Heraldonline.com to require commenters to use Facebook accounts

posmundson@heraldonline.comSeptember 12, 2013 

By far, the most common complaint I receive about The Herald and heraldonline.com involves our online commenting. A forum that should foster robust debate about our community’s challenges and opportunities too often resembles the crudeness and intellect of a late night bar fight.

That should change beginning next week. As early as Sunday, we’ll begin requiring anyone seeking to write comments on heraldonline.com to log in with a Facebook account.

We’re making this change in an effort to eliminate anonymous commenters. Anonymity has allowed too many people to be rude and mean on heraldonline.com. They have chased away readers who have thoughtful, important views to share about York, Chester and Lancaster counties. Our communities are much more decent than what has been portrayed.

Some may say eliminating anonymity will stifle free speech. I disagree.

One of the most important functions of a newspaper is to create forums for citizens to share ideas and to debate current issues. Those exchanges help communities solve problems and forge brighter futures.

For decades, these community discussions were conducted primarily through letters to the editor. In The Herald, we call our letters to the editor the “Voice of the People.”

We require those who write for “Voice of the People” to identify themselves. We have required that for years; yet it has not stopped readers from sending in thoughts on a wide range of topics. These readers endorse candidates for political office, support or criticize our elected leaders, point out bad roads, celebrate local achievements, or discuss dozens of other issues.

With the advent of the Internet, newspaper companies expanded the community forums to their websites. The goals remained the same. But a few people hiding behind anonymity have squelched meaningful dialogue. With Facebook, we think that will change.

We will still allow people to offer views online. With just about every story and column, we will provide a section that invites people to comment about the issues raised. We’re simply asking those online commenters to identify themselves just as our “Voice of the People” writers do.

Facebook takes several steps to help ensure the accuracy of a user’s identity. Check Frequently Asked Questions for more information.

Other newspapers report positive results with the Facebook approach. While the number of comments in some cases has fallen, the quality has risen sharply. I’m sure the same will happen with heraldonline.com.

When it does, the richer debate will more accurately portray the devotion and sincerity of the people who live here.

Osmundson is editor of The Herald.

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