Monday, September 28, 2009

Why Schultz is Wrong About Anonymous Comments

Anonymous comments are dangerous, Connie Schultz wrote yesterday on They lead to poison and vitriol.

Plus, she said:
"Anonymity on the Web offends most journalists I know, and not just because their own names go on everything they write. It breaks every rule newspapers have enforced for decades in letters to the editor, which require not only a name and a city of residence, but contact information to confirm authorship."

Schultz's preferred prescription: Get rid of anonymity and require commenters to identify themselves.

But she's wrong. This is just another example of the kind of faulty thinking that gets in the way of newspapers' ability to move successfully into the new digital era. Two reasons:

  • It fails to recognize that the online world is a world of its own--one that is much bigger than just news organizations. News organizations that try to force that wider online world to behave according to its preferred standards are going to fail. Successful organizations are the ones that try to learn the local ways and adapt themselves accordingly.
  • Those who take the time to do this--to understand the local ways--quickly realize that it's not anonymity that leads to uncivil discourse in forums. It's poor moderation. The way you encourage civil behavior in online communities is to have clear rules of the road and then to enforce them. Online community experts have known this for well over a decade.

So today's takeaway: The key to helping news organizations survive and thrive in the digital world is not to try to make that world conform to newspapers' ways of doing things. Instead, the key is to understand the digital world and its ways of doing things--and then to use those insights to help you accomplish your goals.

Photo courtesy of: gregmote. Creative Commons License

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