Last week, the Vacaville Reporter announced a “new system [that] requires online commentators to post their comments via Facebook. If they are not yet a Facebook member, they will need to join Facebook and then post.”
Who really cares what a small California paper is doing? Well, it’s owned by MediaNews Group, which owns the Pioneer Press. And as the Reporter noted, other MNG papers are instituting the system. There are also non-MNG papers that have opted for Facebook registration as the best way to verify identities and cut down on anonymous rants.
So is it coming to the PiPress, which currently uses Topix, the third-party company whose anonymous pages and business practices are so skanky that state attorneys general took notice?
“It’s one of the really good options,” says Chris Clonts, the paper’s Senior Editor, Online
Like the Star Tribune, the Pioneer Press is expected to re-do its site this year, though Clonts terms the release date “still fuzzy.” Nevertheless, he promises “much-improved commenting and moderation/troll prevention functions.”
While Facebook accounts aren’t impossible to fake, it’s not all that common, and the ubiquitous social network is likely more up-and-up than almost all comment boards.
But of course, there’s the problem of forcing people to use a site that hasn’t exactly shown a reverence for privacy (or, in this reluctant user’s view, user-friendliness).
“In anecdotal evidence, some users object pretty severely to doing [commenting] through Facebook,” Clonts says. “Surprising that they trust us more than Zuckerberg. But it makes it very slick and it’s a super-familiar interface. That scores good points with everyone else.”
Requiring “real names” does bring up some perennial commenting issues, such as whether anonymity is good in some circumstances. For example, whistleblowers and other comment-section tipsters, or in the case of Gawker Media, wise-asses who have .gov addresses.
But the problem so far has been verifying real names. I suspect we’ll see more papers outsourcing that to Mark Zuckerberg.