Vicki Gowler: Idaho Statesman will end online anonymity

vgowler@idahostatesman.comSeptember 8, 2013 

Vicki Gowler

In Friday’s paper, letter writer Geoffrey B. Clark declared it “is past time to end anonymous posts.”

He’s right.

Starting Sunday, Sept. 15, we will no longer have anonymous commenters at IdahoStatesman.com.

For years, we have struggled with the dichotomy between our print commenters, who have to provide their name, address and phone number and be verified in advance, and our online commenters, who need only an email address, often with an alias that hides their identity.

Despite our best efforts to encourage and police our online commenters to create a robust but civil conversation on important issues, often the conversations have deteriorated into name-calling and abusive attacks. As Clark put it: “Trolls are ruining entire online communities.”

I know many of you have stopped commenting online, or even reading comments online, because of these kinds of anonymous posts. A platform that encourages interactivity and can create a virtual town hall has instead driven many of you away.

Throughout our company we have searched for other options. We haven’t found the perfect solution, but we’ve decided we simply have to move to the best option available.

Moving forward, readers who want to comment online will have to log in using a Facebook account.

Most people on Facebook use their true identities, and many of our readers have existing accounts. Others can open an account for free at www.facebook.com. In fact, about 11 percent of our commenters already use Facebook to log in.

We know some users will find a way to create accounts using fake identities. We’ll watch for that as we continue to monitor posts that deviate from the rules of civil engagement.

At the Miami Herald, the site of our company’s experiment with Facebook, editors found a sharp improvement in the quality of the conversation but fewer comments.

I expect the same results. But I’m hopeful that, over time, if the Statesman can create a safer, more civilized space for all of us to share our insights, points of view and expertise, many of you will re-engage with us — and each other — online.

A respectful, inclusive debate of the issues facing us can’t help but lead to better solutions to benefit all of us.

Gowler is editor and vice president of the Idaho Statesman. She can be reached at vgowler@idahostatesman.com.

 

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