I feel a change a comin’

By Lou Brancaccio, Columbian Editor



There’s a warm, comforting breeze blowing down the Internet highway and it feels … well, it feels pretty good.

Earlier this week, we changed the way you can comment on the stories we post on our website.

Gone are the days when you could log in under an anonymous name and rip apart everyone and everything you don’t like.

I’m sure there’s some study out there (hey, our government loves to pay for studies) that speaks to the nature of human beings when there is no societal restraint.

“The only thing that separates us from the monkeys on the African savanna,” the study likely says, “is the pressure society puts on individuals to act in an acceptable manner.

“To eliminate that societal pressure,” this study-that-I’m-sure-is-out-there continues,” effectively eliminates civilization.”

“We’d all turn into marauding animals and Cubs fans.”

And that’s sort of, kind of, what most newspapers — including us — created when we allowed those anonymous comments on our stories.

Take my column last Saturday, for example. I knew it would create “action” from commenters because of the subject matter: Despite the economic mess we’re in, your property taxes went up this year. Worse, if your property assessment held up better than others in the county, you’d be getting a little extra bump. Just for you!

For the most part, it was a solid, enlightening discussion. For the most part.

But then you always — always — get a few bad apples.

I asked one guy to get in line or I’d begin to eliminate his comments. He didn’t get in line. I began eliminating his comments.

But it was like a swarm of mosquitoes; I simply couldn’t keep up with him. He had his comments saved someplace, and just copied and pasted them back in.

We tried. We really, really tried. Honest! But in the end, we simply couldn’t keep up. We were on the African savanna. We were becoming … Cubs fans.

So that warm, comforting breeze I mentioned earlier was a different way of posting comments on our stories. We opted to require commenters to log into our site via Facebook. By doing so, it gives us a better opportunity to have people use their real names.

A Facebook sign-in isn’t perfect, mind you. Facebook’s rules don’t allow you to use a fake name. But some still do. That said, fakes are easier to identify on Facebook, so we know it will cut down on the bad boys.

Yes, we will be losing some good conversation from those who won’t sign in with Facebook. Why won’t they? These good folks basically fall into one of two camps:

• I hate Facebook; it’s too intrusive; I’ll never get a Facebook account.

• I will never use my real name when I comment on a public site because I fear (you fill in the blank.)

Everybody has their own views, and I respect the two above points. But we felt this was our best course of action.

So what will happen to the number of those who now will comment? It will go down, a pretty good chunk, actually, at the beginning. But truth be known, those commenting on our site were really a very small percentage of our Web traffic.

And we do expect that number to go back up eventually, in part, because those who would never have gotten involved under the old system will like the constructive conversation we now are trying to build.

So come on in! The water’s fine and the breeze is warm.

Lou Brancaccio is The Columbian’s editor. Reach him at 360-735-4505 or lou.brancaccio@columbian.com.

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