(initial content below was copied from my ToledoTalk.com post and then added to in Nov 2013)
- whether to allow comments
- whether to use Facebook comments or some other system
- anonymity or real names
older posts mentioned above or found elsewhere
Why Facebook comments is a bad idea for your site
Lawmakers Call for an End to Internet Anonymity
New York Legislation Would Ban Anonymous Online Speech
I kind of expected this would happen eventually, but the Blade's reasons for switching are wrong.
The change, aimed at improving the public discourse ...
The goal is to foster better and more civil public discussions ...
It's a myth that real names lead to civility on the Internet. This myth is distributed by anti-pseudonym people. If you think Facebook users or Facebook comments on other sites have civil discussions, then you have spent very little time on Facebook and on the Web.
July 2011 blog post titled An Open Letter to Those Who Think Real Names Solve the Civility Problem :
Real names do nothing to rescue [the] intertoobz from civility problems. People are too adept at being rat bastards for anything like a real name policy to stop them.
I hate to tell you this, but the civility problem will never be solved. There will always be a subset of rotten jerks in any given population. The band-aid of a real names policy does nothing but give you the illusion things will be hunky-dory.
You [site owner] mitigate it by having tools in place for folks to flag bad behavior. You [site owner] mitigate it by having policies in place that deal with that bad behavior no matter what name it's coming from. You [site owner] are going to have to take some responsibility beyond "real names!" to solve the civility problem.
July 2011 blog post titled If your website is full of assholes, it's your falut
If you run a website, you need to follow these steps. if you don't, you're making the web, and the world, a worse place. And it's your fault. Put another way, take some goddamn responsibility for what you unleash on the world.
July 2011 blog post titled Anonymity and Pseudonyms in Social Software written by Flickr co-founder Caterina Fake who obviously has an interesting last name for someone who supports pseudonyms. Caterina wrote:
The point I think is this: Pseudonyms are not in themselves harmful. Yes, they can be used for harm, as when people use them for anonymous, slanderous attacks, trolling, etc., but in the vast majority of cases there is no harm done.
In the cases where pseudonyms are being abused, it is the that should be stopped, not the pseudonyms.
I understand the real reason a site owner would switch to Facebook comments: it's easy. It's also a sign that the site owner has given up and surrendered. It's a sign of running out of creativity.
But the site owner can implement whatever policy he or she wants. That's fine. But watch for a future Blade op-ed, championing the use of Facebook comments and how every other site should do the same. We already know that a couple local media people disapprove of Internet pseudonyms. Probably the only time WSPD, Toledo Free Press, and the Toledo Blade agree on something.
This imbecilic and maybe even dangerous thinking about Internet pseudonyms is probably more pervasive in the media world than we realize. Here's a March 2011 Slate.com article titled Why we need to get rid of anonymous comments by Slate's alleged tech writer.
If I ruled the Web, I'd change this. I'd make all commenters log in with Facebook or some equivalent third-party site, meaning they'd have to reveal their real names to say something in a public forum. Facebook has just revamped its third-party commenting "plug-in," making it easier for sites to outsource their commenting system to Facebook.
That's why the Web is not ruled by one person or one org.
The Slate writer also said:
Web sites should move toward requiring people to reveal their real names when engaging in all online behavior that's understood to be public. In all but the most extreme scenarios—everywhere outside of repressive governments—anonymity damages online communities.
The above is false. It's irresponsible site owners who damage their own online communities. I have no problem with Slate doing whatever it does regarding comments. The problem occurs when a dimwit like that Slate writer wants ALL websites to operate the way he wants by eliminating pseudonyms.
Some politicians would also like to eliminate Internet pseudonyms.
Oh, some people do create multiple Facebook accounts. What a shock. They have one Facebook account that they use with close friends, and another Facebook account that they use with family and/or co-workers. They do this to create a separation. They don't want their co-workers or family to see what they are sharing with their close friends.
One of my all-time favorite websites is MetaFilter.com. I patterned the look and functionality of the early Toledo Talk after that site.
MeFi has been around for over 10 years, which is ancient in Web time. The site still allows users to create pseudonyms. Naturally, the site has mods who remove posts and deactivate accounts that violate the posting guidelines.
Years ago, MeFi implemented a method to slow down the trolls and spammers, and this method is still used today. From the MeFi new user page :
Due to the bursting size of the community, its use of resources, and the cost of running the servers, all new users have a one-time $5 charge, to help defray these costs. If you sign up an account to pimp your product, act like an ass, or generally just do things that break the guidelines you will be booted and there will be no refunds.
MeFi does not need the $5 charge to help fund its servers. It gets plenty of money from the little ads. The one-time $5 charge for each new user account was simply a barrier to slow down the trolls. Do I recommend this barrier for the Blade or any other site? No. It's just an example of what one long-time site has implemented.
anyone who thinks "real names" are a necessary pre-condition for civilized discourse should take a look at Metafilter sometime
Before I started Toledo Talk, a helpful book for me was the 2001 book titled Design for Community by Derek Powazek. One chapter is titled "Barriers to Entry."
No single method exists for managing user-contributed content. A site owner has to view methods used by other sites, try different things, and create new barriers. It's not required that a site owner make it easy for new users to post content. Those users who are willing to go through the barriers are more likely to be users who follow the posting guidelines.
But surrendering to Facebook comments is a common fad by those who have run out of ideas or don't want to take the time to innovate. And in a way, you are handing over a good portion of your site to Facebook. For some articles, the word count is greater for the comments than what was written by the Blade writer.
Another helpful bit of info to me was this March 2003 post titled Building Communities with Software by software developer Joel Spolsky. Joel writes from the perspective of computer programmers, but in my opinion, what he writes about the "third place" applies to anyone. Below, I added the "and strangers" phrase within brackets.
The social scientist Ray Oldenburg talks about how humans need a third place, besides and to meet with friends [and strangers], have a beer, discuss the events of the day, and enjoy some human interaction. Coffee shops, bars, hair salons, beer gardens, pool halls, clubs, and other hangouts are as vital as factories, schools and apartments.
Over the last 25 years, Americans "belong to fewer organizations that meet, know our neighbors less, meet with friends less frequently, and even socialize with our families less often." For too many people, life consists of going to work, then going home and watching TV. Work-TV-Sleep-Work-TV-Sleep.
So it's no surprise that so many programmers, desperate for a little human contact, flock to online communities - chat rooms, discussion forums, open source projects, and Ultima Online. In creating community software, we are, to some extent, trying to create a third place.
I would consider Toledo Talk a "third place" type of setting, separate from work and home. Separate from family and friends. I believe people feel more comfortable sharing experiences, advice, and opinions in a third place type of setting than in a work or home setting. Or at least a user may share different info in a third place type of setting.
I'm sure many would consider Facebook to be a third place type of environment, based upon Joel's words above. But to me, Facebook is a hybrid of work and home. Facebook eliminates the third place, which is probably why some people create more than one Facebook account.
A good site to visit at least occasionally is the Electronic Frontier Foundation. A couple articles at EFF:
Here's an August 2011 EFF article titled Randi Zuckerberg [Facebook] Runs in the Wrong Direction on Pseudonymity Online. From this EFF article, here's some of the dangerous thinking that exists high-up at Facebook:
But there is one person for whom insisting on the use of real names on social networking sites is not enough. Unsurprisingly, that person is Facebook’s Marketing Director, Randi Zuckerberg. Speaking last week on a panel discussion about social media hosted by Marie Claire magazine, Zuckerberg said,
"I think anonymity on the Internet has to go away. People behave a lot better when they have their real names down. … I think people hide behind anonymity and they feel like they can say whatever they want behind closed doors."
Take a moment and let that sink in. Randi Zuckerberg doesn’t just think that you should be using your real name on Facebook or Google+ or LinkedIn -- she thinks pseudonyms have no place on the Internet at all. And why should we take the radical step of stripping all Internet users of the right to speak anonymously? Because of the Greater Internet F***wad Theory, or the “civility argument,” which states: If you allow people to speak anonymously online, they will froth at the mouth, go rabid, bully and stalk one another. Therefore, requiring people to use their real names online should decrease stalking and bullying and generally raise the level of discourse.
The problem with the civility argument is that it doesn’t tell the whole story. Not only is uncivil discourse alive and well in venues with real name policies (such as Facebook), the argument willfully ignores the many voices that are silenced in the name of shutting up trolls: activists living under authoritarian regimes, whistleblowers, victims of violence, abuse, and harassment, and anyone with an unpopular or dissenting point of view that can legitimately expect to be imprisoned, beat-up, or harassed for speaking out.
July 2011 Daily Mail article about Randi's comments also shows the kind of dangerous thinking that can exist high-up in Google too:
The comments echo those of former Google CEO Eric Schmidt who has previously labelled internet anonymity a 'dangerous' precedent, before predicting government intervention will one day lead to its demise.
Internet venture capitalist Fred Wilson wrote in August 2011:
I'm all for real names if people want to use them. But not everyone wants to use a real name. This community is a perfect example of the value of anonymity.
The desire to clean up the web, civilize it, and sterlize it pisses me off. I hate it. The Zuckerbergs can run a sterile community on the web if they want. That's just fine. But to suggest that real names is the source of their success it to learn the wrong lessons from Facebook.
So the goal of switching to Facebook comments is not "to foster better and more civil public discussions" because that's a myth. The goal is "to foster more sterile public discussions." But site owners can implement any policies they want. The Web is big. People who disapprove of a site owner's choices can go elsewhere.
Google has changed the commenting system on YouTube so that you need to be a Google Plus user to post; the new system uses algorithms to promote some comments above others, and has the perverse effect of making trolls more visible.
The promise of G+ in the beginning was that making people use their real names would incentivize them to behave themselves. It's abundantly clear now that there are more than enough people who are willing to be jerks under their real names. In the meantime, people who have good reason not to post under their own names -- vulnerable people, whistleblowers, others -- are now fully on display to those sociopaths who are only too happy to press the attack with or without anonymity.
Vi Hart - Nov 12, 2013 - post
Now even discussion is curated by Google, rewarding those who talk often, and promoting hateful inflammatory comments because they provoke responses. Taking all the collected data and computational power of Google and using it to optimally encourage people to watch advertisements and argue with each other is, in this author’s opinion, brazenly unethical. We can only hope that everything that’s happened in the last year has been unintentional and that Larry Page will have some sort of epiphany, pull out before the transformation is complete, and start putting the company’s energy into doing good things again, as in a heartwarming vampire holiday tale.
As for me, I’ll continue posting on my own RSS-enabled site and making my videos available as torrents, and maybe I’ll follow in the footsteps of the many other prominent YouTubers who are moving discussion of their videos off YouTube.
More about comments and anonymity - Mar 03, 2014
Online Communities - Jan 15, 2014
Allowing or disallowing comments on blogs - Apr 13, 2014
The top features for community sites are users and their content - Oct 03, 2014
Thoughts about web trolls - Spring 2013 - May 27, 2014