Beginning at 11 a.m. Sunday, MyrtleBeachOnline.com will make a change that some readers will embrace and others will vilify.
All those who wish to comment on our work online will have to do so via Facebook.
It’s not because we are in cahoots with Facebook. And it’s not because we are trying to restrict your freedom of speech.
We are trying to improve the quality of the discourse contained in the online comments on our site. Just as we require names, addresses and telephone numbers for opinion letters that appear in our print version, we also now will require more information about those commenting online.
If you have read online comments here, and on most news sites that don’t require this kind of registration, you’ll see things that we would never allow in print, comments that too often “devolve into a volley of name-calling,” as Aminda Marques Gonzalez, editor of the Miami Herald, said in announcing the change on their site.
Our industry believed, in apparent hopeless optimism, that opening our sites for commenting would provide a new-age version of the town square, where cogent debate and thoughtful views would be exchanged. Alas, we have discovered that anonymity allowed the inner meanie of too many commenters to emerge.
I’ve heard from many of you who say you won’t post your views because you don’t want to hold yourself and your ideas up to ridicule from those can disagree and defame without having to identify themselves.
We hope this change will encourage those who have stayed away to join the conversation. Other news organizations that have already made this switch say that comments decreased in the beginning but gradually grew as the tenor of the remarks changed.
On Facebook, most people use their true identities and many of our readers already have existing accounts. You won’t need a Facebook account to read the comments, only to post one. Readers who don’t have an account can create one for free.
For anyone who wants to send us an anonymous news tip, we have created a forum at the top of the comments section for that purpose.
We know the move to Facebook commenting is not a cure-all nor does it come without controversy. Some users will find a way to create accounts using fake identities. We’ll watch for that and will remove posts we find that deviate from our rules of civil engagement. We also encourage you to flag posts if you believe they aren’t in line with our guidelines, published in the commenting section:
“The Sun News is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what’s in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.”
For answers to other questions about the switch, check out the “Frequently Asked Questions” link on the MyrtleBeachOnline.com homepage. And thanks in advance for your comments.
Contact CAROLYN CALLISON MURRAY at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @TSN_ccmurray.