Chip Minemyer | New comment system does away with online anonymity

We’re often asked why the Centre Daily Times requires individuals who write letters to the editor to identify themselves but web story commenters may remain anonymous.

That’s a fair question.

Beginning Sunday, Web commenters will be unidentified no more.

The Centre Daily Times is moving to a new story commenting system that operates in conjunction with Facebook. Anyone who posts a comment on a story on our website, www.centredaily.com, will be identified through his or her Facebook account.

What we’re hoping to see is fewer nasty posts, personal attacks and off-topic rants.

And we expect to see more comments that are relevant to the stories to which they’re attached, and which more closely follow the model of decorum seen on our opinion page.

“We have used several different commenting systems over the years in an attempt to create a safe space for readers to interact,” Brett Colton, the CDT’s Web content manager, said of the change.

This is something folks from law enforcement to social services to everyday readers have been begging us to do for some time.

“We think the move to Facebook commenting will lend itself to more civil engagement, not allowing readers to hide behind false identities,” Colton said, “and should help reduce the amount of time spent on moderating comments.”

As the folks at McClatchy, our parent company, said in rolling out the new system: “Since Facebook tries to enforce real names, people are less likely to ‘troll’ when people know who they are.”

The purpose of letters to the editor and online comments is to allow for the expression of various views on an issue or topic, and to facilitate a dialogue that illuminates a problem or concern.

In the newspaper and in our online opinion section, letters to the editor must meet important guidelines. The writer must be identified by name, and must provide a community in which he or she resides.

But on the Web, you’ll find all sorts of identities.

Some people have chosen to use their own names online. Most have not.

One story last week included comments from “Hooty Kai,” “snitch,” “sleevelesshooftie” and “Joe Cool.”

Elsewhere on the site you might find “miket156,” “blues_cat,” “Bladerunner9,” and “ibwonderful.”

The folks who comment on our Web stories are among our most loyal readers. We want them to stay and keep offering their views.

We just want people to know who they are.

Sometimes, the Web comments section of our stories turns into a vicious back-and-forth battle among a handful of commenters.

Too often, anonymous posts include inappropriate language, personal attacks or insensitive statements that we would never allow in a letter to the editor in print or online.

Publications that have gone to Facebook identification or similar setups have found that the comments on their sites get cleaner and the dialogue gets more meaningful.

We’re confident that’s what will happen here.

Let’s continue the discussion