Indeed, we've never been entirely comfortable with anonymous commenting, but in the interest of fostering a community discussion on the issues we cover, we have allowed it.
For years, we've struggled with the dichotomy between our print commenters, who must provide their name, address and phone number so we can verify their identity before publishing their letters to the editor, and our online commenters, who need only an email address, often with an alias that hides their identity.
Despite our efforts to encourage robust but civil online conversations, they sometimes deteriorate into name-calling and abusive attacks. Some online readers have stopped commenting altogether, or don't even read comments anymore, because of vitriolic anonymous posts. A platform intended to encourage community dialogue has instead driven some people away.
Our company has searched for other options for online commenting. We haven’t found the perfect solution, but we have decided to move to the best option available.
Starting Sunday, readers who want to comment online will have to log in using a Facebook account.
Most people on Facebook use their true identities, and many of our readers already have Facebook accounts. Others can open an account for free at facebook.com.
We realize some users will find a way to create accounts using fake identities. We’ll watch for that as we continue to monitor posts that deviate from the rules of civil engagement.
Our company first experimented with Facebook commenting at The Miami Herald, where editors saw a sharp improvement in the quality of the conversation but fewer comments.
We expect similar results. But we hope, over time, to generate a higher level of discourse at islandpacket.com and beaufortgazette.com so our readers can share insights, points of view and expertise with each other online.
A respectful, inclusive debate of the issues should lead to better solutions that will benefit all of us.