Commenting in 2011

18 Jul

Margaret Sullivan is right; the Buffalo News comment section has become more civilized.  Making people own their commentary is a good idea, and we’ve been having a lot of discussions lately about the way in which we allow comments, and whether they add much value anymore. Furthermore, much of the commentary takes place on Twitter or Facebook, post-sharing on those platforms. It was on Twitter, for instance, that someone validated my point that noise from the skyway is a non-issue at the Inner Harbor.  Going forward, the commenting system is going to have to change to reflect contemporary realities and capabilities, rather than further relying on decade-old technology with Gravatars.


21 Responses to “Commenting in 2011”

  1. Joe Genco July 18, 2011 at 6:55 am #

    I say leave it alone. I don’t believe your blog, and, would still be going strong if you lacked the ability to evolve. If people have reason to be anonymous, so be it. You stand behind your wrong-headed opinions. I stand behind mine. If others lack the stones, so be it.

  2. disagree July 18, 2011 at 7:18 am #

    I like poop

  3. Charles July 18, 2011 at 7:31 am #

    A degree of anonymity is appreciated in my occasional contributions.  I have, what I consider, good and valid reasons for the plausible deniability and cloudy attribution I enjoy when commenting on any blog, not just this on.   If required to post under my complete name I would participate much less, if at all.  I am not interested in the ad hominems landing direct blows on my good name and reputation.

    That said, I am all for some degree of moderation of the comments against those who would post “fighting words” against another’s views. Calling out another with obnoxious invectives should not be permitted, IMHO. 

    • Christopher Smith July 18, 2011 at 7:42 am #

      @Charles, you’d be surprised by how many comments no longer make it on to the blog. I moderate heavily, eliminating some pretty nasty stuff. I mean, we have a pretty liberal policy on what’s allowed, but so many comments just cross the line into profane and/or libelous.

  4. Jesse July 18, 2011 at 7:35 am #

    Who’s going to righteously attack public officials or public works without the possibility of anonymity?

    Comments absolutely add value – perhaps not in the age-old blog style, but not allowing public feedback is a surefire way to make things mighty boring.  One thing I find difficult is remembering which posts I’ve commented on in order to return and defend my own opinions.

    Nice to see that you are able to admit Sullivan was ‘right’ considering the attacks leveled against the News when they started their experiment.

    I like poop, too.

  5. Brian Wood July 18, 2011 at 8:06 am #

    I don’t have to be anonymous to call pubic officials and capitalists whores, thieves and murderers. I frequently tell them to their faces when I meet them in public.

    For voting to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and Somalia and Yemen and Libya, Higgins is a murderer and a war criminal.

    Why would I wish to be anonymous when saying that about my elected representative?

  6. disagree July 18, 2011 at 8:10 am #

    I believe the comments add significantly to the discussion. I also understand the time constrainsts.
    Craigslist seems to have a good system. Private enough for “casual encounters”; safe enough to meet for those “encounters”. Seriously though, phone verification of “accounts” with the ability to “flag” inappropriate material seems to work.
    I also like the “like/dislike” vote type thing youtube does. Not sure if any of this is possible, just thought I’d throw it out there.

  7. John July 18, 2011 at 8:10 am #

    I get why you’d want to eliminate the anonymous commenting, and I agree with you about the Buffalo News comments (with the exception of any article about Mark Grisanti), but it is worth noting that you guys host a completely anonymous blogger in Maelstrom.  Just saying, it’s a little inconsistent.  

  8. rottenchester July 18, 2011 at 8:46 am #

    @Christopher Smith:  That’s why the comments sections on WNYMedia sites are so good – you guys take the time and energy to weed out the crap.  For a long time, newspapers paid little attention to their comments sections, and they filled up with homophobic, racist and above all stupid commenters.  Once you have a culture like that established on a site, you need to take drastic action to get rid of it.  The drastic action the News took was requiring real names, but it was their original editorial decision to ignore the content of comments for years that led them to that place, not the existence of comments themselves.  

    WNYMedia didn’t fall into the trap of ignoring comments, so the discussions here are much higher quality than the average newspaper site.  Alan is right that conversations take place in other media (like Facebook/Twitter/etc) but comments still add to it, even if they are old technology. 

  9. RaChaCha July 18, 2011 at 9:27 am #

    Few issues draw more comments than commenting. This is a perpetual, ongoing, evolving issue, and I recall the various attempts at Buffalo Rising to grapple with this: (the pic on that article still gives me nightmares — view at your own risk). I like the approach BRO eventually adopted — as opposed to the ‘nuclear option’ adopted by the Buffalo News — of requiring commenters to obtain a login, and providing a valid email address to get the login. This approach was key to getting a handle on the problem and managing it with decreasing personnel.

    A few things:
    * There’s clear value to being able to write and comment using a screen name. And by paying attention, you can often determine who is behind the screen name, or at least what their involvement and associations are, so you know where they’re coming from (but someone else can’t access all their views and opinions by simply plugging their real name into Da Google) — so it’s not ‘hiding’.

    * The thing that really caught my eye in Margaret’s article is that, since requiring real names and cities, people have been targeted for retaliation for their views. So far, from what we know, it’s limited to receiving hate mail. But what happens when someone gets a rock through their window? Or someone gets accosted by a weirdo or zealot? Not an issue, you say? Well, I’ve only been in Buffalo a bit more than 2 yrs., and have already had to involve authorities on more than one occasion over weird shitheads that I know only marginally doing some degree or combination of pestering, harassing, accosting, or stalking me. This is one of the reasons that to-date I rarely allow my full name & city to appear online.

    * Unintended consequences: the Buffalo News ‘nuclear option’ replaced a comments-section tyranny of wingnuts, trolls, and haters with one of white-bread, tunnel-vision ignorami that are so predictable their comments could be computer-generated for all I know. And now don’t just make it their primary occupation to make their usual pronouncements, but now also to smack each other around. Hard to say sometimes which situation gets a higher score on the existentially soul-sucking scale.

    * There are some cases of ‘sock puppetry’ that are inappropriate and need to be addressed — if for no other reason that it produces a great deal of confusion. A great recent example is this article on Artvoice: which attracted comments from: ‘Sen. Antoine Thompson’, ‘Karla Thomas’, ‘Darius Pridgen’, ‘Ed Rath’, and ‘Bernadette Taylor’ [Asst. to Mayor Brown]. It’s not clear whether any of these comments are from whom they’re purported to be — and in fact, it appears the Mayor’s assistant is smacking down an apparent Karla Thomas [head spinning].

    * Joining Facebook is a lifestyle choice — and major commitment of time, resources, attention, etc. — and as such shouldn’t be forced on anyone as a condition to participate in anything.

    * I think it’s great that people have options for adding value and commenting on articles through Twitter, Facebook, etc., in addition to the main site. What would be Da Bomb is if there was a way for that added value to also find its way to the comments on the main site so that it could be seen by everyone whether on Twitter, Facebook, etc. That might lead folks to branch out and explore participating through those other media.

    * This may cross the line into whining, but if there was a ‘preview’ option here, some folks would self-edit and tone things down — after seeing how their comment comes across on screen.

    Thank you for thinking about these things and trying to develop appropriate, proportional responses — rather than the knee-jerk nuclear option of the Buffalo News.

  10. RaChaCha July 18, 2011 at 9:41 am #

    Correction: the mention of a News commenter receiving hate mail at home was not in Margaret’s article but in the comments

  11. Marc Odien July 18, 2011 at 9:42 am #

    Its interesting that with over 80% market saturation of almost a million people, she claims only 6600 accounts have been set up in over a year. Half of which were most likely started to leave a comment on one specific story and then never returned. Explains alot about the WNY internet community

    • Christopher Smith July 18, 2011 at 10:00 am #

      What do you think it explains?

      • Marc Odien July 18, 2011 at 11:07 am #

        It tells me that this article written all the way back in 2006 still applies to WNY in 2011. If you took all the numbers from the top 10 media outlets in town, the most active interactions are still coming from about 1% of their overall readership. Put all top 10 together and compare to the population of just Erie, Niagara and maybe Genesee county and I’d bet a dollar you will still be looking at around 1% engagement.

  12. Seneca July 18, 2011 at 10:34 am #

    People use pen names all the time.
    I like them because they separate the idea from the man.
    That’s why there’s blind peer reviewed journals.
    Charlie Rose just interviewed John Banville about his use of this tool.
    Sorry to hear about the worst of the worst comments you filter though.
    I heard that Antoine Thompson’s office received hundreds of racist phone calls as a result of the First Amendment Club’s (Grisanti’s backers) agitating.

  13. JudahMaccabbee July 18, 2011 at 1:34 pm #

    I stopped commenting here because either Chris and Alan (sorry, I forgot which) got snooty with a commenter and mentioned something like, “I know your IP address.” Well, while I know that there really is no such thing as anonymity on the web, there is no need to make quasi-threats. Of course the owners of the site are perfectly free to establish their own editing policies, but that just turned me off.

    Oh wait, I just commented here didn’t I? Damn…

  14. Chris Sasiadek July 18, 2011 at 2:48 pm #

    This is a tricky dance. I often see very interesting discussions going on on facebook when other columnists like to their articles there. Often those discussions are more vibrant and interesting than the ones going on- or not going on- in the actual comments section. At the same time, there are often multiple interesting but parallel conversations. I’ve found the facebook social plugin useful for this, sometimes I’ll take part in the discussion here and then see what people are saying on Alan’s facebook page (for example).

    Is there a way to make the THREADS visible on the WNYmedia site, so that people can participate in them directly from here?

  15. wolfpack July 18, 2011 at 2:57 pm #

    Some want to be heard for themselves on an issue, but a degree of anonimity makes it possible to express points on many issues without introducing prejudices based on who they are or where they work. There should be a place for both. What is important? Ideas and facts are. And just maybe nobody actually reads the blogs, or papers. Nobody’s mind is ever changed. Talking heads prevail. But just maybe it does matter. That is why I do anything.

  16. Brian Castner July 18, 2011 at 3:04 pm #

    I think its more than tricky. The University of Michigan did a study (sorry I can’t find the link) that detailed the difference between electronic and face-to-face communication. I think everyone can agree commenters often say things on here that they might never say to someone’s face directly. Besides the ease of being rude, bloggy communication is also challenging because we miss the tone of everyone’s voice, body language, etc. I have noted that I will have a very different discussion with Alan or Chris in person than I would here, or even on our Facebook pages. The atmospherics subtly change how everyone reacts to eachother – fewer bombs on FB, far far fewer in person (or on the radio, before we all got Breezy).

    In other words, this comment section is what it is. It has its purpose, and there are things it is good at (several have already mentioned them). If it were electronically possible to aggregate every conversation about each article here (from Twitter, FB, etc), I’m not sure those other conversations would survive as the intended audience changed. I think many of us wish the comment section was a smoky Parisian salon, passionately discussing politics and ideas, when actually there are many good (i.e. definable and studied) social science reasons it doesn’t turn out that way. Strange that technology often leads to wishes for more human interaction (i.e. tweet-ups). There may be a “next great thing” to do with internet comment sections, but there are some things I think it won’t ever be, and that’s okay. Plenty enjoy it like it is.

  17. peteherr July 18, 2011 at 4:26 pm #

    If you have a comment policy it might drive away the thoughful comments of people like Mike Hudson….oh wait…

  18. Howard Owens July 19, 2011 at 10:42 pm #

    I’d have to go back and research our previous conversation Alan, but I have a vague memory of supporting the Buffalo News going in this direction and you not necessarily agreeing.

    Conversation on The Batavian has its issues from time to time, but its certainly a lot more civilized than you will find on newspaper sites that allow anonymous comments. We can tackle any topic without a lot of rancor and real names is a big part of our success in this regard.

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