For civility, add names to opinions

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Rekha Basu, columnist for the Des Moines Register. Image via Iowa State University.

Anonymity allows folks to escape the flak for some of the ugly and prejudiced things they say – and which flout the standards for what our society considers decent and civil.

For whatever reasons, this column seems to be a lightning rod for that sort of demagoguery. But there is a relatively simple solution: Requiring people to use their real names when they comment. From now on, that will be the standard for commenting on columns with my byline. I’m willing to bet that step alone will force the quality of discussion to improve. When people know their friends, neighbors and co-workers are reading what they say, they have to be more accountable.

This isn’t punishment, and it’s certainly not to deny anyone’s free speech. It’s an invitation to come out of the closet.

The above are quotes from an article by Rekha Basu about civility in internet discussions: For civility, add names to opinions. Ms. Basu, a columnist on the Des Moines Register, writes about some pretty complex topics, including human rights, racial and gender issues. You can imagine that she gets some pretty nasty comments on her column. For years, she’s been discussing with her editors what to do to encourage more civil conversation, and has found something to try. Comments on her column will now only be allowed through Facebook. She’ll still get some nasty comments, I’m sure, but I’d be surprised if this change didn’t greatly improve the quality of discussion.

We’ve been pretty lucky here at Biofortified to have gotten only a few nasty comments, and the editors have only gotten a few nasty emails. Things aren’t going so well on Grist and many other sites. Biofortified isn’t going to start requiring real names, at least for now, but I would like to ask commenters to pause for a moment before clicking “Submit” on a comment. Remember that the people you’re entering into the discussion are real people just like you.

Gina Trapani, editor of Lifehacker. Image via Gina's website.

Lifehacker editor Gina Trapani has some great commenting guidelines that all of us, no matter our opinions on genetic engineering or anything else, should take a moment to read. She begins:

Leaving a comment on someone’s weblog is like walking into their living room and joining in on a conversation. As in real life, online there are some people who are a pleasure to converse with, and some who are not. Good blog commenters add to the discussion and are known as knowledgeable, informative, friendly and engaged.

Let’s listen to these two smart women and work towards having more meaningful discussions. Who’s with me?

h/t Francis Thicke who posted the column on Facebook.

Follow Anastasia Bodnar:
Anastasia is Policy Director of Biology Fortified, Inc. and the Co-Executive Editor of the Biofortified Blog. She has a PhD in genetics with a minor in sustainable agriculture from Iowa State University. Her favorite produce is artichokes!