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Test of blog comments expands -- and readers weigh in

June 29, 2011 |  2:23 pm

FBcomments In March, The Times began testing a new system for commenting on its blogs, requiring the use of Facebook to sign in. As of Friday, the test, which began with Technology and The Fabulous Forum, has been expanded to nearly all of its blogs.

As Managing Editor/Online Jimmy Orr said in his announcement, the move to Facebook commenting would enable real-time posting of comments, instead of having to wait for manual moderation; and better authentication of users, which, it was hoped, would cut down on mean-spirited and profane posts.

Readers were invited to weigh in on the change --  which they’ve done. More than 70 have left comments on Orr’s blog post (the Readers’ Representative Journal has not moved to Facebook comments). Other readers have written emails.

Many of those unhappy about Facebook commenting have privacy concerns. Others say they simply don’t want to participate in social media.

"I love reading and commenting, however I have no intention of joining Facebook to do so," emailed Gail Albert of Los Angeles. "Other response/comment arenas have spam and vulgarity filters, maybe you should start there. Every society has idiots posting their insipid rants. The way I see it, it's always good to know who's out there and what people think, albeit, a different opinion."

Bob Matthews commented Friday on Orr's post: "The hideous policies of Facebook make thoughtful people avoid it. Thoughtful people whom you want reading and commenting. You are three months in to the trial, and the Facebook-comment pages have just as many inane comments as the others. You are not killing trolls, just alienating readers."

Reader Engagement Editor Martin Beck acknowledged that "not all readers have, or wish to have, Facebook accounts. And many readers prefer the anonymity of self-selected nicknames on our comment boards."

"Anonymity isn't necessarily a bad thing," Beck said, "but if you’ve spent much time reading comments online, you'll understand that sometimes commenters take advantage of it to post rude, profane or otherwise inappropriate comments they likely wouldn’t using their real identity. So far, we believe that the pros of Facebook's commenting system outweigh the cons."

Other readers said they use Facebook, but they want to keep it separate from their other online activities.

Damen Brazen of Los Angeles emailed, "This Facebook comment system stifles what people really think, since people often want to keep hot-button topics out of conversation with their friends."

Andrea Berman of Pasadena agreed. "While I do use Facebook, I don't want the rest of my world seeing what I post on a blog," she emailed. "Facebook is Facebook, blogs are blogs. Keep them separate."

Both readers and Times editors said they’d noticed a decline in the number of comments -- at least initially -- after the switch.

Joseph Areeda of Los Angeles emailed: "I still read a lot the comments, and many of the usual commenters are missing when Facebook is required. I enjoy the debate in the readers' comments and feel it greatly enhances the content of the articles and essays."

Online Arts and Entertainment Editor Lisa Fung said comments on blogs such as Pop & Hiss and Show Tracker had dropped off at first, "but that was expected because this was a new thing."

But Fung said the tone of comments had changed noticeably. "People seem to be less likely to go on rants or engage in personal attacks, because they no longer can hide under a cloak of anonymity,” she said. "That's led to a change in the overall conversation we're having with our readers and they're having with each other."

Editorial writer Jon Healey said comments on Opinion L.A. "seem to be less vituperative and more substantive, with notably less name-calling and more pertinent remarks. That's welcome, but not surprising -- requiring people to use their real names tends to weed out trolls while also encouraging people to put more thought into what they’re writing."

He said he also wasn't surprised by the drop in the number of comments. "But it's still lamentable," he said. "I may be atypical, but I'd rather have more comments and a lower signal-to-noise ratio than the opposite. I don't want people to feel as if we're listening only to Facebook users, even if roughly half the U.S. population is a member."

Some readers agreed with Beck that something needed to be done to stop the anonymous attacks.

"I think this is a great idea," wrote TR in a comment. "I agree with the others who feel that the people who are against Facebook commenting are the people who are trashing the site right now -- the ones who turn the comment thread on EVERY SINGLE STORY into a forum on immigration, healthcare and Obama, even if the story has absolutely nothing to do with any of those things. ... If you don't want to say something under your real name, perhaps you shouldn't be saying it in the first place."

And Ken Murray wrote in a comment, "Bravo! Many points for trying to create a uniform, better system. I, like many here, am leery of the Facebook connection, but that may simply reflect my age! Progress!! I look forward to trying the new system."

--Deirdre Edgar

RELATED:

Online comments: 'Our goal of civility is falling short'

Image: Screenshot of Facebook comments on Pop & Hiss


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