Ask the Editor

Readers weigh in on switch to Facebook for online comments

sduerr@thetribunenews.comOctober 10, 2013 

Sandra Duerr

Our decision a few weeks ago to eliminate anonymous comments on stories on our website has generally been well received. We now require anyone who wants to comment on a story to log in through Facebook and use real names.

“Using Facebook for posting comments is a great policy, and I hope you are getting a lot of support for making this change,’’ emailed Dave Cox of San Luis Obispo. “It’s good for the community, free speech and for The Tribune.’’

Thomas Fulks applauded the move, as well. In a post on a Letter to the Editor complaining about the change, he disagreed with those who believe we’re restricting access. On the contrary. “It’s encouraging more access by making the comment section a safe place to comment without fear of anonymous personal attacks,’’ he wrote, noting that “it’s easy to hide behind anonymous pen names when launching hate and vitriol. … If you’re going to attack someone, spout racist bigotry and other nonsense, be brave enough to put your name on it.’’

When The Tribune switched to Facebook commenting on Sept. 15, we expected to see a decline in comments — and we have. In the first three weeks we received about 450 approved comments, which averages out to about 20 to 25 a day, according to Online Editor Christine Janocko. “In the two weeks prior to launch, we averaged about 120 comments a day.’’

That response is similar to what other McClatchy newspapers nationwide have received during that time frame. We expect the number of comments will rise with time, however.

Those who dislike Facebook and our new policy argue that anonymity offered an honesty that was both real and chilling, that it was a great way to check reality even if — as one man wrote — “there will be trolls.’’

We believe the trade-off is worth it.

For years we tried dealing with those who weren’t civil. We aggressively monitored posts to weed them out and banned incessant violators’ accounts, but they would often just pop up again with a different account.

In print, our policy has long been to ensure that those who write letters to the editor in The Tribune sign their names and note their hometowns. We offered a different policy for online commenters because the environment afforded individuals an opportunity to give and take immediately.

Ultimately, however, we concluded that civil discourse — engagement on issues affecting our lives — is best served by creating a safe space for readers, regardless of whether it’s in print or online. We will continue to monitor comments for fake identities.

And for those who want to share an anonymous news tip, just email us at newsroom@thetribunenews.com or mail me a note at the address below. You can also click on “Report News’’ at the top right-hand corner of our homepage; we require a name and contact information to submit a tip, but we won’t disclose them without your permission.

Do you have a question about the newspaper, our website or our coverage? If so, please write me c/o The Tribune, P.O. Box 112, San Luis Obispo, CA 93406-0112, or email me at sduerr@thetribunenews.com. Follow me on Twitter @SandraDuerr.

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