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Rethinking Comments

commentsThe New York Times reports that a lot of sites are rethinking whether they should allow anonymous comments. Says one columnist, anonymous comment threads are “havens for a level of crudity, bigotry, meanness and plain nastiness that shocks the tattered remnants of our propriety.”

Well, yeah, but denying people anonymity means that they might not say stuff that they should say—which shocks the tattered remnants of our democracy (as much as crudity does our propriety, anyway).

On WashingtonWatch.com, we’re pretty insistent on allowing anonymous comments. That comes at a price—there’s trolling on the site, to be sure. But we’ve created a series of comment controls that users can implement to tailor their own experience of comments.

Logged-in users can decline to see the comments of anyone who’s not logged in. (Account Profile > “Comment Controls” tab > select “Show only comments of logged-in users, hide all others”) Boom! Anonymous comments still exist, but people can choose not to see them. (Create an account here.)

We also have a system that allows logged-in users to hide particular commenters. Did someone say something that offended you? Click “hide this commenter” and all their comments will be hidden. (You can click to view, but you do so knowing that you might get something obnoxious.)

Users can also hide particular words. Adding offensive terms to the pre-selected list at the “Comment Controls” tab can clean up others’ dirty language for you. We’ve summarized many of these comment controls in a post called “Tune Your Hearing and Turn Your Back.”

The conversations on the site are the responsibility of the site’s visitors. You are adults, and the webmaster is not your parent, your teacher, or a cop. We do have some advice of course: Do not feed the trolls, for one. If someone offends you, your best response is no response.

When the cursing in a particular comment is excessive, we might just step in. A favorite technique when people ignore our recommendation not to curse is called “disemvoweling“—that’s taking all the vowels out of the post. People can’t really read it then, though the historical record of an obnoxious post remains.

We appreciate those really ugly posts because it’s a chance to advertise the work we’re doing to cultivate a comment platform that is open to anyone—even the anonymous—but that has ample benefits for our visitors.

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