Does anonymity cut down on trolls or community?

11 Mar

Troll in the dungeon, er comments.

Slate‘s Farhad Manjoo recently wrote a piece called Troll, Reveal Thyself in which he makes the case for ending the practice of anonymous commenters on the internet.  His argument can be summed up by saying that requiring people to post comments under their true identity leads to less trolling and an overall higher standard of commentary and discussion.  Generally, I agree.  And, it seems like most of Slate’s commenters (the majority of whom log in via Facebook, thus sharing their identity) do as well.

Farhad briefly spoke to the idea that some parts of the internet are best used anonymously.  “I’m not calling for constant transparency. If you’re engaging in private behavior—watching a movie online, posting a dating profile, gambling, or doing anything else that the whole world shouldn’t know about—I support and celebrate your right to anonymity. But posting a comment is a public act.”

And that’s where he and I disagree.  Unfortunately I believe that their are whole realms of the internet ( not the tech blogs and news sites that Farhad covers) , where forced anonymity in commenting would destroy community and the sense of belonging that people find there.

Here’s the comment that I,using my real identity via by Facbeook credentials, posted in response:

Generally, I agree with Farhad that tying comments to identity leads to higher quality commenting. But, I think that there are some topics that are better explored anonymously. A lot of people use the internet to reach out to communities and to discover parts of themselves that they are not yet comfortable with admitting to themselves, let alone the rest of the world.

I wrote my thesis on fanfiction and fan communities on the internet. So many teenagers use them as places to explore their identity, particularly their sexuality. With the stigmas that can be associated with having any sort of non-heterosexual gender orientation, requiring verifiable identity would rob young people (and some older people, too) of a place to find themselves without worrying about negative reactions from parents, friends, etc.

Online communities and message boards can also be a great way for people coping with eating disorders or weight issues to connect and to explore their thoughts and feelings. I’ve recently spent a lot of time exploring the Healthy At Every Size community. While the community has visible (non-anonymous) leadership, it seems that a lot of the people who are participating on the margins and trying to come to terms with their body would be driven to lurking if their real identity was required for their participation. After all, who wants all of their Facebook friends to know that they’re having body image issues?

No responses on Slate yet.  (It’s only been up a few minutes.)


Update: Apparently my comment went over rather well on Slate.  Two people liked it (which almost never happens there) and someone posted this:

As other commenters have pointed out, the adage about not saying anything you’d be ashamed to say in front of your mom doesn’t only apply to obscene, hateful, or rude speech – it often applies to personal or intimate topics that aren’t necessarily inappropriate for a public forum or comments section.

2 Responses to “Does anonymity cut down on trolls or community?”

  1. Anonymous March 12, 2011 at 4:15 am #

    Just trolling, nothing to see here.

  2. Marty / Dad March 14, 2011 at 4:20 pm #

    Very thoughtful. I totally agree with your position.

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