More than 40 readers weighed in on our online comments system in response to a Nov. 13 poll (please add your thoughts at goo.gl/j9AfoH).
The Town Crier launched the survey because we want to provide the most useful and least annoying comments system that technology (and our office’s IT budget) can supply.
By a three-to-one ratio, readers felt that “up-voting” comments – tallying thumbs-up or thumbs-down to indicate sentiment – was more annoying than helpful.
Although the Town Crier’s comments system, like many others, is designed to prevent one person from voting multiple times, any tech-savvy user can circumvent those controls. It doesn't sound as though legitimate voters are finding this feature particularly useful, so we’re likely to remove the comments voting system unless we hear from many who love it.
That brings up the next subject of hot debate – to what extent people should have to identify themselves openly and/or consistently in the comments section. Town Crier staff administrators are able to see the email address associated with each comment on our site. That information remains private, but it gives us a handle on who is commenting when.
Some readers made it clear on the survey that they suspect a small number of individuals may operate multiple, seemingly different, aliases. We’ve observed many instances where that accusation was incorrect. Commenters may not choose to share their identity publicly, but they often use email addresses known to staff to match with real human beings.
The Town Crier could start asking readers to log in to our website to leave a comment. That doesn’t prevent people from making up multiple identities, because spoofing email addresses (and even IP addresses) is easy to do in this day and age. Or, we could require that people comment using only their real names. Given how often lawsuits fly over schools issues in this town, doing so may gag voices that previously felt comfortable speaking.
As a staff, we’re collectively conflicted about the competing values of privacy, freedom of speech and transparency. No solution is foolproof, so we’re asking the community as a whole to share their preferences.
– New Media Editor Eliza Ridgeway