As a daily subscriber to the Washington Post , a former guest blogger
for the Post, and a community manager, I was very interested in the number one suggestion outlined in Patrick Pexton’s farewell column.
Pexton was ombudsman for the Post for the past two years–a position
that, to me, has a lot in common with community manager. The thing he
cited as the number one complaint he received during his tenure as
ombudsman? Online comments. Twenty percent of the complaints he received
were about the functionality of the comment platform or being unfairly
censored, but the other 80 percent were about the “hatefulness,
name-calling, racism and ideological warfare that are constant features
of The Post’s commenting stream.” I can personally attest
to that hatefulness during my stint as a guest blogger there back in
2007; there were certain commenters who made a daily habit of just being
nasty, no matter the topic of that day’s post.
I think getting
rid of anonymous comments is a great idea; Facebook sign-in, as Pexton
recommended; not so much–I’d hold out for Google sign-in.
People are a lot less likely to be outright nasty when their names are
tied to their comments; I personally think the nastiness and aggression
of DC-area anonymous online commenters is a function of the fact that
people around here are so uptight and have high-power jobs, so they look
to anonymous online comments as an outlet for pent-up frustration.
There’s no reason the Washington Post–or any online forum, for that
matter–should provide that outlet for them.
A book along these same lines that I’d recommend is Civility in the Digital Age: How Companies and People Can Triumph over Haters, Trolls, Bullies and Other Jerks
by Andrea Weckerle. I bought the Kindle version and have yet to read
it, but know Andrea from–where else?–online and she is incredibly
smart and the founder of CiviliNation,
is a nonprofit organization whose mission is “to foster an online
culture where every person can freely participate in a democratic, open,
rational and truth-based exchange of ideas and information, without
fear or threat of being the target of unwarranted abuse, harassment or
If there’s one thing worse than a hater, it’s an anonymous hater; taking
away the anonymity would go a long ways towards curbing it, IMO.