News-Leader Editor David Stoeffler announced today that the paper will soon require readers to use Facebook in order to comment on content. It’s a good move:
The goal is to eliminate anonymity in the hopes of increased civility and conversation in comment threads.
In the long run, we also hope it will lead to increased participation, inviting in people — including community leaders — who often are turned off by the sometimes outlandish and even vicious comments from largely anonymous users.
The new Facebook Comments platform is being implemented across Gannett’s newspapers, following testing in four markets, including Des Moines, Iowa. The system allows any visitor to the website currently logged into Facebook to leave a comment on an article using their Facebook identity.
When the News-Leader first implemented a comment feature I argued for an open system that allows anonymity. I think anonymity was necessary to jump-start an online community. But I have also argued that such systems cannot remain anonymous because they become a haven for trolls who drive out civility and intelligence.
I’ve argued for a tiered system that preserves some anonymity and rewards transparency with greater service.
Facebook is all about the idea that one should have a single online identity. In the infographic below (click for larger view), Mark Zuckerberg makes the argument that transparency is a form of integrity. I agree. But Christopher Poole, founder of 4chan, counters that the cost of failure can be high if you contribute transparently. I agree with that, too, which means that we all need to be mindful of our civic voices.