Washington Post Editor Defends Anonymous Unmoderated Comments

Washington Post Editor Defends Anonymous Unmoderated Comments
When it comes to major media properties (and even quite a few blogs these days), it seems that “moderating” comments has become the norm. However, it’s surprising (though, refreshing) to see a Washington Post editor speak up in defense of unmoderated and anonymous comments, which the Washington Post allows:

I believe that it is useful to be reminded bluntly that the dark forces are out there and that it is too easy to forget that truth by imposing rules that obscure it. As Oscar Wilde wrote in a different context, “Man is least in himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.”

Too many of us like to think that we have made great progress in human relations and that little remains to be done. Unmoderated comments provide an antidote to such ridiculous conclusions. It’s not like the rest of us don’t know those words and hear them occasionally, depending on where we choose to tread, but most of us don’t want to have to confront them.

What’s most impressive is that this comes from a guy who wasn’t just opposed to such things originally, but was opposed to the whole concept of “blogging.” When he finally relented to blogging, he was adamantly against unmoderated comments… but the more he’s seen, the more he’s realized the value in them:

I have come to think that online comments are a terrific addition to the conversation and that journalists need to take them seriously. Comments provide a forum for readers to complain about what they see as unfairness or inaccuracy in an article (and too often they have a point), to talk to each other (sometimes in an uncivilized manner) and, yes, to bloviate….

In fact, comment strings are often self-correcting and provide informative exchanges. If somebody says something ridiculous, somebody else will challenge it. And there is wit…. Comments also tell us that readers do not always agree with journalists about what is important.

We have always felt that way about comments. While they can be frustrating and ridiculous at times, they are also incredibly educational and entertaining. And, the most ridiculous stuff of all is quickly dismantled by others. That said, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t ways to improve the commenting experience without necessarily moderating or banning anonymous commenters. We’re working on some things here that we’ll be rolling out in the near future to hopefully continue to improve the overall commenting and discussion experience.

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