In the little tag line at the end of this column, I always ask readers to let me know if there are any issues they’d like to see addressed in future pieces.
And over the last five years, one question has surfaced more than any other: Why, oh why, when we require names and hometowns with letters to the editor in the Times, do we allow anonymous comments on stories on our website at gloucestertimes.com? Indeed, three of these columns over the years — one each in 2010, 2011 and 2012 — have addressed that very issue.
The idea was that the online comments could broaden the discussion on local stories, and give readers the chance to respond and react to letters to the editor with more immediacy. We also recognize that many people just aren’t comfortable speaking up and attaching their name to their views. Some may be fearful of retribution on their jobs or in their neighborhoods; others may simply like to add their views, but to do so without the kind of scrutiny they might draw if they had to use their real names.
But while many anonymous commenters have added thoughtful and valuable comments to the stories and adhered to our rules against personal attacks, others, quite simply, have not.
So, beginning sometime Monday, gloucestertimes.com will no longer accept anonymous comments. Those who wish to post on our website via the Disqus.com platform will be required to register under their true names.
Why, you might ask, is your community’s newspaper now doing that?
One basic reason is that moderating and dealing with the comments has simply become unmanageable. Despite the many thoughtful comments, far too many posters have used the online threads to spew vitriol, bigotry, cheap shots and juvenile taunts, no matter how hard we’ve tried to keep the conversation civil.
Some just couldn’t take the hint when we deleted unacceptable comments — or even when we blocked them by user name or by their computer IP addresses; some simply adopted new pseudonyms, or took to using other computers.
More importantly, however, I’d like to think that this step will give added credibility to the online comments and elevate the discussion, while weeding out those who simply like to belittle the views of others, or, in some cases, post comments with information that is either false or can’t be documented, hurting the credibility of other comments and, in some cases, the stories or letters themselves.
Many newspapers around the region and around the country, of course, have already gone this route. Two of our sister papers, The Salem News and The Daily News of Newburyport, took this step a year ago. And the other member of our North of Boston Media Group, the Eagle-Tribune of North Andover, converted its comments earlier this week.
I hope that many of those commenters who have remained anonymous to date will sign on and join the debate under their real names; many commenters, of course, have already been using their real names, and I hope many others will join them.
Here’s how to register to post comments beginning Monday under your real name. Here are the two simplest ways:
Facebook option: If you already have a Disqus account as well as a Facebook account, log out of Disqus. You will then be given the option of signing back in via Facebook. Click on the circle with the Facebook logo and follow the instructions. If you do not have a Disqus account, you can create one using the Facebook function. Your first post will not appear until we activate your account, but that again, should come on Monday.
Disqus option: If you already have a Disqus account but don’t use your own name now, go to our web page and open any story. Log in, click the gear symbol under “Leave a message” box, then click on “Edit settings” to change your user name to you actual name. If you don’t have a Disqus account, click on the “Leave a message” box, click on the blue Disqus logo just below, then click on “Need an account?” Finally email your name, email address and phone number to firstname.lastname@example.org. We will contact you when your account is enabled.
I know this won’t be easy for everyone. But it is frankly a change whose time has come. And I truly hope our new rules will turn the comments feature into what we originally intended: a forum that allows readers to express their thoughts and opinions.
Questions? Comments? is there a topic you’d like to see addressed in a future column? Contact Times Editor Ray Lamont at 978-283-7000, x3432, or at email@example.com.