Here's to Anonymity Online
I recall when my local paper, Florida Today, married its online comments to Facebook. Previously, readers could log-on separately (or via Facebook), allowing them to create pseudonyms before sharing their thoughts on local news stories, politics, and other divisive issues. Now, we have to link to our Facebook pages. I have no idea how that's affected the number of comments. I'd imagine the quality has increased, in that trolls have dropped. But I know I very rarely post any more, and only do so when I'm clearly in the majority -- a local coach is arrested for child abuse, for example, or someone locks a dog in a hot car. I will never post about politics, church topics, or something else where I risk hurting a neighbor's feelings or getting drawn into a flame war. It's not worth it.
In that way, Florida Today (and Facebook) have lessened meaningful debate. I (and other friends) can't deal with the expected vitriol so we just drop out of online discussions if Facebook is part of the equation.