Newspapers have been struggling — mightily — for years about how to handle the problems presented by online comment sections.
The Savannah Morning News, for which I have been a regular freelance columnist for almost 13 years, is no exception. The comments have been so taken over by a handful of mean-spirited people that I simply don’t want to engage at all, even if I see the occasional comment that is clearly worthy of response.
Obviously, the Lexington Herald-Leader at Kentucky.com — one of two papers that my parents subscribe receive daily — has been struggling with the same issues.
So the paper is switching to a Facebook comment system. From Why Kentucky.com is changing to Facebook comments:
We have wrestled for years with anonymous online commenting, and it is one of the top sources of complaint I hear from readers about our website. Both online and in print, we welcome public debate and discussion, and online commenting spaces can provide a valuable virtual town hall for thoughtful discussion about the news of the day.
We have tried different commenting systems and methods, but those intent on disrupting the comment space simply create a new anonymous account to continue doing so.
We realize, of course, that Facebook commenting is not a perfect solution. We also know some people will be unhappy with this change. But on Facebook, most people use their true identities, and many of our readers already have Facebook accounts.
Of course, Facebook comments bring all sorts of problems:
- Facebook periodically changes its own systems and code.
- Many news readers do not participate in Facebook.
- The newspaper has in effect partnered with another for-profit entity.
- Reducing anonymity in comments will not necessarily raise the tenor of discussion.
But newspapers have to do something. The negativity and the blatant political biases of many current commenters on news sites, especially those in smaller cities and metro areas, polarize civic debate in ways that are unhealthy for a democracy.