Our Voice: Herald's change to Facebook commenting a move toward civility

September 15, 2013 

The new policy for online commenting that we're launching today is certain to upset some regular participants in tricityherald.com's digital dialogue.

Others will think the move is long overdue.

Thousands of comments are posted on our website each year. The commenting feature gives readers an opportunity to immediately react to stories, photos, editorials and letters to the editor.

At its best, online commenting creates robust community conversations on important issues. Too often, however, the rational voices are chased off by the trolls who seem ever ready to pounce on someone else's comments.

We believe that anyone who has something to say should be willing to put his or her name to it.

The cloak of anonymity seems to give some users permission to post remarks that they'd be embarrassed to attach their names to. It is one of the complaints the Herald and other newspapers most often hear about our websites.

We have wrestled with this dilemma since we launched our site in 1996, changing commenting systems over the years in an attempt to create a safe space for readers to engage. We also aggressively monitor the posts to weed out the worst offenders but some slip by us and it's too easy for a banned commenter to create another alias and start a new assault on other users.

We know the move to Facebook commenting won't weed out every bad actor. Some users will find a way to create accounts using fake identities. We'll watch for that as we continue to monitor for posts that deviate from the rules of civil engagement.

We also know the new policy will drive off some responsible commenters who don't want to create a Facebook account for whatever reason. That's regrettable, but we're convinced, based on the experience at other newspapers, that the change will prove positive on balance.

Editors at newspapers that have gone to Facebook commenting report a decrease in the number of comments but an overall increase in the quality, with fewer obscenities and other abuses. And although the sheer number of comments is fewer, the number of people participating tends to go up.

If we go from 100 postings between two users tossing insults at each other to two thoughtful comments from readers who want to contribute something meaningful to the community conversation, that seems a fair trade.

Facebook does not moderate comments but does track abuse reports and automatically bans users who are consistently abusive.

The Tri-City Herald staff will continue to monitor comments. Please keep them civil, short and to the point. Obscene, profane, abusive and off-topic comments will be deleted. Repeat offenders will be blocked.

We're losing the "report abuse" button in the switch to Facebook, but we encourage users to continue to help us monitor the conversation.

For abusive posts on letters to the editor, opinion columns or editorials, send a link to the offending comment to letters@tricityherald.com.

To report an offensive comment on news stories, send a link to news@tricityherald.com.

We've compiled a list of the most frequent questions that readers asked at newspapers that already have switched to Facebook commenting.

You can find them and the answers online at tinyurl.com/TCH-Facebook.

Tri-City Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

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