The Washington Post Ombudsman's Parting Suggestion? No More Anonymous Comments

As a daily subscriber to the Washington Post , a former guest blogger for the Post, and a community manager, I was very  interested in the number one suggestion outlined in Patrick Pexton's farewell column. Pexton was ombudsman for the Post for the past two years--a position that, to me, has a lot in common with community manager. The thing he cited as the number one complaint he received during his tenure as ombudsman? Online comments. Twenty percent of the complaints he received were about the functionality of the comment platform or being unfairly censored, but the other 80 percent were about the "hatefulness, name-calling, racism and ideological warfare that are constant features of The Post’s commenting stream." I can personally attest to that hatefulness during my stint as a guest blogger there back in 2007; there were certain commenters who made a daily habit of just being nasty, no matter the topic of that day's post.

I think getting rid of anonymous comments is a great idea; Facebook sign-in, as Pexton recommended; not so much--I'd hold out for Google sign-in. People are a lot less likely to be outright nasty when their names are tied to their comments; I personally think the nastiness and aggression of DC-area anonymous online commenters is a function of the fact that people around here are so uptight and have high-power jobs, so they look to anonymous online comments as an outlet for pent-up frustration. There's no reason the Washington Post--or any online forum, for that matter--should provide that outlet for them.

A book along these same lines that I'd recommend is Civility in the Digital Age: How Companies and People Can Triumph over Haters, Trolls, Bullies and Other Jerks by Andrea Weckerle. I bought the Kindle version and have yet to read it, but know Andrea from--where else?--online and she is incredibly smart and the founder of CiviliNation, is a nonprofit organization whose mission is "to foster an online culture where every person can freely participate in a democratic, open, rational and truth-based exchange of ideas and information, without fear or threat of being the target of unwarranted abuse, harassment or lies."

If there's one thing worse than a hater, it's an anonymous hater; taking away the anonymity would go a long ways towards curbing it, IMO.