December 11, 2013

Huffington Post

Grab your pitchforks and text art tanks: Huffington Post is doubling down on its anonymity crackdown.

The site’s new commenting system, explained by Tim McDonald, HuffPost’s director of community, requires users to have a Facebook account:

Here’s how to get started under this new system. When you log in to your account and go to make a comment, you will be prompted to link your commenting account to your verified Facebook account. Then, choose how you’d like your name to be displayed. You can either display your first and last names, or your first name and last initial. This is the only information that will be viewable to the community at large, and you will have control over your private information via Facebook’s privacy settings.

How do you get your Facebook account verified? You have to enter a confirmation code sent to you by Facebook via text message. So to comment on Huffington Post, you need to give Facebook your phone number, and you need to give HuffPost access to your Facebook account, which, Facebook says, must list your real name. Then, you can choose to post HuffPost comments under your full name or just your first name and last initial.

In August, Managing Editor Jimmy Soni announced the end of anonymous comments on the site and said: “The change will only affect users creating new accounts on HuffPost. Existing accounts will be grandfathered into the new system.” At the time, Soni was vague about how the site would internally verify new user accounts, but just a few months later all users are now subject to the Facebook requirement, causing no small amount of outrage in the comments.

When I surveyed the top 50 news sites in the U.S. in November, I found that all but seven sites permitted commenting via Facebook, but only three required a Facebook account to comment. The vast majority of sites employ simple commenting plugins allowing users to weigh in via whichever social network they choose.

McDonald indicated in the Huffington Post story’s comments and on Twitter that the site could allow users to link their HuffPost accounts to social networks besides Facebook in the future:

Google incited rage last month when it started requiring YouTube users to comment on videos via Google+.

Studies have shown anonymous comments are often less civil, but if you’ve ever moderated a major news site’s Facebook page, you know real names hardly preclude scum and villainy. So the question for HuffPost is: What level of added civility is worth isolating and angering your most loyal readers?

Related: Huffington Post will end anonymous comments | Despite complaints, comments broadly allowed on many news sites

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Sam Kirkland is Poynter's digital media fellow, focusing on mobile and social media trends. Previously, he worked at the Chicago Sun-Times as a digital editor,…
Sam Kirkland

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