Kevin Zieber succinctly summed up the growing resentment of requiring a Facebook login to comment around the Web (or to get special privileges).
Want to comment on TechCrunch? You better have a Facebook account. Want to be a trusted commenter on The New York Times’s website? Not only do you need to leave great comments — which is a good idea — but you also need to tie your Facebook account to your nytimes.com account.
Some commenters have expressed that being highly regarded by fellow nytimes.com commenters should be enough to become a trusted commenter. Is using your real name a requirement for being trusted? What if you work in a sensitive industry?
I’m not sure yet what to make of the Facebook requirement for nytimes.com. The Times already has good comments and this may encourage even better comments. But it does leave out some people who can’t comment under their real names.
I’m firmly against TechCrunch and other sites requiring Facebook for comments. That goes too far in my book. What if someone doesn’t even have a Facebook account?
Should Facebook, a private social network with serial privacy concerns, be the driver’s license of the Internet?
To be clear, there are merits of having people use their Facebook accounts to comment. Most people use their real names with their Facebook accounts, and by requiring a real name, a website should get higher quality comments than your average site without active community management.
Many of the sites with the best user communities, however, do not require Facebook to comment. Slashdot famously has one of the best user communities on the Internet, and uses a user voting system to encourage good comments. The new tech site The Verge doesn’t require Facebook either and is quickly building a good user community by allowing users to recommend and flag comments. Great comments are highlighted by stars.
We do allow people on the Interchange Project to comment using their Twitter and Facebook accounts because it’s an easy way for people to login in, comment and establish a pan-Web commenting profile. However, we also allow people to comment anonymously. There are some people who simply cannot comment with their real names.
Why can’t they? They may work in sensitive industries. They may be afraid of reprisals from their work. You certainly won’t get whistle blowers by requiring someone to use their real names.
And thus, we won’t require people to use their real names and link to their social media accounts. We think it’s great if you do, but we also see the value in anonymity and pseudo-anonymity.
Requiring Facebook for commenting is a lazy way to weed out (some) trolls and nastiness. And it works, to an extent. But the ultimate goal is not just to weed out trolls, racists and other bad commenters, but to encourage and inspire great comments.
Bloggers such as Eric Berger didn’t get great user communities by requiring Facebook commenting. They did it be being active in comments and encouraging good comments. It’s called community management.
Allowing people to comment with Facebook, Twitter and other services is convenient and should be encouraged. Requiring that users use Facebook or Twitter to comment goes too far in my book.
Here is some advice on how to build a strong user community without demanding a Facebook driver’s license:
- Expel trolls, racists, and promote good use4 comments on news sites
- Plain Dealer creates new comment policy, encourage staffers to interact
- Bloggers, reporters handle user comments differently on news sites
I highly suggest you check out Mathew Ingram’s thoughts on this subject as well.