Progress Switching to Facebook Comments

The Daily Progress is doing something about their cesspool of a comments section, and switching to Facebook as their commenting system. Second only in horribleness to NBC-29’s comments, comments on the Progress site are often filled with nasty, anonymous attacks, with a handful of regulars turning every conversation into an opportunity to go on one of a few stock tirades. Other Media General papers have been making the same switch (here’s a sample Times Dispatch article where you can see the comments at the end), in an effort to force people to put their real names on their comments—or at least outsource that to Facebook’s judgment and administration. That switch will take place tomorrow.

A year or so ago, I toyed with the idea of using Facebook as the commenting system, until I realized that there was no need. There’s no problem here in need of solving. People are generally civil to one another, many people post under their real names, I know who many of the pseudonymous people are (and they know I know—there’s nothing nefarious going on here), and all is generally well. But nearly every local media outlet would benefit from either switching to Facebook’s system or simply eliminating commenting functionality.

39 Responses to “Progress Switching to Facebook Comments”

  • Sean McCord says:

    CvilleNews needs a Like button.

  • Michael says:

    What about people that don’t have a Facebook account?

  • They’d have to create one or, of course, not comment on the Progress’ site. Speaking only from my own perspective for my own websites, I think that’s a bad tradeoff.

    The Progress’ problems could also be solved by active community management. Rather than treating the comments after each story like The Lord of the Flies, they could take a page from CBS-19 or The Hook and actually participate in and help to shape those conversations. After doing that for a period of months or a few years, eventually community norms are established, so that if one person starts behaving in a manner contrary to those norms, other members of the community will correct them in the manner demonstrated by the community manager. For instance, I’m at CHO, waiting for a flight to Miami, where I’m going to spend the next 36 hours in meetings. I’ll have vanishingly little spare time, and my guess is that I won’t have time to check in on But that’s not a problem—nothing is likely to go wrong. Likewise, when my wife and I had our first child in December, I was MIA for a few weeks. I never once worried about people behaving badly here, because you’re grownups, and we’re all following the community norms that have long existed here.

    The trouble with actively managing an online community is that it’s a lot of work and it requires money. Media General isn’t exactly wading through cash right now, so they’re trying to solve a social problem with a technological solution. That almost never works, but I appreciate that, given the Progress’ resources, it’s all they’ve got.

  • dan1101 says:

    I will really miss the comments there, sure there was a lot of bickering but there were occasional tidbits of good information or new perspectives.

    I expect it will be effectively dead now with the Facebook requirement, or at least a more boring sanitized group of comments.

    Many comments I made were not the popular opinion, but at least I never personally attacked other posters.

  • Dan says:

    I’ve been debating about this for my own neighborhood blog. The blog have a small number of commenters, not all of which live in our neighborhood, that post really nasty comments filled with the kind of personal attacks described here. Of course, they are always anonymous.

    I’ve dealt with the problem by moderating comments and not approving those which I believe to be abusive. At first I allowed comments if they were only abusive to me personally, but later began blocking them as well. No one wants to read this stuff regardless of the target.

    This is not a solution I’m happy with, and I have anguished over some posts that were border line abusive. Also, I’m not comfortable being both judge and jury on the issue of whether a comment is abusive or not.

    I’ll be following the DP experiment with interest. If it seems to be working well, I’ll try it on my blog. I agree with dan1101 above, I too don’t want our comments to become boring and sanitized.

  • Dan, is this blog about a Charlottesville-area neighborhood? If so, let me know—I’d love to promote it on!

  • john m says:

    I run a community blog in Richmond, with a comments section that occasionally veers beyond my comfort zone.

    We’ve recently switched a system which allows pseudonymous commenting, but which also makes it Very Easy for folks to login via Facebook or Twitter. I’m thinking that long-term, the inclusion of a higher percentage of “real ID” comments will massage the tone of the comment section enough so that we don’t have to require any sort of login.

  • Dan says:

    John M: I don’t know if Waldo allows the posting of URLs here, but if he does, would you mind posting a link to your blog? I’d like to have a look.

  • john m says:

    It’s, for the East End of Richmond.

  • I’m very happy for people to post URLs! Promote your sites, please. And especially John—he can always promote CHPN on my websites. :)

  • Dan says:

    John M: Interesting arrangement for commenting. Thanks for sharing it here.

  • Barbara Myer says:

    The Daily Progress site without comments is alarmingly sterile. I was, I now realize, mostly interested in what my e-verse neighbors had to say about things: like hanging out at the local store for the gossip used to be. “News” or “Information” without the multiple reflections of my community is not informative.

    You won’t find me on FB, oh, ever & I’m really annoyed at the increasing number of things (sweepstakes, coupons, special deals) only available on FB or Twitter: a requirement to compromise your privacy, to another company, before you can get goodies is simply heinous. It is ‘virtually’ a requirement of a purchase, since marketing is so very, very effective. OMG: mega-stores are marketing to us through our noses these days! I was thoroughly freaked out the first time I had my g-mail open on one tab, looked at products on another tab, and discovered the items I looked at on tab two cropping up on an ad on tab three. Micro-marketing is terribly scary. Why? Because advertising works. My children loathed hearing me say that after they lobbied for food-stuffs advertised on something they watched on TV. I’m aware of it in them, and I’m aware of it in me. I’m also aware that I don’t catch it 100% of the time & sometimes buy things I really don’t want or need.

    I waited when stores began asking (making) me give them personal information in order to qualify for their weekly specials. I spent a certain amount of time letting them think my cat was buying stuff rather than compromising my personal info. I’ve acclimated to One Store getting info they won’t sell to their direct competitors in order to get a directed coupon to me to buy salad, because that’s what I do and I appreciate a coupon. But I’m now drawing the line at a third party compromise of my information in order to either comment on local stuff or read others’ comments on local stuff.

    Talk to me in 10 years: I may have changed my mind. I’ve done it before. But I really, really, really don’t like it. It’s slovenly, in an old sense, of the DP to outsource their comments to a third party and expose their commenting readers, perforce, to the third party privacy compromises and third party advertising. Exclusively.

    Not nice. Not what I’m doing this decade. But still, I’m missing my neighbors’ voices.

  • Christian says:

    Yeah, I don’t like it either.
    But the masses rule! Me, I’m often counter-current. I’ll never ever try Jimmy-Johns because I hate their adverts. Many products are in that category for me.

  • The Daily Progress site without comments is alarmingly sterile.

    I suspect that’s just a temporary artifact of the switch. I’m dubious that many of the regular commenters, under the old system, would be willing to say the things they were saying under their real names. So a new group of people—folks who long ago gave up on reading comments—will need time to discover the blank slate that is the comments section, and start posting comments. I think a few months are really required for that. If the site still isn’t getting comments in mid-July, I think they’ll have trouble. But I bet that won’t be the case.

  • Barbara Myer says:

    Yes, but even if FB types begin commenting, I won’t know about it, so for me it will remain sterile.

  • Dan says:

    Barbara: Facebook only requires that you use your real name. You don’t have to use a real photo and you don’t have to give them your address, phone number or real email address or any other personal info if you don’t want to. You can also adjust your privacy settings so that even your friends on FB will not be able to find you.

    I have a simple rule about everything I put in the cloud. The best guarantee of privacy is this: Don’t post anything that’s private.

  • Christian says:

    …which means she’ll have to sign up to FB. No matter which way you slice it, she’ll has to accept doing business with Mega FB if she wants to read or post anything regarding a local article.

  • Barbara Myer says:

    Thank you, Christian. I was too tired to repeat myself.

  • Dan says:

    Barbara: In your second to last paragraph you cited privacy as a concern with FB which led me to suggest an alternative way to view it.

    Are you opposed to all third party commenting systems, such as Discus, on the same grounds?

  • Claire says:

    “Yes, but even if FB types begin commenting, I won’t know about it, so for me it will remain sterile.”

    You don’t have to be on FB or have FB to SEE the comments, right? That’s my understanding — that if you want to comment, you have to login in using a FB account, but not simply to read what our charming neighbors are writing. Or am I wrong?

    I’m generally in favor of any system that encourages more responsible behavior from people engaging in online discussions. I say this as someone who has said things online when anonymous that I wouldn’t say if my name (my real name, or the name of my stable online identity) were attached (shameful, it’s a problem, I’m working on it). I’ve come to feel that attaching an anonymous comments or discussions section at the end of any online article is pretty much like handing loaded guns to a bunch of crazed chimpanzees. It doesn’t seem to bring out anyone’s best.

  • Barbara Myer says:

    Well, apparently, no one has yet commented on the Daily Progress site since they went to FB. Per my not-on-FB universe, the DP has no comments.

    And, yes, any third party to get to a second party is a party too far for me.

    How many angels are there on the head of this pin?

    Perhaps even anonymous comments are telling of the people I live with. It’s what they think when no one is looking. I’ve chosen, deliberately, to comment with my full name for several years, but there is a different honesty with no name or a partial name attached. Claire. Dan.

  • Perlogik says:

    There have been some comments and I could read them without a facebook account and the Progress’s biggest troll is using his real name now.

  • dan1101 says:

    I think anonymity has its place, just because an opinion isn’t popular doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be heard.

    I wonder if the DP ever tried to moderate their more controversial posters?

  • Claire says:

    So it sounds like it’s entirely possible to read comments on the DP site even without a FB account, and there are in fact comments on the DP site since they went to FB login. Whew!

    Anonymous comments can be either (a) a wonderful, different kind of honesty, or (b) what people say when they think they won’t be held accountable later for saying it. I tend to think in general that the latter absolutely overwhelms the former on discussion sites where anonymous commenting is allowed.

  • Dan says:

    When I first commented here, some years ago, everyone seemed to be using their first name. I thought the idea was to create a community where folks were on a first name basis with each other.

    On my own blog I’d be thrilled if commenters used their first name, or a pseudonym as long as they stick to it. While I might not know their real identity, at least I’ll know then as an individual. For me, at least, that’s enough.

  • Dan says:

    Speaking of pseudonyms, I just remembered this story…

    which Charlottesville Tomorrow cited earlier this year when they were thinking of dropping the full name requirement for commenters on their blog. I think they decided to stick with full names.

    What do folks here think? Are pseudonyms and option for increasing civility among commenters?

  • Just so that there is no doubt, I’d like to echo the point that one can read Facebook comments on third-party websites without having a Facebook account. I do not trust Facebook, so I sandbox my Facebook access within a special version of a web browser (Mozilla Prism, a “single site browser”) for that reason. When I browse the web otherwise, it is as if I do not have a Facebook account. I can read Facebook comments on Media General stories just fine, as one any other website that uses Facebook for comments. If that were not so, I would recommend heartily that sites not use Facebook for comments, because doing so would serve too great an obstacle for too many visitors.

  • Perlogik says:

    Waldo I don’t know the term sandbox does it mean isolate?

  • Claire says:

    Dan, I think that on a continuum with anonymity at one end and full-name-tied-to-findable-online-identity at the other end, stable pseudonymity is a nice middle spot. If I had to give my full name and FB identity on Waldo’s site, I probably wouldn’t post here as often, nor as unguardedly as I sometimes do. I’m just not as brave as a Barbara Myers, or as Waldo himself. I have a job and sometimes the issues I comment on intersect with the world of my job and I would probably not comment on them if my full name were attached. But when I started commenting here and I chose a pseudonym and stuck with it, I found that I cared about that online identity within this particular community. In other words, to the extent that I built up a reputation on cvillenews under my pseudonym, I cared about maintaining it. So I found myself pausing at times when I was fired up about an issue and was tempted to just kind of flame out, unhelpfully. Since I knew that any bad behavior would stay attached to that pseudonym, I tried harder than I would have otherwise to engage thoughtfully and respectfully.

  • Barbara Myer says:

    So I spent the rest of this month’s free DP views looking for comments this morning: didn’t find one, but fully trust that when Waldo says I would see them if they were there to be seen, I’ll take that as accurate. It really is a ghosttown over there.

    I ran through two stable pseudonyms, before coming out. Search engines are interesting: it seems they’re now identifying user-names where before, they only pinged back when someone used my name in their post. Ironically, Google always thinks my last name is a typo (from the Dutch, not the German: a cursive “i-j” became a “y”) and Claire has misspelled my name (as so often happens: not a slam, Claire), so who knows what page that will show up on a Google search.

    I digress. Ultimately, I found that even a stable pseudonym wasn’t as compelling a reason to avoid flaming. I still flame from time to time (and felt my previous rudeness to Dan and Claire, though that may have been simply tactless rather than rude: I’m never sure, being a strong introvert I often miss social cues others [my sisters] tell me are alarmingly apparent).

    I still digress. I was interested when I went to the DP site and saw, without heading down the cul-de-sac of each story, that scores of my neighbors had commented. I wanted to know what was going on, so I clicked through. Yes, a lot of it was trash that made me roll my eyes, but it still informed me. I may need to be hit over the head with my neighbors’ views before I notice them, but I do notice and I’m guessing that more time spent on a website = more advertising revenue for the website. You’d think they’d want to encourage that sort of thing.

    Of course, this morning I viewed half-a-dozen articles. Maybe advertisers like more page views rather than more time spent on a website.

  • Dan says:

    Waldo: Interesting note about “single site browsing”. Can you explain in a few words the kinds of privacy issues that this strategy eliminates?

  • dan1101 says:

    I suspect what he means is the browser is allowed to browse one and only one site. Web pages are often constructed of resources from various sites, like the Daily Progress site loads resources from Facebook to display comments and ad networks to display ads and set cookies. If you configure a single-site browser to browse it will not load anything from, or any other site.

    Many sites might not render well that way, but it’s certainly a safer way to browse.

    By the way, I now see Daily Progress comments from Facebook users such as Palmetto Patriot, Center for Excellence, and Sam G Jr. Not exactly real names.

  • Claire says:

    The people commenting so far on the DP aren’t using “real names,” but they’re at least traceable to a relatively stable online identity — you can click on their name and go to their FB page. That’s better, in my mind, than allowing someone to make up a totally new fake name for every comment they post, with no trail to any other identity elsewhere online. If you click on Palmetto Patriot, you can see pretty much all you need to know where he’s coming from. I find that handy.

  • Dan says:

    dan13: Thanks for the clarification on Prism, and to Waldo for mentioning it earlier in this thread. I’ve been looking at the Prism Web site and can think of several uses for it.

  • I’m sorry I haven’t had time to weigh in here about single-site browsers (aka SSBs.) In addition to Dan’s described method of using SSBs, what I like them for is to isolate the cookies from just one site. I don’t log onto Facebook—or even visit—in my web browser. I have an icon for Facebook on my Mac, and I run it like a program. It runs a program called “Facebook” that is actually a web browser configured to go directly to In theory, I can follow links to any website under the sun, but I’ve set my SSB to open up all URLs outside of in Chrome, my primary web browser.

    The idea here is that I isolate (or, yes, “sandbox”)’s cookies, so when I’m using the rest of the web, those websites have no way to connect me back to my identity on Facebook.

    There is one other thing that SSBs are good for, and that’s using web-based applications as if they’re real applications. For instance, I use a web-based RSS reader, but I have an icon for it in my menu bar, and I run it just as if it were a desktop program. I find that more convenient, although maybe that just makes me old-fashioned. :)

  • belmont yo says:

    “Barbara: Facebook only requires that you use your real name.”

    Yeah, no. It doesn’t. Just a unique email. I have three accounts for various purposes. Should I find myself looking for a job, I have a sanitized one. I have one where I can pretty much be my brain damaged self, and a third that does not link to any of my other online identities for shit like FB gates. In fact, there are sites that facilitate cross friending strangers in order to look legit, which sure beats the good old days of simply housing some european kids myspace photalbum and gradually adding their life pic by pic. But I digress.

    I think that the moral obligation to be upfront and tell the truth is an antiquated notion with respect to certain aspects of “online” culture. I mean, the bulk of the big sites are basically full on strip mining your data. Back in college, we’d get 50 bucks and some pizza if they wanted to do a market research survey. Now everyone participates voluntarily. I think its naive to think that this data is used exclusively to better serve the user. There are folks talking now about how individuals are finding themselves in “google bubbles”, meaning, your search results are specified to google’s idea of you. Withe the tubes being as vast as they are, you are missing out on all sorts of things because google doesn’t think it fits the profile they have built for you. Dont even get me started on the ZuckerBorg…

    Its like when they started all that VIP crap at supermarkets. I was wary of it, so all my accounts were in pets names with fake numbers. And as it turns out, your shopping history is also subpoenable information. When I found that out, I switched modes. Now I use a phone number (434.245.5844) which works at all markets, and encourage everyone I know to use it as well. I can only hope to one day hit critical mass locally. Could you imagine Harris Tweeter running the numbers and seeing that a person with an unpronouncable name spent like $400,000 in a month? Wont change anything, but I think it would be hilarious.

    This sandboxing idea is neat, but if one is not a tech savvy guru like Waldo, I imagine it could get complicated. I find it much simpler to lie, for lack of a better word. Perhaps I just miss the “wild west days” of the intertubes (next month marks 20 years online for me), but I think there is a cultural necessity to maintain anonymity to some degree. Hell I havent signed my own credit card receipts with my own name in two years (alternatives range from “i am not the card holder” to simple shapes and doodles) and it has never been a problem. Why? Because you are just a number and they dont care about a name. Though it sounds Orwellian, there is a strange freedom to having the machine not care about your name – it means you can be whomever you desire.

    There is definitely a time and place to assert your true identity. To think that that extends to even a quarter of our activities online is foolish, IMHO. But seriously, Im not trying to tell you how to internet, just what works for my damaged brain.

    Wow. Not a very well articulated thought, but whatever. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to bolt before the two or three locals here that inexplicably hate me rip me a new one. God bless psuedonyms, otherwise I’d have to be looking over my shoulder every damn minute.

    And Dan, Waldo practically begged you, and I will join the chorus… post a link to the neighborhood blog!

  • And Dan, Waldo practically begged you, and I will join the chorus… post a link to the neighborhood blog!

    Dan and I traded e-mail about this a week or two ago. His blog hasn’t been updated since December, so I suggested that next time he writes something, to let me know and I’ll post a link to it here. (I think that a lot of people discovering it now would ignore it, with the most recent post being old.) I certainly want to encourage more people to read—and create—neighborhood blogs.

  • Barbara Myer says:

    My favorite phone number to falsely use is 434 555 1212. Apparently no one remembers that that’s directory assistance.

  • Dan says:

    belmont: I didn’t mean to be elusive about my blog. As Waldo kindly points out above, there hasn’t been a post since December. It’s been thankfully quiet here for a change.

    This is my first blog and I have learned a lot. One thing I’ve learned is that it’s practically impossible to post without a hint of your own personal bias. It’s for this reason that I always post the source material when it’s available so that folks can draw their own conclusions.

    The blog is far from dead and there are several new issues on the horizon. Everyone, neighbor or not, is welcome to subscribe to the blog’s email updates or its RSS feed.

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