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Patrick Dougherty: Real names make for better debate on articles

A core value of the Daily News has always been providing a forum for members of the community to speak out. Traditionally, that was done through letters to the editor and the guest columns we call Compasses. With the extension of the printed newspaper to adn.com, we added story commenting.

In print, we always have and still do require writers who submit a letter to the editor to provide their names, addresses and telephone numbers. As a matter of long-standing policy, we do not print anonymous letters or columns. Online, primarily because of the limitations of the technology, we have had to choose between no comments and anonymous comments. Because our values favor open debate, we reluctantly chose to allow anonymous comments. And we often saw our misgivings realized.

The contrast between print and online comments has been stark. In print, we get more carefully prepared viewpoints, produced by an identified author prepared to stand behind them. Online, anonymous posts too often devolve into tedious and repetitious name-calling. I have occasionally described our comments as a public exercise of primal scream therapy.

Despite our efforts to manage the comments, readers who could have offered thoughtful and constructive remarks declined to participate. By far the complaint we hear most often about adn.com is the quality and tone of the comments.

That's why, beginning next Sunday, we're introducing a new system for online commenting. Readers who want to comment on stories posted on adn.com will be required to log in using a Facebook account.

On Facebook, most people use their true identities. Many of our readers already have existing accounts. Readers who don't have an account can create one for free.

The move to Facebook commenting will not be a perfect solution. Determined trolls may find a way to create accounts using fake identities. We'll watch for that as we continue to monitor the comments ourselves.

This change may well reduce the number of comments on our stories. That will be fine if the result is an improved quality of discussion.

Anonymity undermines respectful public debate. That seems to be human nature. We believe this change will encourage conversation, and we hope readers who have been reluctant to participate in the past will now consider joining the conversation.

As always, your comments about this or any other facets of the printed or digital versions of the ADN are welcome.

Patrick Dougherty is senior vice president and editor of the Anchorage Daily News. Email him at pdougherty@adn.com.

Note: An earlier version of this column gave the incorrect day for when the change will occur. It's scheduled to happen on Sunday, Sept. 15, not Monday.

 

Facebook commenting FAQ

By PATRICK DOUGHERTY