A recent study found that website comment sections tied to Facebook usually have more civil discussions than anonymous comment sections. Or, put another way, comment trolls don't want their Facebook friends to see how awful they are.
Ian Rowe of the University of Kent compared the comments left on Washington Post politics articles, both the anonymous comments left on the website and the profile-linked comments left on the site's Facebook page. Perhaps not surprisingly, there were more "uncivil and impolite" — as in, trolly and rude — comments left on the Post's website than on Facebook. The Post was also where commenters were more inclined to (anonymously) attack each other.
Negative Facebook comments, meanwhile, were more like to be non-interpersonal, or used to articulate an argument. So instead of "politicsgirl39, ur an idiot &socialist for liking obama," a comment might just have read "anyone who likes obama is an idiot &socialist." This small study found that nearly half (46.6 percent) of the uncivil and impolite comments left on the Post's website were directed at an individual, while less that a quarter of the remarks on Facebook targeted a fellow commenter. So trolls will still troll, but Facebook made things a little less nasty.
Surprisingly, only six percent and 2.7 percent of the sampled website and Facebook comments, respectively, were negative at all. Stereotyping was the most common form of "uncivil," with the study giving this comment as an example (though we've seen worse):
Flori-duh is about the dumbest state I have ever lived in. People do not know how to vote because they do not read newspapers or pay attention to the news. They stand in line for voting just to take time off of work.
While we may never live in a world where people stop making fun of Florida, it's reassuring to have hard proof that taking away anonymity improves the quality of comment sections. As we noted in August, writers and websites have been either working to fix comment sections or abandon them all together. It is worth noting how last month Popular Science shut down their comments section because, as they put it, "the cynical work of undermining bedrock scientific doctrine is now being done beneath our own stories, within a website devoted to championing science." Maybe you can only muddle through so many debates on the validity of climate change before you pull the plug.