News & Opinion » Editor's Note

The Express' New Commenting Policy

Why we're no longer allowing anonymous comments.

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In an ongoing effort to inspire more thoughtful and civil debate on our website, the Express will no longer allow anonymous commenting. If you want to comment on a story, you can sign up through your Facebook account or by becoming a member of EastBayExpress.com and using your real name with your real email address.

Traditionally, the Express, like most newspapers, has not published anonymous letters to the editor for our print publication. And we still don't. But we adopted a different policy for the web, and unfortunately the experiment has not worked well. The people and institutions that we write about, along with writers for the Express and other commenters, are routinely attacked in an uncivil way by those who hide behind fake names. We also have reason to believe that these attacks dissuade readers who wish to engage in thoughtful debate from commenting at all on the site.

As a result, we've come to the conclusion that the same rules that we've applied to our print edition over the years should also apply to our website. Namely, if a commenter is not willing to put his or her name on what he or she writes, then that comment isn't worth publishing.

The move away from anonymous commenting is a growing trend in the news industry. The Los Angeles Times recently changed to Facebook-only commenting, and it has vastly improved the quality of comments on the newspaper's site, according to a recent report on Poynter.org. People tend to be a lot more civil and thoughtful when they attach their own names to comments. The San Jose Mercury News, the Oakland Tribune, and the Contra Costa Times also only allow commenting through Facebook, and have had the same positive experience.

So how will it work? When you want to comment on a story, you will be prompted to sign in through Facebook or as a member of EastBayExpress.com. If you are not yet a member, the prompt will request your full name and email address. If you already are a member under a fake name, we ask that you either edit your bio on the site and change it to your full name or create a new account using your real name (that is, if you don't want to be associated with the comments you posted under your fake name).

Those who continue to post comments using their existing fake names will have their comments removed and their memberships suspended. Also, if someone signs up with a new account under a fake name and posts a comment, we will delete the comment and the account will be suspended.

If you believe you have something important to add to a topic, but using your real name will open you up to personal or professional retribution, we urge you to contact our web editor, Ellen Cushing, at Ellen.Cushing@EastBayExpress.com. We will then decide whether to grant you anonymity on that specific topic, as we do on occasion in the letters to the editor section of our print publication.

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