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More news organizations try civilizing online comments with the help of social media

ESPN this week becomes the latest major news organization to rely upon social media to help civilize its online comments.

Starting Wednesday, ESPN.com’s 25 million active users will have to log in through a Facebook account if they want to participate in online conversations on ESPN.com stories.

Patrick Stiegman, editor-in-chief of ESPN.com, said by phone that three factors drove the company’s decision to switch to Facebook for commenting: “a tremendously smooth transition for fans,” many of whom already have Facebook accounts; increased visibility for ESPN content beyond the walls of ESPN.com; and a desire to “emphasize quality of comments over the quantity of comments.”

The daily comment count on ESPN.com averaged 230,000 posts in June, according to ESPN’s Kevin Ota. That’s 6.9 million comments just last month. Read more


Early comments on stories affect what later readers believe, and what they say

A recent scientific experiment demonstrated the importance of intervening in comment sections to cultivate constructive discussion, particularly just after publication.

Scientific American Blog Editor Bora Zivkovic writes about the results, which showed that the tone of pre-existing comments on a story affected subsequent readers.

An article about nanotechnology, a topic most people know very little about and usually have no a priori biases for or against, was presented to the test subjects. Half the people saw the article with (invented) polite, civil and constructive comments. The other half was given the same article but with uncivil comments – essentially a flame-war in the fake commenting thread. The result is that readers of the second version quickly developed affinity for one side of the argument and strongly took that side, which affected the way they understood and trusted the original article (text of which was unaltered).

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NPR, other news orgs tighten comment moderation to improve conversation

NPR.org | MinnPost | Charleston Gazette | Vancouver Sun | MarketWatch
NPR switched its user commenting to the Disqus platform this week, and is increasing its moderation efforts in response to user demand.

It took the unusual step of sending readers an email survey in advance, asking for ideas and feedback about how to improve the commenting system. More than 6,000 responded. The big surprise, social media product manager Kate Myers writes, is that readers called for more comment moderation.

We asked this question in our recent NPR audience survey:

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New study: Real names improve quality of website comments


A study of South Korean website commenters adds to the debate over whether requiring real names improves online discourse. Gregory Ferenstein writes:

For 4 years, Koreans enacted increasingly stiff real-name commenting laws, first for political websites in 2003, then for all websites receiving more than 300,000 viewers in 2007, and was finally tightened to 100,000 viewers a year later after online slander was cited in the suicide of a national figure. The policy, however, was ditched shortly after a Korean Communications Commission study found that it only decreased malicious comments by 0.9%. Korean sites were also inundated by hackers, presumably after valuable identities.

The study, he writes, provides some real data to combat the theorizing that using real names fosters better online discourse. Read more


People using pseudonyms post the highest-quality comments, Disqus says

Disqus Product Blog | Infographic
One of the most popular commenting services for news websites and blogs says its data shows that commenters using pseudonyms are “the most important contributors to online communities.”

The service gives each user the option of commenting with a Disqus account, a social media identity or anonymously. It says 61 percent of commenters use pseudonyms, 35 percent choose to be anonymous and 4 percent use their “real identity” verified by Facebook. It also says those with pseudonyms post the best comments, while anonymous comments are lower quality. One theory: People don’t mind being accountable online, but they don’t want it to blow back on their work or personal lives by using a real identity. A pseudonym protects them while providing a measure of accountability. Read more


Journalist: I’m obsessed with reading the awful comments on Philly.com

Philadelphia Weekly
Not all Philly.com commenters are racist, “but most are,” says Tara Murtha. “Calling black people animals, references to monkeys, phrases like ‘welcome to the jungle, baby’ and ‘That’s how it go in da hood’ are all standard comments beneath crime stories on Philly.com when the perp is black.” But Murtha can’t stop reading the atrocious remarks. “Averting my eyes is not my style. I read grand jury reports and listen to police radio.”

Philly.com editor Wendy Warren tells Murtha that the anonymous comments problem is enough to drive her “completely insane,” and that she’s working on it. A new moderation system will require commenters to sign in through Facebook. Murtha’s reaction: “I have to admit part of me is disappointed, even though this is probably a great step for the 99 percent — the would-be commenters scared off by the elite 1 percent hogging up the bandwidth.” | Earlier: News sites using Facebook Comments see higher quality discussions. Read more


Continuing the discussion on Facebook Comments: Not a perfect solution

GigaOm, Zombie Journalism

Picking up on my post about how Facebook Comments are benefiting some news sites, others have added valuable thoughts. Mathew Ingram notes that forcing commenters to use real names is a double-edged sword: “Although removing anonymity (or pseudonymity) can remove some of the trolling and flame-wars that consume comment threads, it also risks removing opinions and viewpoints that would never be expressed if the commenter had to put their name on it.”

He also notes Reynolds Journalism Fellow Joy Mayer’s research on engagement, which encourages journalists to get more involved in their own reader comments rather than “outsourcing” the conversation.

In another post, Huffington Post social media editor Mandy Jenkins reminds us that there are ways for Facebook users to operate under fake names and act just as trollish as anyone else, if they are so motivated. Read more


News sites using Facebook Comments see higher quality discussion, more referrals

News organizations that have turned to Facebook to power their website comments say they are seeing a higher quality of discussion and a significant increase in referral traffic.

How does Facebook Comments reduce the endemic name-calling and invective of unrestrained online forums? By tying a real name to every comment.

“Trolls don’t like their friends to know that they’re trolls,” explained Jimmy Orr, online managing editor of the Los Angeles Times. “By using Facebook, it has made a difference.”

The LA Times has an interesting testing environment. This spring it installed Facebook Comments on its blogs, but continued to use a traditional commenting system, which allows pseudonyms, on its news articles. That provided a side-by-side comparison to see which approach produced the best results, Orr said. Read more