“Should the Globe require real names be used in your online reader comments sections?” asks Dave Ings in Toronto. “It might elevate and civilize the tone of the discussions and reduce the trolling.”
The Globe’s senior social media editor Melissa Whetstone says that’s a commonly-considered option in the newsroom – but we’re not convinced. “We’ve also wondered whether The Globe should require commenters to use their real names. and whether doing so would improve the level of conversation on our site,” Whestone says. It’s a subject of much debate with no simple answer:
How do you force commenters to use their real names in the first place? It’s easy enough to create a fake profile. You could force users to sign up with one of their social media profiles, but what’s stopping them from setting up a fake account there? Besides, it’s not like Facebook or Twitter is troll-free. People there are often not shy about posting abusive or offensive comments under their real names, right along with that profile photo of them and their smiling kids.
There’s also the argument that not allowing anonymity would stifle discussion around sensitive or controversial topics. Maybe you have a deeply personal story you think would add value to a conversation, but don’t necessarily want your co-workers to come across it. Chances are you wouldn’t bother to share it.
The Globe is aware that our commenting system is not perfect. But we have mechanisms to try and make it a place for valuable discussion and debate. We have options to report for abuse comments and users who break our community guidelines. Moderators review these reports and remove comments or block users when warranted. When covering topics that tend to attract a high number of abusive comments, we set articles to premoderation. This means all comments on that article must be reviewed by a moderator before appearing online.
Some news organizations have removed comments from their site entirely, unable or unwilling to tolerate the troubles any longer. That’s a shame. There’s still value in comments -whether on our own site or social media. (Take a look at this piece we published last week as one example.) The Coral Project is one group looking at ways to improve community and commenting on news sites through technology. I’m eager to see what they come up with. I’m sure many readers are too.