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.
Readership Capture, mm. Readership Capture. And she completely glossed over pseudonymity.
If only the internet had an ombudsman.
People can be assholes? I never knew that.
Thanks, Julie Zhuo! Your work into human studies is invaluable!
Snarki, child of Loki
Accountability? Great idea!
How about we put the architects of the Iraq war on trial, then. Starting with the lying politicians, and continuing with their media cheerleaders. There’s 100’s of thousands of innocents to avenge, so capital punishment should be part of the mix.
No? Then STFU.
Hmmm, I wonder if Facebook has any sort of service that would do that for you?
It’s very easy for people to be repulsive. And the internets gave those cretins an easy open portal for their cancer. But they get to walk away from it all, cleansed and feeling good at the pain and hurt they caused, their cowardly masks in place. It’s like some Stephen King novel. Except the shambling and shuffling is real.
Jay in Oregon
Penny Arcade nailed this back in 2004:
@Jay in Oregon: I love the equation on the board: 2+3=cats. So true.
Anonymity also makes it harder for Facebook to sell your personal information.
Sounds like more work for the police state! Let’s see legislation, I’m sure the CongressCritters could come together quickly for this one and the press would be right by their side cheer leading the effort, that would require all site owners to personally vouch for the authenticity of all posters. It’s a win-win for Congress – it will mean business for security firms; a shut down in open discourse because insiders will no longer be around to expose dirty laundry; and, more expenses for upstarts leaving the upper-crust information monopolies in place.
Practicing your First Amendment carries a lot of responsibilities, bitches!
Thanks Julie, I’m surprised that someone that works at Facebook is unaware that most forums and comments have community moderation built in nowadays, and have for years. Real scum on the internet is getting harder to find, even if trolls aren’t. I think trolls will never leave because they’re easy fodder most of the time, and commenters have fun swinging their troll swords around. That’s why ED used to get soooo many comments in his first couple of posts.
Actually, on second thought, i’m not surprised in the least that someone at Facebook doesn’t know about internet forum features implemented 3 years ago. Seriously, facebook is a crappy crappy stopgap that is used by most people because thats where people are.
Belafon (formerly anonevent)
So many things that applies to, yet so few people understand it.
@Snarki, child of Loki:
I’m down with this.
However, I’d just like to say that my IRL persona really does not differ from my online one. I am outspoken, sometimes obnoxious, and have no trouble calling out assholes whenever and wherever I find them. It’s probably why people IRL tell me I’m intimidating. And by people, I mean usually men.
It takes an immense amount of chutzpah for an exec from a service that makes its money by flogging off its users’ information to the highest bidder to launch a whine about anonymity.
There have been assholes and trolls since the days of phoning into a BBS over a 300 baud modem. Stating that we should promote accountability as a means of stopping trolls is like saying that we should promote accountability to make people stop cutting each other off on the freeway. It sounds nice but it reveals a profound ignorance of human nature in general and trollish nature in particular.
Trolls are a part of the quality of engagement on this site. This is the fucking internet – not a 17th century French salon.
mistermix smells bad.
I blog pseudonymously for a number of reasons, including the fact that I like the freedom to say “fuck” in the company of fellow adults and would rather not have my 12-year-old child Google mommy’s name and read the word “fuck.” I also run a business, and I have at least one client who sports a gigantic portrait of Ronald Reagan on his office wall. I’d rather not have him Google me and find posts calling his hero a morally bankrupt fuckwit.
Perhaps that’s cowardly of me, but I see it as part of the continuum of tact where we pick and choose what we say to whom: I don’t say “fuck” in front of my grandmothers nor foist my political views on casual business acquaintances. Does that make me a hypocrite? I don’t think so. Since I don’t blog under multiple names, I believe I am accountable for what I say online under the internet handle I use.
One time, a person who happens to post under his real name stirred up some shit at my primary blog home, and when called on it and subjected to ridicule for things he’d posted on his blog, he accused us of cowardice for posting pseudonymously. His opinion, whatever, no harm done. But then he threatened to hunt down our real identities online and out us. I consider that person a malignant troll, even if he does post under his own goddamn name. So much for anonymity = asshole.
Let me state for the record that I am probably more pleasant online than in real life, where I count being short-tempered and anti-social actually my better qualities.
I whole heartedly agree, anonymity is such a bad thing, it does not allow for proper real life stalking of anyone that disagrees with you in even the slightest way.
Israel! Solicialized Medicine! Gun Control! Nabokov! And… DOUGJ!
Anonymity is one of the Internet’s best features.
I think they had trolls in 17th-century French salons. And I mean actual trolls.
There was a time on the interwebs when the Trolls were a respected group. Those that had the gift of humorous rhetoric, pithy commentary, snarky bloviations and gawd given ability to flame.
Now days they are just ranting witless dweebs who think writing something cruel on the facebook page of a suicide victim to be the height of their *art*.
The web ruined the internet.
@PopeRatzy: What happened was that the respectable trolls got their own web sites.
Trolls don’t sink into oblivion–they generally need to be bludgeoned or banned. That is, the writer is talking about interaction on social networks (including blogs and such) as if it’s a process of nature; it’s not.
What Matt said @9. Facebook’s wet dream is to have everyone’s real identity nailed down. We’ve seen it on here before; if you’re not paying for it, you’re not the customer, you’re the product. Reliable real names make their product better. So of course one of their VPs thinks that this is a great idea; she doesn’t GAS that someone’s getting harrassed on teh intarwebs, she wants to make more money.
To dovetail this into the last WoW discussion, Blizzard wanted to try this a few months ago by tying your customer identification (RealID) to your forum posts and your toons, ostensibly for the same reason. There was rioting in the virtual streets, and they backed away from it.
All I know is that I decided to abandon pseudonymity as a check against some jerky behavior I was exhibiting in online forums. For me it just seems like a better policy to assume that anything I say online could come back to haunt me and then just make it explicit. Except in a couple instances over the years since I’ve made the switch, I think it’s mainly kept my temper in check and caused me to take a few deep breaths before posting a raging screed.
So I’m a believer in the civility brought on by using your real name online.
However, I do oppose forcing people to use their real names… as some sort of cure-all to people being jerks… for the reasons mentioned by mistermix, and since a lot of people have some legit reasons to keep that kind of info secret. I suspect though, that in the not too distant future the idea of keeping your online persona distinct from your RL one will be a head scratcher.
Phoenician in a time of Romans
Well, screw that. I used to post under my real name; I switched to semi-anonymity after:
(i) Some american idiot started publicly soliciting to pay someone in my country to “punch my nose in”.
(ii) Another idiot wrote to my employer’s IT dept complaining about my political opinions. They came to me laughing over that email… I suspect that if my boss had been emailed, she would have congratulated me for being myself.
The Moar You Know
Trolling is the only reason I still bother with the internet – 99% of the time, they’re the only people with anything interesting to say.
Don’t want your feelings hurt? Don’t want nooses on your Failbook page if your little angel hangs herself for not getting enough special attention? Unplug the fucker and go outside, get some fresh air, work off that lardass you’ve been building up. Nobody is forcing anybody to be on the internet.
I saw that this in this morning’s IHT along with David F. Brooks’ butthurt over the diplomatic leaks. Maybe we can pay for internet policing via a modem tax.
That woman and the people she represents must have enough enriched stupid to make a bomb.
You know, when I read about someone proposing a policy to wreck the internet for their convenience, I feel better about someone using the internet to make a hash out of global policies.
Next on the New York Times op-ed page: an oil executive explains to us all why wind and solar power suck.
Zhuo is just shilling for the philosophy that happens to coincide with Facebook’s business model. I’m not saying she doesn’t believe it, but the conflict of interest here is pretty fucking obvious. But apparently not to the NYT.
@The Moar You Know:
That shit’s just uncalled for.
The only thing this piece is missing? Several quotes from senior administration officials on deep background.
When I started college in the early 80’s CSU Stanislaus was hooked up to ARPNET. It was the precursor of the current net. You could talk to Lawrence Livermore Labs, the UC’s & many other (primarily) colleges. It was supposed to be for sharing data.
Even then though, there was Alt.Flame even in those prehistoric internet days. No, trolls have always been there. Trolls will always be there. That hasn’t changed.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with anonymyity or pseudonymity. Those principles can even allow a more free and open discussion to occur. However, Teddy Roosevelt talked about the difference between the critic and the man in the arena. Online anonymyity or pseudonymity now allows the critic to step into the arena while shielding him or herself from the burdens, dangers and responsibilities of doing so.
Dude in Princeton
This thread has the best comments I’ve read on this site. Too many good ones to acknowledge.
Agreed. Moderator’s policy and social pressure ought to take care of that. Otherwise, git the gubmint outta my blog!
@MBunge: How so? The way I understood Roosevelt’s quote (if we’re talking about the same one) is that words are no substitute for action. That’s certainly just as true if the speaker is speaking under his or her own name or a fake one.
I knew it would come up, so YES, my actual name is Bnut. My parents hated me.
Do any other posters use unordered lists? Because this is the first time I’ve noticed the custom bullet, and I kind of love it.
I saw that op-ed. You know why I *don’t* have a Facebook? Because I have a Livejournal, which gives me the ability to keep up with my RL friends _and_ post all the Star Wars porn I want without potential employers finding me.
Also, if someone is that worried about trolls, they can read this piece on how to moderate comment threads and get themselves a disemvoweller. Or at least a pair of flame-proof underwear.
Then there is the litigious nature of some of the more thin skinned of the web. For example:
A lawyer was slandered by a Troll (on USENET) using an anonymous remailer and the using the name of a 3rd person. So the lawyer filed a lawsuit against multiple parties, including the 3rd person named, for the slander even though he knew the defendants were not responsible for the slander. His purpose was to get back at the trolls who had made fun of him and his antics and to get default judgments. His mistake was he believed that the trolls were not the engineers, scientists and professors that they claimed to be and would therefore be unable to afford the cost of defending themselves. The results have been expensive for some but will most likely be quite expensive for the lawyer given the results and rulings as the case made its way from NJ state courts to the Federal courts. The lawyer has not had even one ruling go his way.
@Betty Cracker: Because someone speaking under a fake name isn’t actually in the arena, the political arena in this case. Anybody can say anything, things they don’t really believe, things they don’t live by and/or things that sound great in theory but turn to shit in practice. They don’t have stand behind the things they say and, I believe, feel more free to shoot their mouths off about subjects on which they’re uneducated or ignorant.
All of which also happens when people speak under their real names, of course, but I think such behavior increases the less people feel accountable/responsible for what they say.
@MBunge: I see what you’re saying. I guess I’ve just never felt like bloggers and those who comment are really “in the arena” either, not in the same sense the people we discuss are. I’m sure none of the political figures I comment on are even faintly aware of my existence.
Awhile back at Tbogg’s place, Tbogg ridiculed something dumb a Mediaite columnist said, and the columnist came over to the blog and called Tbogg a coward for criticizing him anonymously. I guess that might be an example of a situation where the Mediaite dude was “in the arena” whereas Tbogg is not, and yet they did battle head-to-head. On the other hand, the Mediaite guy gets paid for his blather. Tbogg just entertains us for free, and a hell of a lot better than the Mediaite guy.
Regardless of her argument, Julie Zhuo (if that is her real name) is kinda hot.
Thanks for mentioning this awful, disingenuous Op-Ed. She seems to have no appreciation for the beneficial aspects of anonymity. I’m thinking of people who have drugs or health problems, or closeted gay teens, or battered women in hiding. Anonymity is pretty key there, even if it doesn’t fit FB’s
grabbing everyone’s personal info to sellbusiness model.
And as she’s calling for everyone else to give up their privacy and anonymity and be transparent, right next to her on the page is Bobo Brooks appalled by Wikileaks, demanding “filters”, so our masters can continue cloaked in secrecy. Transparency for the little people, masks and secrecy for the powerful. Thanks, NYT! Great ideas.
Michael E Sullivan
One thing that I see missed in these discussions about “anonymity” online is that there is a big difference between aliased and anonymous. Truly anonymous is a comment or post that has no tag to associate it with any entity. Aliased is a person or group of people who have chosed to go by a particular name. Digby and mistermix are aliases. Some people may know your real name, or maybe anybody who cares to figure it out can know, but you don’t have to know a person’s registered name for their to be accountability. Only fully anonymous or “legion of sockpuppet” posts don’t involve accountability.
It’s certain true that one can abandon an alias, but one can also change one’s name. And depending on the kind of representation and web infrastructure one has under an alias, it may be more work to abandon the alias than the name.
The one accountability legal names give is that their changes can be tracked by law enforcement. Yet with very few exceptions, what internet trolls do is almost impossible to enforce against in court anyway. The kinds of things a person can be guilty of purely from online actions: slander/libel, stalking, incitement are notoriously difficult to prove effectively.
I do think that having a number of truly anonymous commenters generally is more work for the moderator to keep a discussion positive and civil than disallowing them. But what most people who don’t participate in online community very much often fail to understand is that widely used or long-standing aliases are not appreciably less accountable than legal names for any practical or legitimate purpose. (Getting somebody fired for what they do on th enet is not, IMO, a legitimate kind of accountability)
How about this compromise: I get to keep having political opinions that my clients may not agree with, and discuss them with my imaginary friends at leisure. And Julie gets to find an income stream that doesn’t rely on aggregating and selling other people’s personal data FIRST, then get published by the NYT telling us to give up our pseudonyms to make trolls act nicely.
Julie, I have towels older than you. In the 25 years I’ve been netting I’ve observed that there are plenty of jackasses inside the lightbox. Yes, recent events in libel law have demonstrated that online asses have a playground to be jerks. What would solve that is closing the loophole in the DCMA that allows the few at sites like ripoffrrport to profit handsomely from publishing unsubstantiated libel. The asshats who aren’t making a dime will never go away completely. But under current law, getting Google to pay you for each click to provide a location for online libel is just fine…now that’s a prblem Facebook won’t make a dime from addressing.