Hyperlocal sites tend to ban anonymous commenting

Many editors of news websites in small communities require that real names are attached to comments on their sites, Tom Grubisich reports. Batavian publisher Howard Owens explains, “If you have people commenting in a public forum, especially in a small community, readers have a right to know whether that’s a former elected official or somebody who works for the state senator, or just a bitter businessman that got screwed over.” StreetFight attributes the trend to hyperlocal sites’ increasing focus on growing a community of loyal unique users, rather than chasing pageviews by allowing “verbal slugfests that anonymous posters started and abetted.” || Earlier: A 5-minute framework for fostering better conversations in comments sections

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  • http://www.facebook.com/conniff Michael Conniff

    Aspen Post has been a hyperlocal blog since 2006 with over 80 bloggers and nearly 20,000 pieces of original content–many of them in the form of comments by people with handles or pseudonyms. In all that time we’ve had to delete comments on average about once every six months. 


    We have a simple rule and it works: you’re not allowed to get personal. You can say my idea sucks but if you say I suck you’re in trouble with the Aspen Post community.

    If someone breaks the rule they are scolded publicly on the blog and warned that if they do it again their comment will be removed from the site. If they do it a third time they are banned from the site, never to return.

    This works because the policy is clear and it puts the weight of the community behind the warning. If you don’t do something like this, the whole thing can literally go down the toilet in a matter of minutes.

    Try it, you’ll like it.
    All best, 

    Michael Conniff
    Post Time Media Inc.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mike-Saunders/603809847 Mike Saunders

    Howard, what exactly is “anonymous?” Is requiring someone to post with their real name truly a secure guarantee of identity? 

    It’s not, as over the past month I’ve registered on your site twice under assumed names with different email addresses and Batavia-area street addresses. The whole process takes under five minutes. Any content under those names can’t be linked to a specific community member, nor do your readers have any confidence that it’s truly a neighbor making those wonderfully insightful — or viscously snarky — comments. I haven’t caused any mischief at the Batavian — or on Dan Kennedy’s site where I’ve done the same thing — but I wanted to underscore the point that some advocates of “real name” posting miss: a person’s online persona can have absolutely zero relationship to their real identity. And vice versa. 

    Scoring content would be a much better way to elevate good stuff and submerge the crap. From that standpoint, your current policy is completely ineffective. From a commenting standpoint, I understand your need to enforce a civil discourse. You live and work in a small town where it’s likely not the best idea to let people blaze at each other online. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/howardowens Howard Owens

    There are plenty of opportunities for anonymous speech online, as Mr. Thx2600′s snarky and-miss-the-point  post proves.  My policy in no way impedes the right of anyone to anonymous speech. The last I checked, the First Amendment also protects my right to not allow anonymous content on my site if I so choose.

  • http://flavors.me/andrewvazzano Andrew Vazzano

    At Main Street Connect and all our TheDaily sites, we encourage readers to use their real name when registering, we do not ban or discourage anonymous commenting. It’s all part of the digital town green – the online watercooler – where friends and neighbors can discuss their town.

    Andrew Vazzano

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=504633504 Dan Mitchell

    Where in history do we learn that the First Amendment must be enforced by private organizations? We’re not talking about the government restricting anonymous ninnies from acting like jackasses, or pursuing some hidden agenda, in Internet forums. We’re talking about the owners of those forums doing so. The First Amendment doesn’t apply. Speaking of learning.

  • Anonymous

    Howard Owens should learn some history. 

    From the Electronic Frontier Foundation:

    The Supreme Court has ruled repeatedly that the right to anonymous free speech is protected by the First Amendment. A much-cited 1995 Supreme Court ruling in McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Commission reads:Protections for anonymous speech are vital to democratic discourse. Allowing dissenters to shield their identities frees them to express critical, minority views . . . Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority. . . . It thus exemplifies the purpose behind the Bill of Rights, and of the First Amendment in particular: to protect unpopular individuals from retaliation . . . at the hand of an intolerant society.

  • Anonymous

    Doesn’t matter if it’s anonymous or not; it’s always the same 4 people doing all the commenting most of the time.