Current Date: Fri, 13 Dec 2013 03:00:55 -0500
Imagine you’re in a class, the sole purpose of which is to have The Daily Tar Heel read to you by a professor.
Just humor me.
After every article, editorial, column or letter to the editor, the professor asks the class, “What do you think?”
Most of the time, nothing is said and the professor moves on. But on certain occasions, an unholy frenzy erupts. One of your classmates launches into a rant about liberals. Somebody else accuses that person of being a racist. Inevitably, someone says, “Wow, DTH. If this is what they’re teaching in UNC’s journalism school, I feel bad for y’all.”
Someone else invokes Hitler. Somebody always mentions Hitler.
People are constantly entering and leaving, salesmen are trying to break into the classroom to sell sketchy drugs and the professor has the power to expel anyone with a knack for hurling insults.
Most people in the class just gawk at the handful of terrible people.
But most importantly, nearly everyone is wearing a mask.
When trying to determine why the comments sections of news sites are such vast wastelands, this is the crucial part of the analogy.
Because in theory, a section devoted to comments is a great thing. It allows people to poke holes in arguments or add supplemental information or insight to news articles.
The comments section is a good idea. In practice, it is usually just terrible.
Personally, I hate the comments. Often I can’t read through all of them without hating the commenters, myself and humanity.
And I think a lot of that has to do with the complete lack of accountability inherent to a system populated by anonymous people. When one can stay faceless, one feels entitled, even compelled, to lob verbal grenades without concern for the damage caused.
So, starting today, when you want to leave a comment on dailytarheel.com, you’re going to have to register with a real, verified email address.
The days of email@example.com are over.
You can also link your commenting account with your Facebook, Twitter or Google accounts.
The idea here is to make it harder for you, the reader, to put on the mask. I’m confident this change will improve the quality of the conversation and debate.
Some might argue that it is counter to the newspaper’s mission to censor any kind of expression that happens within its boundaries.
But this adjustment will do nothing more than apply some of the standards of in-person interaction to the online world.
Think back to the extended classroom analogy.
While I would never want to take such a class, I’m confident it would be a more civil group if the students could see each others’ faces.
If you disagree, by all means, leave a comment.