The New York Times has made at least a small effort to improve its comments section, by promoting some readers to “trusted” status and allowing them to comment without moderation, and by highlighting some comments alongside its stories instead of leaving them all at the bottom. Both of these steps are a significant incentive for good behavior. Gawker Media gives its commenters their own blogs and lets them contribute their own stories—something that should be appealing to a site like the Huffington Post, which got its start by allowing almost anyone to blog for free. Why not create tiers of commenting to encourage better input?
Do we invite trolls and offensive behavior when we allow people to contribute anonymously? Perhaps. But free speech comes with a price, and I think we lose something significant when we start requiring people to verify their identities before we listen to what they have to say. If that’s what’s required for a “grown-up Internet,” I would like to stick with the one we have.
In closing, here’s a TED Talk from Christopher “Moot” Poole, the founder of 4chan, about the benefits of anonymity: