Dear Huffington Post, you get the commenters you deserve and real names won’t change that

The only way to good comments after news stories is to actively care about getting good comments — not by forcing people to use real names when leaving comments.

Take a look at the comments after many nytimes.com stories. It takes a combination of setting a clear tone of what comments should be like, active moderation of tasteless comments and allowing a community to vote up the best and to hide the worst.

Slashdot, a site filled with young, argumentative boys and men, has a strong commenting community. The comments are the main event. And it most people post under handles, not real names. It takes good tools and policies to make a strong comment community.

Requiring real names will do nothing to create a good comment community. First, you would be surprised at how many people will leave a tasteless, racist, bigoted, idiotic, conspiracy theorist, etc. comment under their real name. It’s shocking, but Facebook commenting has shown us that people using their real names attached to actual social networking profiles — complete with family and work information — is not enough to stop people from leaving terrible comments.

And let us not forget that anonymous and pseudonymous comments are important. Some people can contribute important information to a conversation, but can’t or won’t use their real names. Perhaps there are professional concerns with their employer or personal concerns with people stalking them. People have all kinds of reasons for using anonymous and pseudonymous names online and many of them are quite legitimate.

I was one of those people who thought that requiring people to use their Facebook account, and thus a real name in the vast majority of cases, could lead to better comments. It has not. All it does is prevent some people from commenting.

Compare the commenting communities on a blog to a random news website. A quick look will tell you that just caring and being engage is half the battle.

Here are some quick tips for better commenting communities:

  • Be a part of the community — If editors and writers are not a part of the commenting community, almost assuredly the comments will go to hell. It’s kind of like abandoning your house and expecting it to be kept up. If you don’t care, don’t expect people who don’t own your house or your news site to care about your property. Part of a writer’s job should be to interact with commenters after stories, answer questions and dispel FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt). When commenters know a writer actually reads their comments, their behavior changes. They don’t want to be judged negatively. They’ll also be much more likely to ask questions and start conversations.
  • Reward good comments — When a user leaves a good comment, call it out. Let people know that you and your news organization appreciates thoughtful feedback. This could be as simple as leaving a response to that comment or as much as starting a comment of the day section where you highlight thoughtful comments.
  • Allow users to leave feedback — Allow users to rate comments and flag them. Show users the highest rated comments and hide the really bad ones.
  • Wield the ban hammer — Ban trolls, racists, bigots and other people who only want to contribute negatgively. Do everything in your power to ban them and make sure they never come back.
  • Never feed the trolls — Don’t engage them — that’s what they want. They want to see you angry. Either ban them or mute their posts so that only they can see them. When they stop getting a rise out of people, they’ll leave.
  • Maybe not all stories need comments — A lot of crime stories don’t really need comments, and they lead to poor comments from users. If you see a particular class of stories that constantly has issues, take down the ability to comment on them.
  • Comments should be a part of your editorial product and mission — If you don’t know what this means, get rid of comments.

Some further reading on commenting:

 

  • Theodore Hoppe

    As much as I am in favor of the use of real names for commenting it has not prompted better comments on sites such as LinkedIn, where everyone is networking their business connection.
    However, using ones real name does create content on the web and this can be seen as an asset when uses properly. It will become the technological version of publish or perish.

    • Linval Kingston

      If you are interested in thinking of your self as published because your words are on an internet screen, go right ahead. That has nothing to do with those that would like to publish anon.

      • Theodore Hoppe

        Can you point to where in my comments I made this about me?

        • Linval Kingston

          Sure… “It will become the technological version of publish or perish.” (Although I’m not sure I understand why you couldn’t find that!)

          If you are just throwing around BS, then say so… but don’t say something and get upset when a logical inference is made based on your commentary. :) Besides, i just thought it was silly… not really worth any drama. Smooches!

    • Tina Marlin

      I’ve never ‘published’ my thoughts or politics online and linked to my business. My business has not perished.

  • mschlagel

    I can no longer have an account with HP as it requires a Facebook account and I do not and will not have an account with Facebook. I sent a notice to HP legal questioning the practice and expect no response

    • Tina Marlin

      Having been ‘stalked’ already on HP, putting one’s personal information out there would seem to be an absolute nightmare. I find it interesting that Arianna Huffington’s people would feel it’s ok to link with a social network run by children, with daily security issues.

      • Rafey

        Totally agree!

      • Grace Cleome

        I do not think Arianna Huffington has anything to do with the huffington post any longer. I could be wrong about that.

    • Tina Marlin

      To add to my previous thought, I did go back and look at HP’s comment section and there are none that I can find appearing since around 10 or 11 this morning, Eastern Time. It appears they’ve effectively put a stop to what made the stories compelling – the ability to comment.
      When one has 800+ followers and thousands of posts (and I follow a lot of people as well), it is outrageous to see HP take the ‘Big Brother’ route.

      • Investigator

        Agree, Tina Marlin. Looks like the push is on, to relegate us all into one corral.

    • Rafey

      Same here!! Thanks for that!

    • Investigator

      Good for you, mschlagel!

  • Tina Marlin

    I too sent a message, mschlagel. I’m sure they don’t care. I refuse to be a part of the outrageous crap that is Facebook. I don’t NEED to tell the world everything I do. It’s a massive invasion of privacy.

    So, HP, so long. I’d stayed with AOL far too long (21 years) and I knew it. This is the final straw. If HP needs to know my personal information, then I don’t need them.

    This move by HP appears to be the case of their inability and unwillingness to properly moderate their comment sections. I’d already seen many instances where comments that did not break a single rule were withheld. Either their moderation staff was lazy or biased. That’s not good moderation. As a past admin on a national political board, I can tell you that fairness and diligence is the key. HP “mods” exhibited none of that.

    • Jukesgrrl

      Not to mention that while they were moderating long-time commenters, they were letting people with 0 fans post “I just made a million dollars without leaving my house” advertisements, There’s a simple remedy for that problem. Seriously moderate everyone’s first 20 or so posts and bounce their account if they don’t follow policy (which should include sounding half-way intelligent, in my opinion). Once a site does that, they eliminate the need to moderate any posts except ones that are flagged by other users. Moderators don’t even need to cost anything. Plenty of sites use volunteer monitors and that works pretty well to keep conversations civil.

    • Rafey

      Same Here! Gave it up in favor of MSNBC.Com

    • Goliadkin

      I get the feeling that HPs moderators are non-human entities.

  • bedfordfailed

    PuffHo won’t even let me delete my account right now.

    • Jukesgrrl

      I’ve been waiting for that.

  • Vega

    Hypocritical and ironic that HP has, in many articles over the last 5 years, criticized and called out Facebook over security and privacy issues, would not only team up with them, but expose their own community to all the risks and pitfalls of Facebook. Money seems to be more important to HP than their community’s privacy and security.

    • Goliadkin

      I use Facebook for professional promotions, and I certainly don’t want my FB contacts to know what my political opinions are, as expressed on HP. I’m sure there are millions like me. I have deleted my HP account.

  • Anonymous

    Huffy Puffy Post is turning into a ghost town, and you know what? They deserve it! Considering all the respectful, articulate, and fair minded comments they have “moderated” into oblivion over the years, and the mean, abusive, disgusting ones they have allowed to pass, all based on their own political agenda, they completely deserve the destruction that is almost certainly in their near future. IMO, Huffy fluff has done a great deal to help mess up this country, including swaying the elections. The Huffington Post propaganda train is about to screech to a halt – and thank God for it!

  • Anonymous

    Huffy Puffy Post is turning into a ghost town, and you know what? They deserve it! Considering all the respectful, articulate, and fair minded comments they have “moderated” into oblivion over the years, and the mean, abusive, disgusting ones they have allowed to pass, all based on their own political agenda, they completely deserve the destruction that is almost certainly in their near future. IMO, Huffy fluff has done a great deal to help mess up this country, including swaying the elections. The Huffington Post pr*paganda train is about to screech to a halt – and thank God for it!

    • Rafey

      Yes. And, as a member of the Pen American Center, I was becoming annoyed with Huff’s constant barrage of censorship.

  • Anonymous

    Sorry about the double post.

  • Rafey

    I don’t use Facebook so I am pretty much out of the game and have switched my home from Huffpost to MSNBC. I always used my real name but apparently, that wasn’t good enough for the Huff’n Puff.

  • chimichurri

    HP’s decision to require Facebook and cell phone verification is purely for financial reasons. Period. Arianna Huffington was a right wing tool until she noticed that pool was saturated and began poaching stories from up and coming lefty blogs because she saw opportunity. This move is no different. The question is, will the masses follow. I don’t think they will but group think is a powerful drug.

  • HN

    I do not have a Facebook account nor a cellphone. No more posting in HP.

  • lynden55

    Found this doing research. Tried to comment on a Huff po article today and ran into that Facebook requirement and was not happy. I do not have a Facebook account and never will. A few years ago someone was on Facebook pretending to be me and friends told me about it. I contacted them and got a form letter blowing me off. Unsubscribing from Huffington.

    • Investigator

      Me, too. I DO have a FB account, but do not wish to give out my phone number to FB, or Huff Po.

  • Raymond Hietapakka

    For some, reason, I’m no longer allowed to connect thru my Facebook Account. Their link to it is non-operative. So much for Free Speech.

  • Lindstr7

    ANyone else looking for old HP friends might find them at TheEpochTimes.com

  • Julia Oceania

    It boggles that Huffington Post expects higher quality from those people who comment than they do for those that actually contribute articles. I am not speaking so much of some of their senior reporters, but much of their content sounds like it was written by a bunch of junior high school students. There is a reason they call HuffPo the “Sideboob Gazette” If they want adult comments they should post adult articles, instead they troll for clicks.

    If you read some of their more trashy troll-like articles, they do not even list who wrote it, so basically, they have trolls writing click bait, but they expect us to hand over all of our information, including home city, cell phone, and even a list of our friends and family. I wonder what sort of drugs these people are on that they think this isn’t a violation.

  • spookym

    I would expect something like this ban from Google The Big Bad Commercial Monster (YouTube, etc.), but Huffington Post seemed to be one of the last bastions of freedom on the internet. Just one more step toward a sterile, follow the leader (commercialism), perfectly perceived and controlled world. Huff Post is now a 1950s sitcom–perfect mom, perfect dad, no visible troubles, and most importantly, no toilet!

    • Grace Cleome

      when huffpost was aquired by AOL 3 years ago they changed. Huffpost is not the same thing we remember from before then.

  • Bob L

    Great article-I like to read, and sometimes comment on HP articles, but since i don’t have a FB account, that is over. No more even READING HP articles for me.

  • Investigator

    I deleted my account today. No way do I wish to link my FB account to things that I comment on, online. There is precious little privacy left in the world, and Huffington Post just effectively convinced me – by their mandatory linking to FB – that I needed not to be one of their users.

    What a shame, as I had really enjoyed being able to voice my opinion, and met many other like-minded individuals there. Never were my comments inappropriate, slanderous, racial, or vulgar. I shall miss the connections, but refuse to bow to sites that insist we sign in with our Facebook accounts, or link our existing accounts to Facebook.

    Looks like a LOT of their community has left, and the comments are sparse on the articles, too.

    • capkelly

      Totally agree and considering closing my FB account, period. I never say much on it, anyhow, as I know they data mine and can steal your photos, etc.

  • Grace Cleome

    I would never give faceook my cell phone number. So I was banned from posting on huffpost because of that, For years I was posting on huffpost using a username that was attached to authentic identity. Its really hard to remember not to click to read a story when I am on my AOL welcome screen. I am training myself to remember.

  • Anders Eckstrand

    I have a completely different problem with HP. I will frequently type out a paragraph or tow about an article I’ve read and almost instantaneously after posting the comment, it gets automatically deleted without any explanation. I’m not using cuss words or targeting anyone on the comment board. Occasionally I’ll call an advocacy group idiotic and brainless but is that really enough to warrant deleting the vast majority of ideas I try to spread? HP sucks nowadays. If you’re going to automatically delete my comments please explain why (too many characters, offensive, off topic, ect.) but don’t just trash what took me almost five minuets to write.

  • Guest

    I agree it was extremely wrong of them to force us on Facebook, which is exactly what they are doing.

  • Joe

    HP is limiting freedom of speech. Having someone’s real name is not going to limit trolls. This move is going to hurt both FB and HP in the long run.
    The one nice thing about HP was the ability to make comments without giving your personal information to that other evil website (FB). Why should I give FB my phone number just to make a random comment regarding some current issue on HP?

  • Joe

    Perhaps Huff Post and Facebook are getting kickbacks/Classified court orders from the NSA to help them spy on us easier…. Just a thought.

  • cargosquid

    Nothing prevents aliases.
    And profiles and comments are getting deleted without cause.

  • stevor

    I was banned twice (or was it more?). Anyhow, I just figure she’s a Nazi and I don’t bother to look at her articles any more.

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  • The_Purple_Finger

    I’ve been banned there more time than I can count. Some for even using screen names they didn’t like. I’ve been posting on forums since AOL introduced, the now removed – “Community Library” in 1994.

    I’m a grown and mature person. I’ve learned from the time I was a kid, to be civil and not attack people, and not use racists or bigoted comments, yet each time I was banned for having “thought contrary to the liberal progressive mindset of Huffington Post”.

    Now they’re banning even certain FaceBook commenters, because they don’t contribute to the liberal mindset.

    I worked on a Democrat committee when I was young, and later left the party to vote independent and then as a Conservative. I brought many true life experiences along with some biting humor and genuine support for posters to many forums.

    It is my opinion that Huffington Post, like most sites on the net that are left leaning, want only “like minded ‘Democratic’ thought and comments to foster a sense of community for like minded people”.

    On on first observation, that’s perfectly fine, but what these sites have become are intolerant, vile and disgusting “attack all things right of center” “progressives”, who behave quite literally like Nazi Brown Shirts. And I don’t use that term lightly either.

    The “tolerant intellectuals” of the left get away with posting the most threatening, nasty, vile, profanity laced assaults, day after day, month after month, year after year, and they’re never banned or censored.

    I have been stalked twice by posters and even a site admin who posted my private information. I have had the most horrific – racist, hate-filled, personal assaults one could ever endure, thrown at me by hundreds of Huffington Post Commenters and none them were removed or censored.

    It’s not unlike what MSDNC has become – an attack machine focused solely against Republicans, Conservatives, and Tea Party Americans. They’re not journalists, they’re the house organ for the DNC.

    What it has done is to reaffirm my decision to leave the left in the late 80′s. I will never again associate with people who can only function in their bubble, using endless propaganda, illegal breaker and enterers, union thugs, internet thugs, vote rigging, and outright vote bribery using the hard earned treasure of hard working Americans to buy their endless power.

  • SacharissaCCripslock

    what a horribly written ‘article’.