A Comment on Comments

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As longtime readers know, I’ve always taken a hands-off approach to comments. I’m well aware of the price I pay for this in out-of-control comment threads, but for a variety of reasons I’ve always been willing to pay that price.

Lately, though, the quality of comment threads here has plummeted very close to zero. Farhad Manjoo says that anonymity is the problem, and he thinks its days should be over:

Advocates for anonymity argue that fuckwaddery is the price we have to pay to ensure people’s privacy. Posting your name on the Web can lead to all kinds of unwanted attention—search engines will index you, advertisers can track you, prospective employers will be able to profile you. That’s too high a price to pay, you might argue, for the privilege of telling an author that he completely blows.

Well, shouldn’t you have to pay that high a price?…. Posting a comment is a public act. You’re responding to an author who made his identity known, and your purpose, in posting the comment, is to inform the world of your point of view. If you want to do something so public, you are naturally ceding some measure of your privacy. If you’re not happy with that trade, don’t take part—keep your views to yourself.

Until recently this debate was largely academic….Facebook has changed that. Not only does a Facebook account include your real name, but it’s also tied to your network of friends and family. This means that anything you post with your Facebook account is viewable by people you know. This introduces to the Web one of the most important offline rules for etiquette: Don’t say anything that you’d be ashamed to say in front of your mom.

This seems pretty drastic to me. Every comment you make would also show up on your Facebook news feed? That would pretty much stop me from commenting entirely, even on my own site.

But how about the lesser step of requiring logins from all commenters and no longer allowing guest comments? I’ve always hated that, and I generally decline to bother commenting at sites that require me to log in. Still, maybe the time has come, whether I like it or not. A registration system is the only way to effectively ban trolls, and trolls have overrun the site. (Also at fault: a commenting community that doesn’t have the self-discipline to ignore well-known trolls. What’s wrong with you guys?)

Anyway: should I require registration from all commenters? Please leave your opinion in comments.

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DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily bluster—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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