The Kansas City Star recently changed the way visitors to their website can comment on stories. Commentors must now login to the system using a Facebook account, and their comments will be displayed using the name and photograph attached to that account.
"Facebook has a vested interest in making sure that the people using Facebook are real people," says Derek Donovan, public editor at the Kansas City Star. "This site is, or at least tries to be aggressive about weeding out fake accounts and also spamming accounts."
Donovan says the nice thing about using Facebook comments is that the comments made on the Kansas City Star website get tied back to the Facebook user's profile, so friends and family can see what was posted to the Star site.
"That for one thing, really raises the level of engagement and makes people more responsible about what they post," he says.
Donovan says the frequent offensive and belligerent comments were the primary impetus for the transition to the Facebook based commenting system.
"The whole concept of anonymous misbehavior on the internet really is a 1990s kind of mindset," he says. "it is something that I think is long passè, and it was without question over the past 9.5 years I have been doing this job, the number one complaint about the website. Nothing even comes close."
Donovan says many types of stories drew hateful and disrespectful commenters; most commonly stories about sports rivalries, stories about successful women and stories about accidents involving teens.
"Editors made a very wise decision years ago that stories about human tragedy, accidents, crime, that sort of thing, would not host comments at all," he says. "Because really when you think about it, what of value are you going to be able to say about something like that?"
Stories about race, religion and politics were, of course, also targets of hateful comments. Donovan said stories of that nature would sometimes have to have the comments disabled because things would get out of hand.
"The great irony of that is those are the things that I think a lot of people, particularly journalists and pundits would argue, are where we need to be having conversations," says Donovan. "And I think a lot of people want to really work through some of these issues in a civil way."
Donovan says in addition to the positive feedback there have been some people who have expressed some concern that they have to have a Facebook account to comment, citing Facebook's tendency to be rather secretive about what they use user data for.
"I understand that completely," he says.
He also says some people have been upset they cannot go in an anonymously call people names.
"I think that quite honestly, the Star is better off for not having those voices around."