We tried hard to make our web site’s comments feature a forum for the exchange of opinion and information.
Sure, many commenters posted thoughtful remarks and adhered to the highest standards.
But far too many used the feature to spew vitriol, bigotry, obscenity, cheap shots and juvenile taunts, no matter how hard we worked to keep the conversation civil.
They didn’t take the hint when we deleted unacceptable comments or even when we blocked them by user name. They simply adopted new pseudonyms.
So starting Aug. 1, a little more than five years after we launched the feature, we will no longer accept anonymous comments. The same rule will apply to our weekly newspapers, The Andover Townsman, Derry News and Haverhill Gazette.
Those who wish to post on our websites via Disqus will be required to register under their true names. I’ll explain how at the bottom of this column.
Our sister papers, The Salem News and The Daily News of Newburyport, took this step a year ago.
I resisted this step at the time because I understand some people are unable to comment freely under their real names.
But it takes too much time to weed out the nasty remarks some people feel free to post under the cloak of anonymity. There are other venues those people can turn to.
I also happen to think the comments phenomenon may have run its course. Readers who want to communicate with us, and each other, now have other options they didn’t have five years ago.
We have almost 8,000 Twitter followers, for example, 5,000 on our text alert service and more than 4,000 on Facebook. Those numbers are growing. I’d guess we have fewer than 100 “regulars” commenting on Disqus, and that number appears to be shrinking.
I hope those anonymous commenters who have something to contribute will rejoin the discussion under their own names.
Others will still be able to send anonymous comments by email or snail mail to Sound Off, a decades-old Merrimack Valley institution.
The difference between Sound Off and Disqus is that Sound Off comments are carefully screened before they ever see the light of day, in print or online. Disqus comments, for legal reasons, went up automatically. It was then up to us (Editorial Page Editor Ken Johnson and I were the principal moderators) to track down and kill the bad stuff wherever it popped up, whack-a-mole style.
We also welcome your anonymous news tips — you can send them via our website and mobile platforms. You can also call me at 978-946-2479 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Finally, I would encourage those with a point of view to have the courage of their convictions and write letters to the editor. Signed letters carry far more weight and have far more credibility than any anonymous comment.
OK, now for the instructions on how to register to post comments under your real name. Here are the two simplest ways:
Facebook option: If you already have a Disqus account as well as a Facebook account, log out of Disqus. You will then be given the option of signing back in via Facebook. Click on the circle with the Facebook logo and follow the instructions. If you do not have a Disqus account, you can create one using the Facebook function. Your first post will not appear until we activate your account.
Disqus option: If you already have a Disqus account but don’t use your own name now, go to our web page and open any story. Log in, click the gear symbol under “Leave a message” box, then click on “Edit settings” to change your user name to your actual name. If you don’t have a Disqus account, click on the “Leave a message” box, click on the blue Disqus logo just below, then click on “Need an account?” Finally email your name, email address and phone number to email@example.com. We will contact you when your account is enabled.
Thanks. We hope our new rules will turn the comments feature into what we originally intended: a forum that allows readers to express their thoughts and opinions.
Al White is executive editor of The Eagle-Tribune.