Saturday, November 28, 2015

Social Media: The New Social Forum?

Julie Weller

With so many anonymous users commenting offensively and inappropriately on online articles, it's no wonder that several online newspapers have made the decision that requires users to leave comments through a personal social media account. Although this has turned some users off and fewer comments are being made, most newspapers who have made this change say it's worth it.

As journalists and public relations professionals, I think we can all agree that it is better to have ten comments that discuss the topic of the content in a critical way, that is informative to the writer and the organization, than to have 100 comments that trash the content in an offensive way and could never be helpful.

With social media as the future for most newspapers any way, it makes sense to conduct conversations around articles and content through social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. After all, social media is all about conversation and sharing content.

The problem with anonymous user comments is that people can say whatever they want- be it racist, sexist, or just blatantly offensive. Take for instance this racist comment made by an anonymous user on an article that covered a shooting in Buffalo, New York.

According to CNN, comments such as this one gave reason for the newspaper in Buffalo that posted this article to get rid of anonymous user comments and require users to comment through a registered personal account.

And many newspapers, including Gannett Newspapers such as USA Today and other smaller online sites like The Verge have followed suite.

USA Today now posts their 'Conversation Guidelines' on their website, which explains to users how to comment to articles via their Facebook accounts and what type of content is appropriate. It's here that they explain their right to suspend any comment that they deem offensive or inappropriate. 

USA Today comment section that requires users to sign in via their personal Facebook accounts

With these new guidelines, USA Today can worry less about constantly monitoring their comment sections because users are less likely to use offensive language when their username is attached. Even in the sports section articles, the comment content is clean and free of curse words. 

When we think about it, there are only a small amount of people in the world who could care less if people put offensive, vulgar comments with their name and their picture. Personally, I ignore people like this online because I know that they are usually only trying to instigate a fight.

With less users commenting out of vulgarity, more room is left for meaningful conversation about the content that we as journalists and public relations professionals worked so hard to produce. Not only is the quality of discussion higher when people are responsible for what they say, it also generates more article views.

If we are friends with someone who comments on an online article, that comment shows up on our timeline. Chances our, if they found the article to be of interest, so will we and we'll click on it. That or we will probably want to see what article was important enough for one of our friends to leave a comment on.

So really, this new decision has been a win-win for online newspapers. By putting a comment with a name and a face, and making users responsible for what they say online, newspapers are allowing more meaningful conversations to be had around the articles they produce, while generating more traffic towards their content. 

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