In a stunning policy shift, The Montana Standard, a daily newspaper in Butte, Montana, has decided to replace commenters' pseudonyms with their real names.
Starting Jan. 1, the company will retroactively unmask all of its commenters, unless they ask to remove their old posts "We have encountered consistent difficulty with posts that exceed the bounds of civil discourse -- as have many sites where comments from anonymous posters are allowed," the paper stated in a Nov. 12 editorial outlining the new real-name policy.
"As of Jan. 1, 2016, comments on mtstandard.com will no longer appear attributed to the writers’ user names, but rather to their actual names," the paper stated.
People who don't want their names attached to old comments have until Dec. 26 to request their comments' removal.
Montana Standard editor David McCumber says the paper is notifying people of the change online and in the printed edition. The paper also is sending emails to prior commenters, when it has valid email addresses.
"We fully expect to be able to reach all of our commenters," he tells MediaPost.
He adds that the paper decided to stop allowing anonymous comments due to their "corrosive nature."
Even though the company moderates posts, it still receives "a lot of comments that are very negative in nature about individuals," he says.
The paper's new policy has proven controversial among readers. So far, more than 100 have posted comments, many of them critical.
"This is the end of open and honest comments on this site," wrote one user who goes by the name BGF. "It is easy to put your name to your comments if you are retired. But it is another thing altogether if you have to worry about upsetting your peers and bosses at work."
"Comments published before the date of enactment of the policy were written with the implicit understanding that the rules in place allowed anonymous commentary," another user, Merthin, wrote. "It is not sufficient for the Standard to assume an affirmative consent by publishing this announcement."