Editor’s note: A comment on comments

Editor’s note: A comment on comments

Michele Ellson

If you’re a regular reader of The Alamedan, you may have noticed a change a few months back in the way we handle reader comments: We no longer require you to register to comment on the site. We made the change to better facilitate conversations about the issues we’re tackling, and so far, it looks like we’re achieving that goal.

One other change we’ll be making, effective today: The Alamedan will no longer publish anonymous comments.

Over the past few months, I’ve been assessing the volume and quality of the comments that have rolled in. More often than not, comments that were submitted anonymously were derogatory in nature and offered nothing toward the constructive discussions The Alamedan is trying to foster – and ended up remaining unpublished as a result.

A growing list of publications is eliminating anonymous comments and requiring people to identify themselves, often requiring commenters to sign in through Facebook or another social media account in order to weigh in, based no doubt on their own experiences and a growing number of studies showing that eliminating anonymity improves the quality of discourse. A few months ago The Huffington Post stopped accepting anonymous user accounts, saying most of the comments they get are not fit for digital print, and last week the Sacramento Bee’s editor announced that the paper would shut down its comment system temporarily while it seeks ways to boost accountability.

Anonymous comments, they said, are not only driving away the very citizens they are seeking to engage: They are also undermining the reporting work the media outfits are doing, with nasty comments scaring away sources and commenters offering up deliberate disinformation to slant reader perception. Popular Science eliminated its comment section entirely last month, saying the opportunity to comment on the magazine’s stories was being used to undermine “bedrock scientific doctrine.”

While I would prefer that commenters used their full names, I understand that many of you don’t feel comfortable expressing opinions that might catch the eye of a boss or run afoul of a neighbor in this small island town of ours. So for now, we will continue to accept comments that are written under a first name, handle or pseudonym, as long as they contribute to a constructive discussion of the issue or story you’re commenting on.

You can still register to the site, which has one sizable benefit: Your comment will post to The Alamedan immediately after you’ve written it, instead of being placed in the moderation queue for me to approve (which sometimes means a bit of a wait for your comment to be posted if I’ve, say, run to the grocery store or gotten tied up on a breaking story). And you can always reach out to us on Facebook and through Twitter.

If you’ve got any questions, concerns or suggestions about our comment policy, feel free to leave a comment on this post or my e-mailing me at michele@thealamedan.org.