One of the largest newspapers in the mid-Atlantic, Washington Post (WaPo), will be making an important decision with regard to their commenting infrastructure and essentially their online community.
From the lede of CNET’s coverage, If Jim Brady had his way, there would be no guaranteed anonymity for those who post comments to Washingtonpost.com.
The Washington Post has dipped their feet into allowing anonymous comments on various news articles, but as expected, they’ve experienced an on-going frustration with Trolls. Their most critical of users usually suggest the usual censorship or a handful of the variety of political conspiracy theories involving WaPo, Republicans and Democrats.
I understand their plight. They want comments, but just not those ones. The honest truth is, it’s their audience and they need to embrace it and find some way to earn participation from the readers who actually have some semblance of online candor to their name.
The executive editor of the Washington Post, Jim Brady, shares his thoughts and struggles in promoting a positive community — but the gem of his proposal is strategically buried at the bottom of the CNET article:
“I don’t know whether we do it with a credit card number, a driver’s
license or passport, but I think making people responsible would raise
the level of discourse.”
That is, a traditional news agency asking for your address, payment method or a copy of your traveling documents? Yikes! The idea that an oft-criticized news agency would solicit personal identification is just stoking the fire for your critics. Be careful, Brady.
I don’t sense any malice in his suggestion — I do sense fear and I see his concern for the dying breed (traditional news and the “write to the editor”-style feedback.)
Of course, there are other ways to provide verified identities of users without soliciting government-issued, or financially-backed documents. For example, cell phones and text messaging, e-mail verification, Heuristics, IP addresses. In addition, they could employ disemvoweling to remove a troll’s contributions (almost literally), as well as the usual “profanity list” and its variants to avert some of the offensive discussion.
Jim, you walk a fine line here between a passionate community and no community. One of the grey areas in providing positive communities is to moderate commentary and set clear guidelines. Here’s a hint: It’s very costly, I know cause it eventually cost my former job, but it would offer a balanced, critical and engaged community that you and your advertisers would want.
Question: Would you be content in providing a photo copy of your government-issued ID in order to participate in discussion on the Internet?
Share your perspective in the comments below. (And yes, anonymous responses are OK.)