Thursday, November 26, 2015

Anonymously Honest

Kathryn Safreed

If there's one thing I've learned to avoid, it's the comment section on news sites. I have never in my 15+ years on the internet found a comment on even the most reputable site that made me think "Wow, they put a lot of thought into that one."

This is probably why many news organizations are choosing to require a social media log in before posting a comment or are simply shutting down their comment sections all together. All too often, commenters hide behind the anonymous mask that is their computer screen and jump into the comment section of an article to voice their opinions. When a person's face is right next to their comment, however, they are much more likely to think about what they're saying. I mean, we all don't want to disappoint mom!

But, is this the best way for news organizations to go? On one hand, it certainly does curb the amount of comments that need to be removed for being racist, sexist, or just completely out of line. As Mashable from 2014 explains, it takes manual labor to read every comment and determine if they meet community standards. Sure, a robot can go through and take out every comment that has a bad word or a homophobic phrase, but you'll never catch every comment that breaks the rules. A real person has to go through each and every comment section and read all the comments as they come in. And that takes work, time away from other tasks, and money. Ditching the comments section not only saves an organization from being related to bad comments, but also saves them time and money by allowing their employees to work on other tasks.

In this example, you have to sign in with one of four websites to post a comment. This is what many websites are doing to cut down on spam and trolls.

While getting rid of anonymous comments does save time and money, it also removes an honest element. Of course, no one wants to hear about someone's homophobic, disgusting, racist remarks no matter how honest, but when there is a polarizing issue, people may not want to put their face next to a credible and valid, but potentially upsetting opinion. For example, I have very much wanted to make comments on the multitude of world issues happening now, however, I don't want my family and some of my friends seeing that I made certain comments because it may stir up drama I'm not willing to handle with a person who is close to me. Of course, the easy response is, "Well, if you don't want a person to read what you're writing, don't comment at all." That's true, but I'd love to have an honest discussion with others about certain issues in a level headed manner. Many of my friends and family, driven by emotion rather than fact, would rather yell and scream to get their point across.

On a less serious note, we also hear very interest stories using the mask of anonymity. Reddit is a widely use social media/news site that relies on anonymity. You don't have to log in with Facebook to post and comment, can have as many accounts as you want, and you don't even need to verify your email address. And while this might seem like a recipe for disaster, Reddit ends up being home to many interesting and honest discussions. For example, users were asked to disclose their family's darkest secrets. The responses were... strange, but still as honest as could be. The same happens on news sections of the website, where people are able to comment freely without putting their name and face next to their response. What keeps this whole thing from unraveling is the upvote/downvote system. The comments with more "upvotes" are displayed at the top, while those receiving downvotes get pushed to the bottom (and are sometimes removed by moderators if they are very offensive). The moderators are all volunteers, so Reddit loses no money by monitoring comments, and all content is posted by the users.

However, what we must keep in mind is that every website is different. Where Reddit would lose their millions of users if they ever even considered switching to a less anonymous form of generating content, many news outlets don't have a choice. This is a decision that has to be made on a case by case basis. For some, it'll save an organization, for others it would destroy it. And as for us users, we have to decide which form of journalism works for us.

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