It will be interesting to see how comment conversation changes on Livingstondaily.com, the website of the Livingston County Daily Press & Argus, when the newspaper begins requiring commenters to use a Facebook login.
As reported by Gannett Blog, a Gannett memo details the move the corporation is rolling out across its newspaper and broadcast sites. The change, according to the memo, is one that led to “increased civility in comment threads, increased participation from local public figures and an increase in Facebook referrals” on its pilot sites.
Gannett owns the Livingston County Daily Press & Argus, as well as the newspaper’s Livingstondaily.com website. According to the memo, all Gannett sites, including USA Today, are changing to a Facebook-based commenting system.
I’ve always disliked anonymity in online communication. Not having to take responsibility for one’s words opens the door for all manner of mayhem. When I was the managing editor of the Daily Press & Argus, I once wrote a column on how anonymity makes it much too easy for people to post hateful, inaccurate or destructive comments. That column, of course, was met with a slew of anonymous, hateful comments.
So, moving to a Facebook-based commenting system — like one we use here at LivingstonTalk.com — seems to be a mostly positive, interesting move on the part of Gannett, which is, in essence, ceding some of its online territory to Facebook, with which it has no financial relationship. This means that in order to leave a comment on a Gannett website, the commenter must be logged into Facebook, and the comment is posted using the person’s Facebook login, which is almost always their real name. Anyone without a Facebook account will no longer be able to comment on the website, which is a common criticism of the system.
What remains to be seen is how the move will affect the number of comments posted. Comments add greatly to web traffic, the numbers used to help sell advertisers on the site. Even if there is a decrease in the number of comments, the increase in civility and quality of comments is a trade-off worthy of the change, one that is also respectful of everyone involved, from officials and readers to sources and subjects.
The memo did not outline any dates for roll-out or reader education programs on specific Gannett sites.