Sunday, November 29, 2015

Commenting loses the power of anonymity

Alyssa King

The ability for readers to comment on online news platforms is not a new privilege. It has been in practice nearly as long as online news has existed. The idea makes sense, and at first glance it seems simple enough. Online commenting sections create spaces for people to start a conversation about what they've read (good for the readers), and express how they feel about what they've read (good for the news source). Simple enough? Maybe not.

Today people are more active online than ever. When more people become active online, more people become active on sites and comments increase. A person typing has the power to comment however they please to, and the publication has the power to control and delete comments and require certain expectations of those who are commenting. In a country where free speech is included in the first amendment, should they be able to do so? Yes they should.

In an attempt to guide conversation to be less harmful, offensive and obscene many news outlets have changed the way their online commenting systems work. Many of them, including USA Today, have created a new policy that requires online comments to be made through a Facebook account. The policy rids the previous commonly held idea that comments should be able to be mad anonymously. Now those who wish to comment will have to attach their names and social media accounts to the words they choose to post.

The hope is that this new requirement will effect what people choose to say and make online conversation more productive and less offensive. The value of anonymity still exists and may help create a safe space for those who choose to comment. However, this now has to be balanced with potential legal issues that may arise from offensive anonymous comments. I believe that anonymity is also problematic because people who comments with their own information (who may be considered citizen journalists) can not be traced. There fore, readers who see new information within the comments, cannot research the source from which they are receiving this information. Nilay Patel, editor-inc-chief of The Verge, mentioned that she believes conversations on Twitter tend to be "more civil" in an interview with NiemLab's Justin Ellis. She connects the civility to the lack of anonymity also changed their policy but in a different way. They decided that the previous policy would still apply to the opinion section. Executive editor, Dan Colarusso explained that this decision was made because opinion pieces are" where you are trying to start an argument in the best possible way."

Though some users were upset with the change, there is no doubt that there were already users connecting their personal social media sites to news articles found online. USA Today uses SimpleReach, Chartbeat and CrowdTangle to track the use of their content on social sites. A Pew Research Center study revealed that the majority of U.S. adults are using Facebook and half of them are sharing or reposting online news content.

Recode's exectuive editor, Kara Swisher, said this about reader's responses to the change, "At first, everyone was like 'how dare you,' and then a lot of people did it. And a lot more will do it over time."

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