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Note to Advocate.com Readers: We're Dispensing With the Internet Closet 

Note to Advocate.com Readers: We're Dispensing With the Internet Closet 

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Dear Advocate.com readers,

I want to draw your attention to an experimental new feature on some of our story pages: commenting with Facebook Connect. It's a way to employ a new Facebook plugin to change the way you can comment on story pages, and it's one of the many exciting changes that our web editor Lucas Grindley has implemented to improve your online experience. (And he has many more exciting changes in store for you, too.)

We're in the experimental phase of implementing this feature, so we're looking to you to try it out and let us know how it enhances or diminishes your experience on Advocate.com.

Let's discuss how it works, then we'll get to why we feel it's a good move for Advocate.com and for you.

If you're logged into Facebook, you'll be able to comment on stories on Advocate.com without jumping through any additional authentication hoops. No need to type out a captcha code, no need to log in, no need to provide an email address. It's faster and easier, and we delight in finding ways to improve the site's ease of use.

You'll also notice a checkbox asking if you'd like to post your comment to Facebook. Leave it checked and the comment will post on your wall. Uncheck it, and it will only show up on Advocate.com. In a function unique to Facebook Comments, if a friend replies to the comment posted to your Facebook wall, that reply will also appear on the Advocate.com story page comment thread -- so the discussion continues in both places. It's a very cool function that we anticipate will promote dialogue.

Now, the why. Discourse is vital to our freedom and to our rights. As LGBTs we're not of one mind, and a rich and lively discussion is integral to understanding the news, politics, and cultural stories of importance to us. I cannot imagine how much further back our fight for rights would be if we didn't exercise the freedom to gather and discuss the issues of the day. And now this vital discourse often happens online, with participants sometimes a world away from one another.

But not all comments are worthwhile. Some are uselessly off-topic, but more worryingly, many are hateful. If you've read Advocate.com for any length of time, you've seen the trolls and have read their cruel and vindictive comments. This has presented a problem for me as I am reluctant to censor reader comments, generally feeling that a whole lot of good (freedom of expression) comes with some of the bad (malicious comments). We've long maintained a light touch, only pulling down threatening comments or those that would violate someone's privacy.

Web anonymity can foster brutality, and this brand of negative commenting can be a disheartening and off-putting experience for well-meaning users, even those who disagree with one another and are poised for a lively debate. Facebook Comments offers a solution there, as your name and profile image will appear next to your comment. The general consensus is this is a troll killer.

Doubtlessly this will raise questions about the anonymity that many of our readers felt was necessary in the past. We've had a robust discussion internally about potential losses in interactivity if readers can no longer post comments anonymously. Were those readers closeted? Were they fearful of the online equivalent of getting our magazine in the mail without the opaque wrapper -- of having the postal carrier see your gay magazine? Will readers go to other web publications if they cannot comment without being identified?

But I invariably come down on the side of openness. I firmly believe that being out -- as an LGBT person, or as an equal rights supporter -- is a fundamentally positive thing. Being out is the most important thing we can do for ourselves and for future generations of LGBT people. So we're doing our part to dispense with the Internet closet. Additionally, I have no desire to make this site a venue for hate speech.

What do you think of this development? Please take the opportunity to let us know how you feel by commenting here -- and be on the lookout for this function rolling out on story pages, gradually at first.If you would like to comment on this article without using the Facebook commenting function, please send us an email at feedback@advocate.com.

Matthew Breen

Editor In Chief, The Advocate

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