Sunday, August 22, 2010

Non-anonymous comments

The Buffalo News published an article today that by its nature had "controversy" written all over it. It was a follow-up to a horrific incident a week ago in which eight people were shot, four of them fatally, after a party at a downtown bar. All were African-American. Today's follow-up reported details about the criminal records of seven of the eight victims.

What was of special interest to me, given my recent research into online audience postings, was the comments section of the article.

If there ever was an article that seemed ripe for racially fraught diatribes in the online commentary, it was this one. A typical anonymous online commentary thread on such a story would descend into such vile race-baiting that many readers would close the screen in disgust.

Of the 25 comments posted as of Sunday evening, a few were racially tinged. One mentioned "racial profiling." Another listed several of the crimes associated with the victims then added "These crimes may not be a big deal in the black community,but in the rest of civilized society they are a HUGE DEAL and are not tolerated or accepted!" A later posting called that comment "inappropriate and racist." There were some other sharp disagreements among the commenters, especially on the appropriateness of such an article so shortly after the deaths when loved ones are grieving for those they lost.

But all-in-all the comments were restrained, on point and polite in spite of the controversial subject matter and the disagreements among the contributors.

Why? Likely because all of the commenters had to attach their real names to the comments, similar to a signed letter to the editor in the printed paper. The Buffalo News earlier this month began requiring such identification. That requirement probably led to fewer comments -- only 25 on the story, compared to many dozen that typically get attached to controversial stories at sites where anonymous comments are allowed. But it seems as if it works to raise the bar in terms of quality of comments.

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