As civil discourse has devolved into partisan vitriol, many newspapers have seen that devolution firsthand, in bilious comments on their websites unabated by an ineffective, if well-intended, model of self-policing.
It’s taken 15 years, but some newspapers are acting to elevate the online conversation by addressing a key factor: anonymity.
The first step is to turn off the comments function, which many have already done. And some are turning to a different frontier for online forums—Facebook.
Beginning Thursday, the Orange County Register will begin using Facebook for its online comments. The paper’s editor said the goal is to create a place where readers can engage in a community conversation. The old way didn’t work.
“While many signed up and interacted in good faith, others took the opportunity to use the public forum to post inappropriate and hateful speech,” Register editor Ken Brusic told readers this week.
Brusci said the paper tried blocking comments and banning the worst offenders; it even had two full-timers policing the comments. But the most persistent kept finding ways to return, ruining the experience for others and driving away the larger audience, he said.
When the website switches to Facebook on Thursday night, readers will need an account tied to their Facebook identity to comment on items. Plus, there’s a 3,100-word user agreement that covers what types of comments are appropriate or inappropriate, what can be deleted, and how habitual violators can be banned outright from commenting.
The Los Angeles Times and the San Diego Union-Tribune are also converting to Facebook comments for their websites.
Though the trend is catching on slowly, PR Daily has offered tips if you or your client is targeted in an online forum.