The Huffington Post had announced in August that it would stop allowing anonymous comments, and this week, Tim McDonald, HP‘s Director of Community, detailed the new commenting policy. Users who wish to write comments beneath articles must now create an account with the website, then link it to a verified Facebook account.
“Maintaining a civil environment for real conversation and community has always been key to The Huffington Post,” McDonald writes. “From day one, our comments were pre-moderated, and we invested in the most advanced moderation technology along with human moderators.”
This change seems to be in response to the “Internet trolls” that have plagued the discussion boards of the site for some time. These “trolls” are users that do not contribute to constructive conversation in commenting forums, but resort to slurs and derogatory comments.
Ariana Huffington, while initially announcing the change this summer said, according to Gigaom, “Trolls are just getting more and more aggressive and uglier and I just came from London where there are rape and death threats.”
As one might expect, users were quick to begin commenting on the new policy.
“I am quite happy with the changes I see here with the Huffington Post commenting system,” wrote User J.R. S. posted under McDonald’s article. “Currently, anyone can make an account and post all sorts of rude, factually untrue information whenever and wherever they want. Linking HuffPo to your Facebook account is excellent because it limits the amount of usernames you can have to the amount of Facebook and emails you have. I think it will do quite a bit to combat the trolls that come here and disparage people every day.”
But the mandated link to a Facebook account is proving to be a tougher sell to other users. The most problematic aspect seems to be that the account has to be verified, which can only be done by Facebook sending a text to a mobile phone, which is then associated to the account. So users not only have to give The Huffington Post their Facebook information but they also have to give Facebook their phone numbers.
User Pamela C. commented on the same page, saying, “Probably going to delete my account. Huffington Post doesn’t need to be tracking my every move through Facebook. It’s bad enough the way Facebook does it. Bad move, HP. Very bad.”
Other sites have followed this trend of trying to clean up their commenting sections, according to International Business Times. Recently Google changed the posting rules on YouTube, which now requires users to be logged into a Google+ account. The New York Times and NBC News have also made changes to their systems.
After all the changes, the biggest question still remains — will it work? Does comment moderation encourage better commenting? For YouTube, the changes actually sparked an initial increase in spam, said Google’s Bradley Horowitz according to The Next Web.
Along these lines, WAN-IFRA recently published a report called Online comment moderation: emerging best practices, which is available free for downloading (just click on the report title in this sentence for details). The report includes a study by Disqus, an online commenting provider, which looked at the activity of commenters between those who used their real names and those who used a pseudonym, and the quality of the responses they contributed.
“To be honest what we were thinking we would find is that we would see the highest quality from the real names and the highest quantity from the guests,” said Ro Gupta, vice president of business development at the company. “It turned out to be that neither of these things were true: the pseudonym group scored better on both counts. They gave the most comments and they received the most positive signals and the least negative signals from the people using the tool.”
The Huffington Post, however, seems to be banking on the idea that no anonymous users will mean fewer derogative comments, and bring “more civility and accountability to the experience,” as McDonald notes.