The Salem News to Require Real Names from Commenters

Internet tough guys and Google gangsters who hid behind screen names will no longer be welcome at The Salem News starting next week, as the Massachusetts newspaper will require users to submit their real names in order for their comments to appear on its site. The post from editor David Olson (great read):

Dear salemnews.com commenters:

You are soulless, evil slime. You are idiot Nazi thugs.

You should lose the right to have children. If you already have children, the state should take them away (unless you work for the state, in which case you are likely a criminal hack).

Your relatives are probably drug dealers. You should be assaulted in prison.

That’s not me saying that. It’s a mashup of actual comments taken from posts on salemnews.com earlier this week. It is what some of you are saying to each other and to the people featured in our news stories, to our columnists, and to the folks who write letters to the editor.

That’s not even the nastiest stuff. Even after tightening our commenting rules, we still have to remove several posts per day.

This has to change.

One week from today, we will be instituting a real-names policy for the comments section of salemnews.com. Simply put, comments from anonymous or pseudonymous users will no longer be posted. We hope this will bring a little more civility and a lot more accountability to our online comments section.

We’re waiting one week to make the change to give our regular commenters, most of whom use pseudonyms, a chance to update their accounts so they can post uninterrupted.

When we first began allowing comments on stories in April 2008, we were looking to create an online community where readers could talk — and yes, argue — about issues they found important.

We do get good debates going from time to time, especially when one or more of the commenters is using their real name. That back-and-forth, however, is often lost in sea of mean-spirited, intentionally hurtful invective — usually from those not willing to make their name known.

We realize civility is a moving target. For one thing, it’s impossible to define. One person’s impassioned argument is often another’s insulting diatribe. Even the Lincoln-Douglas debates, often thought of today as a model of high-minded political discourse, were full of character attacks, personal insults, and name-calling.

Of course, Lincoln and Douglas were using their real names. They were accountable for their words and ideas.

So beginning in one week, all online commenters will become accountable, with the same standards as those who are published in our print edition.

If you write a guest column for the newspaper, you have to use your real name. If you are quoted in a story, we use your real name — no anonymous sources allowed. And if you write a letter to the editor, not only do you have to sign your name, you have to give us an address and phone number so we can check to make sure you are who you say you are.

Online commenters, until now, have had to do none of this.

As with any technology, there are ways to pull an end-run and use a fake name. Eventually, though, we’ll find you. Honest readers will help point you out.

We suspect we will lose some regular commenters — even respectful ones — because of this new policy, and that’s a shame. But it’s long past time for everyone to be equally accountable for their words. Especially the ugly ones.