Following strong feedback and a healthy discussion at Thursday’s coffee as well as a handful of emails received on the topic, NewCanaanite.com starting now will require those commenting on articles to use full first and last, verifiable names.
The site-wide change comes directly from our readers, whose thoughts and feedback I value deeply.
At a reader’s suggestion, we had put the very same policy in place for election-related stories only following the July caucuses.
Comment threads on NewCanaanite.com have always been “gated,” meaning comments have required manual approval from me to show up at all. I also have always insisted on knowing the identity of each commenter and having an open line with him or her through email. In some cases, I required that those making especially pointed remarks use their full first and last names, or else temper their comments prior to publication.
Under this new, reader-suggested policy, that thinking is reversed: We will start by requiring everyone to use full and verifiable names, and I will make special exceptions when warranted. I honestly don’t know what those exceptions might be—perhaps if someone has a respectfully stated and pertinent comment but fears for his or her personal safety if attached to it. I would ask that anyone who wants to post a specific comment under anything less than a full first and last name email or phone me directly to explain why (firstname.lastname@example.org and 203-817-1278).
Once I have a better idea of how this will go, we will flesh out an official policy and post it somewhere visible on the site—another suggestion that came from a reader at the coffee on Thursday.
The clear majority of readers who shared their thoughts on this topic feel that what may be lost by removing a cloak of anonymity for some is outweighed by what we lose already when negative, judgmental comments are posted under incomplete usernames.
Some voiced support for preserving the status quo with respect to aliases, saying that doing away with them may stifle conversation on the site, and that many people who may otherwise respectfully state their thoughts will be afraid to do so now for fear of retribution in some other part of their lives.
Points made in favor of the change include that granting anonymity gives commenters room and permission to be uncivil, unfairly and unnervingly opens those who are the subjects of news articles to criticisms from unknown sources and engenders mostly negative comments that harm the overall tone of what could be constructive discussion.
I’ll gather up data about comments submitted, gauge reader feedback and we will revisit this discussion next month. The coffee will be held at 8:30 a.m. on Thursday, Nov. 2 in the Lamb Room at New Canaan Library. Those who wish to attend may email me for an invitation.