Too much, too easy anonymity is a bad thing

I just stumbled across this post from Kevin Kelly on the dangers of anonymity.

However in every system that I have seen where anonymity becomes common, the system fails. The recent taint in the honor of Wikipedia stems from the extreme ease which anonymous declarations can be put into a very visible public record. Communities infected with anonymity will either collapse, or shift the anonymous to pseudo-anonymous, as in eBay, where you have a traceable identity behind an invented nickname. Or voting, where you can authenticate an identity without tagging it to a vote.

Anonymity is like a rare earth metal. These elements are a necessary ingredient in keeping a cell alive, but the amount needed is a mere hard-to-measure trace. In larger does these heavy metals are some of the most toxic substances known to a life. They kill. Anonymity is the same. As a trace element in vanishingly small doses, it’s good for the system by enabling the occasional whistleblower, or persecuted fringe. But if anonymity is present in any significant quantity, it will poison the system.

There’s a dangerous idea circulating that the option of anonymity should always be at hand, and that it is a noble antidote to technologies of control. This is like pumping up the levels of heavy metals in your body into to make it stronger.

For the, it’s not enough just to confirm an e-mail address — identity is important. Even if you will not require (or try to) real identity, there should be a mechanism for enforcing some sort of identity, even if it’s persona-identity, but even then, it should be traceable to a real-world person.

Communities built around anonymity eventually lack cohesion.

I started down the Kevin Kelly path this morning because of this post on “Better than Free.”  Kelly’s point is that in a world where free copies are abundant, economic value is derived from other factors.  In context of this issue, a that makes trust/transparency, authenticity/authority part of its brand promise (which goes hand-in-hand with requiring identity from contributors), then it is building value — a competitive advantage into its online efforts.

More on Keven Kelly here. His personal site starts here.

Previously: Real identity helps foster healthy communities.

The growing case against anonymity on the web

As I’ve said before, I believe newspaper web sites have a civic obligation to do their best to require contributors to post under their real identity.

Here’s a guest post on Ypluse about the problems with anonymity online.

I think I’d easily trade what’s left of my privacy for some major strides forward in eliminating abuse of anonymity. I say this as a person who truly resents the intrusion on my privacy. I just don’t know what to do anymore.

I believe in free speech. I think we ought to be allowed to say whatever we want to whoever we want. But if we’re not backing that up with our identity, it’s not fair to anyone on the other side of the conversation. We can say whatever we want, and go much further than manners allow. ….

I say this as a person who has kept a blog for seven years hidden under a pseudonym.

But I don’t know how much longer we can live in the wild west.

Anonymity is great in certain cases, but those cases probably should be rarer than we think. Anonymity is easy and it feels good, but maybe it’s something we’re growing out of. Bullying and abuse are not okay, and we’re seeing more of it everyday.

UPDATE: I’ll add this: Identity and profiles help add context. As this post points out, in absence of context, many people fill in the blanks with base assumptions, which leads to insults and invective.

To wit: When you “meet” someone in Halo online, you have only two indicators of who they are — their gamer tag and their voice. You never see their face, you probably don’t know where they’re from (unless you look at their profile), and you don’t know their age. Your competitors are probably from an entirely different city, state, or nation. Faced with this absence of context, people rely on the basest of psychological tropes, i.e., homophobia. How else to deny the sameness of the other than by inverting his/her sexuality.

UPDATE II: Tim D’Avis, in the comments, leaves a link to an interview with one of the founders of The Well, an early digital community.

Brand: Yes and no. I mean, one thing that we insisted on was no anonymity. And lots of the systems out there now like anonymity or encourage it, or individuals absolutely hold out for it. Personally, I would have preferred to see it go the other way. Not so much on the … I mean, The Well’s compromise is pretty good, I think, which is that people can have whatever amusing handle they wanted, but it was linked and it was linked publicly to a real person. That gave the accountability I wanted, which is, I knew that flame wars would go over unless somebody’s nose was identifiable so that if necessary, you could go punch their nose. And they would know that, and you would know that, and that would slightly ameliorate the otherwise extreparous (sp?) behavior. What it did probably, in reality, was connect cyberspace with real space a little better because you always had the sense there were real people and real places behind whatever they were doing online.

The opportunity for local newspapers to build online communities that lead to real-world affiliations is another reason to have some connection to real identity. It’s also another reason not to outsource your community building to Topix.