Friday, March 16, 2012

Post-Dispatch Strips Away Anonymity From Its Online Commenters

Posted By on Fri, Mar 16, 2012 at 8:15 AM

This guy is no longer welcome on STLtoday.com
  • This guy is no longer welcome on STLtoday.com

It's possible that the Daily RFT comment sections will see an uptick in trolling and race-baiting in the coming weeks. Reason being, STLtoday.com, the website of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, has adopted a new commenting system that removes completely the cloak of anonymity. Without that, it's quite possible the racists and haters will flee the P-D and regroup elsewhere. (Not that they don't visit our pages with regularity already.)

Earlier this week P-D Deputy Managing Editor Bob Rose published a note to announce its new commenting system, which links to readers' Facebook accounts. (Readers without Facebook accounts lose out on the new system.)

Rose said that non-anonymous commenting will foster more accountability and smarter discussion -- with the added benefit of linking STLtoday stories to Facebook walls across the World Wide Web. The Marketing Department likes this.

Not surprisingly, Rose's announcements received scores of comments, all of them posted by fully-identified, photographed readers. (Well, nearly all of them. There are still tricks.) The reaction was split. Many readers said the P-D was running roughshod over privacy, all but inviting Internet stalkers and identity scammers to ply their trades in St. Louis. Others suggested that the paper was sacrificing the fresh spontaneity and uninhibited candor that anonymity promoted.

Other readers, tired of the hate-spewing, cheered on the decision. All in all, the comment threads under Rose's post were notably more civilized and thought-provoking than the typical comment section of, say, a murder story. The readers who disliked the system didn't seem very much like trolls themselves. One detractor even offered a civics lesson of sorts, posting a note about America's "long and distinguished history" of anonymous commentary. (Who knew?) She writes:

One of my favorite examples is Silence Dogood, a middle-aged widow who wrote 14 letters to the New England Courant in the 1720s with general observations on Colonial life and commentary on politics. Later it was discovered that Ms. Dogood was in fact the 16-year-old Benjamin Franklin, who was unable to get his letters published under his own name (much to the disappointment of the men who wrote in to the paper offering to marry the verbose widow).

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