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.