Internet Comment Policies of Indianapolis Major Media Outlets

Anonymous Comments

Over the years I’ve noticed a growing trend, particularly on news based websites, of Internet commenters leaving racially tinged or controversial messages often not shared in public discourse. Internet users continue to hide behind the freedom of anonymity that has graced the Internet since it’s inception. However, according to a New York Times Article published in April, major online news publications are changing their comment policies to help keep opinions more civil.

Comment Policies of Indianapolis Major Media Outlets
The requires users to become members to post comments on Articles. However, during the signup process your first and last name are optional fields. As a result, your comments are tied to a screen name that never reveals your true identity. This policy falls short of other major media outlets but at least they require account registration.

In addition, I noticed that article comments are harder to find than in the past. For example, in the past, comments used to be directly listed underneath each article. Today, comments are no longer listed beneath each article (non-logged in users) but rather hidden behind a ‘comment’ link that requires user interaction. Which could be a sign of the Star placing less importance on user comments tied directly to the article.
WTHR comment system also requires registration before a user can leave a comment on an article. Unlike the their sign up form requires the user to provide their first and last name. However, all posted comments are currently displayed by the users provided user name. In addition, a user can sign-in to the comment system via other popular social networking accounts such as Facebook, Google, or Twitter to leave comments.

I think this is probably why tends to have one of the cleanest comment systems of all major media outlets in Indianapolis. Finally, I notice that the news outlet chooses to only display the first three (3) comments after the article. Viewing the remaining comments are hidden and confusing to find from a usability stand point.
WISHTV comment practices are more lax than but at least require a first name when registering for a new account to leave comments. User accounts are required to comment on any article. I found WISHTV statement of comment conduct, located immediately following the article, to be refreshing. It’s a fresh reminder to watch what you say and be accountable for your verbal actions. However, similar to the other networks, all comments are tied to user provided screen names. Profile Pictures, often referred to as avatars, are available but optional.
The IndyChannel used to be one of the worst offenders for anonymous commenters. It was often worse than a bar room brawl. However, it appears that recently the IndyChannel integrated the same system that powers the system. I’m assuming because both websites are powered by the same Content Management System.

IndyChannel does not have a separate registration system like that of WTHR. Users are offered nine (9) different social services to login to the comment system. The only option I have a problem with is the ‘blogger’ service as it’s often used for inappropriate purposes and does not require much in the identity department.

Comment Service Wrap Up

Overall I think each of the news agencies could do a better job of holding users accountable for their online opinions. More obviously needs to be done to educate Internet users that anonymity is a privilege and not a right. WTHR and the IndyChannel are both guilty of offloading the verification to third-party services. Often times these other services have limited resources to verify the true source behind a comment. The IndyChannel gets a nod from me for placing less emphasis on user comments. However, the main reason I wrote this article is because of this blatantly bigoted comment regarding a Hispanic driver involved in a automobile accident:

Why is a name that sounds Hispanic automatically illegal?
I want to write this lady a letter and educate her on how ignorant she sounds. I wonder if she would come to the same conclusion if it was my last name in a bad article? Actually, based on this comment, I don’t have to wonder because chances are that she would come to the same conclusion. The problem is often that the user has never met an educated HIspanic person that debunks his/her stereotypes and prejudices. Well my blog is my outlet and this is my answer to the user and anyone else that thinks the same way as this person.

While this person in the article may very well be illegal you cannot legitimately come to this conclusion based on a name. I think the commenter would have never written such a bigoted statement if his/her public name was tied to the account. I call on all major media outlets to hold users accountable when they choose to engage the media property by leaving article comments. User comments not only represent themselves but also the web property where they reside. A great place to start is by following the lead of other major news corporations in the United States.