Effective Monday, April 2, The Daily News will end the posting of anonymous comments on our website. People who comment will be required to identify themselves by their real names, using a new process to create an account.
The process is explained on our website and in the accompanying article on this page, and we encourage people who want to continue posting to transition over as soon as possible.
This is a decision that we did not come to lightly.
Like many newspapers and media outlets, we started hosting anonymous comments several years ago, when the phenomenon spread widely across the globe. It's proven to be a very popular feature, but it's become clear that its downsides outweigh the benefits.
There have been many well-considered and thoughtful comments posted on our website, and there are many posters who have consistently held themselves to a high standard. There have been productive discussions between people of opposite minds. If this were the norm, there would not be any problems.
In our years of hosting anonymous comment boards, we've seen that anonymity tends to lower the bar and encourages people to do and say things that would otherwise be out of character. Some posters have viciously attacked individuals, spread rumors and lies, made false accusations of criminal misconduct, threatened one another, and in at least one case attempted to meet up with an online enemy in order to fight in person. In recent months, the level of anger and maliciousness has escalated.
We have attempted to encourage respectful behavior by deleting offensive comments, blocking repeat offenders and explaining to posters why comments have been removed and some have been banned. We've sought ways to curb the kinds of comments that anger people and inflame situations. It hasn't worked.
There have been other odd behaviors fostered by anonymity. We've seen public officials attempt to raise their own profiles by posting anonymous praise about themselves. On several occasions, local leaders have used anonymity to post offensive comments and wage personal attacks that they would otherwise never make in public. There are individuals who have created multiple commenting accounts and engaged in false "discussions" between these identities, in an effort to fool others into thinking that many people hold the same opinion. Our feeling is that our readers are manipulated and misled by these types of behaviors, and we do not condone it.
We've had posters ask why we don't pre-screen all comments before they are posted. We simply don't have the staff to do that. There are days when it can take hours to straighten out complaints between posters, handle appeals by posters who were blocked from posting or sort through the dozens of comments each day that have been "flagged" as offensive.
Managing anonymous posts is an extraordinarily time-consuming thing to do. Ultimately, we have to focus on what it is that our readers depend upon us for, and that is local news, sports, public announcements, public records and lifestyle stories. It takes considerable resources to produce this information on a daily basis.
This has been a difficult decision for us. A newspaper plays a role in protecting and promoting the rights to free speech, while at the same time adhering to the standards of journalistic ethics and libel laws. Anonymous comments push the extremes in both of these areas.
We will continue to be a sounding board for comments and opinions from people throughout the community. These will appear as signed letters to the editor and columns on our opinion page, and through comments on our website from people who identify themselves.
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John Macone is editor of The Daily News.