I’m making a change that I know will be polarizing.
Starting in July, anonymous comments will no longer be allowed. New comments will appear under users’ first and last names.
That means commenters will have to first register as users.
Users will also be required to enter an address and phone number when they first register. That data will only be used for me to attempt to verify identities.*
Once I accept your registration the first time, you simply have to be logged in to post a comment. (Those comments will still have to wait for my moderation as they have in the past.)
To avoid a delay in July, you can pre-register now. (Scroll down for details.)
Why the Change?
It’s not a decision that I came to lightly.
I know this will cause celebration from some readers who have pressed for this increasingly over the years. Based on the passionate arguments in favor of anonymous comments in the past, I also know it will also upset many other readers.
Some readers aren’t comfortable stating their views on political or controversial issues under their names. (Before I took over the blog, I used anonymous comments to pose a question that I worried would aggravate some in my social circle.)
I always believed that using the blog to air grievances and concerns was helpful in terms of readers hearing differing points of view. In the past, I believe it has helped to identify paths for compromise. It has also helped officials not be blindsided by voters at a Town Meeting. Usually the complaints made on the floor echo ones that have previously been raised on the blog.
Plus, I believe in the public’s right to criticize Town officials.
These are the arguments I’ve made to people who have urged me to eliminate comments since I took over the blog.
However, the amount of ire and kinds of accusations from anonymous commenters has gotten worse over the years. I constantly struggle with where the line is for fair game. (There are comments that I reject for going too far over the line.)
Over the past nine years, I’ve considered my work on MySouthborough something that started as a flexible job but turned into a passionate community service project. (I put in far more hours than the revenue generated supports – well below minimum wage.) For that, I credit engaged readers and regular commenters – including passionate, anonymous ones.
But the anonymous comments attacking other community members have often left me questioning how I feel about my contribution. When these comments are coming from aliases – my name is the only one people associate with them. (I also live in this community. If you aren’t willing to put your name behind your comments, why should mine be associated with them?)
Over time, I’ve come to feel that the cons of anonymous comments outweigh the pros. (Especially, as I’ve suspected an increase in commenters playing games with me to comment under multiple identities on the same post.)
In the past, I worried that if I tried to eliminate anonymous comments, there would be no clear way for me to identify that people are who they say they are. If people start posting under fake names that look real (which has happened), I believe other readers are more likely to take those comments seriously. At least when comments use headlines or nicknames, everyone knows those commenters weren’t willing to put their names behind them.
I decided to require commenters to input more data to help me validate their identity. But that was a fix that I was unable to properly make on my own. This spring, I contracted a vendor to help me fix some technical issues and make minor improvements to the blog. Making the transition to non-anonymous comments was the top priority I identified.
(For those who may wrongly assume I was publicly bullied into the decision. . . As I informed Chris Robbins in March, my decision pre-dated his public request for the change. At that time I was already in the process of researching and reaching out to a vendor. But I wanted to wait until I knew that I could implement a process – and when it would happen – before publicly sharing the news.)
Other improvements to expect include fixing the currently missing “Recent Comments” in the right column, an easier to find search field, a more responsive layout for mobile devices, and other minor changes.
The changes are scheduled to be implemented on Friday, July 1st. To avoid an extra delay in posting comments at that time, any readers can register below (or here) as a user in advance of the launch.
*Phone and address fields will not appear on the blog. I do not use the data for marketing purposes. And I won’t sell/provide your data to other entities. They are only for the purposes of helping me to vet users’ identities.