A Facebook exec has a long essay in the Times that trots out the whole anonymity on the Internet discussion, which goes like this:
- Trolls can be real assholes:
After Alexis Pilkington, a 17-year-old Long Island girl, committed suicide earlier this year, trolls descended on her online tribute page to post pictures of nooses, references to hangings and other hateful comments.
- Let me quote Plato to prove that trolls troll because they’re anonymous, even though invisibility isn’t quite the same as anonymity, because my college education was expensive and Mom and Dad need to know I got something out of it:
Even in the fourth century B.C., Plato touched upon the subject of anonymity and morality in his parable of the ring of Gyges.
- I know, let’s use real names, that will solve everything:
Content providers, social networking platforms and community sites must also do their part by rethinking the systems they have in place for user commentary so as to discourage — or disallow — anonymity.
- Oh, wait, some people will be assholes using their real name:
Others point out that there’s no way to truly rid the Internet of anonymity. After all, names and e-mail addresses can be faked. And in any case many commenters write things that are rude or inflammatory under their real names.
(Those pesky “others” ruin all my good arguments.)
- I guess we need to do some actual fucking work to deal with assholes:
Well-designed commenting systems should also aim to highlight thoughtful and valuable opinions while letting trollish ones sink into oblivion.
- But, I still don’t like anonymity, so I’ll stick it in the laundry list of things that actually work:
Instead of waiting around for human nature to change, let’s start to rein in bad behavior by promoting accountability. Content providers, stop allowing anonymous comments. Moderate your comments and forums. Look into using comment services to improve the quality of engagement on your site. Ask your users to report trolls and call them out for polluting the conversation.
I’m pretty sure that I’ve been on the Internet since “Julie Zhuo” (if that’s her real name) was in diapers, and I’ve seen shitty online communities that use real names, and good ones that don’t. The differentiator is the hard work, thought and careful oversight of the site owner, not anonymity.