Iâ€™ve seen vitriolic responses on HN on several occasion. I mostly get hammered on HN if I write about a controversial topic like criticizing Apple (in fact, what prompted me to write this post today was that I was asked on Twitter to write a post about Facebook. I have been avoiding it because I wasnâ€™t up for the inevitable public pummeling this week). [...]
In fact, I was reluctant to write this post because I know itâ€™s likely to lead to the inevitable bashing on HackerNews, which unfortunately also spills over into hate emails that some people from HN send me personally (no prizes for guessing my email address).
His suggested fixes include:
1. Make all users post under real names that you verify â€” This in and of itself would help temper comments. Itâ€™s totally acceptable to me for people to harshly criticize my points-of-view. No problem. But calling me a f***ing a**hole or some of the other epithets used goes too far. If people used real names and if these were crawlable and searchable in Google the transparency alone would help regulate people. Not everybody but many. HackerNews doesnâ€™t need to be JuicyCampus.
Better still add photos the was Disqus and Quora do. It humanizes everybody and drives more civil conversation. As Paul said in his blog posting, â€œdonâ€™t say anything in a comment thread that you wouldnâ€™t say in person.â€ Photos drives this closer to reality.
No. No no and again no.
Strong moderation is possible without compromising anonymity or pseudonymity. And Suster’s suggestion of requiring real/verified names can actually worsen the situation for some people. Suster quotes Paul Graham, saying, “Don’t say anything in a comment thread that you wouldn’t say in person,” but that sounds like the voice of someone who’s never received abuse or harassment in person. People aren’t ashamed or afraid to make abusive comments under their own names, and the necessity of using real/verified names will only exclude those who don’t want abusive comments to follow them back to their own email inboxes (as Suster himself experienced) or worse, their homes or workplaces.
Suster and Graham may not have noticed (they’re not the target audiences, after all), but women online are regularly admonished to use pseudonyms to protect themselves. Many websites with a culture of pseudonymity — LiveJournal and derivative sites are an example — have a very high proportion of female members, perhaps in part because of the sense of privacy and security that pseudonymity brings. A site which requires real/verified names is automatically flagging itself as a potentially/probably unsafe space for women, or for anyone else at risk of harassment, violence, job discrimination, and the like.
People sometimes speak as if pseudonymity is the same as anonymity, or suggest that pseudonymity is nothing more than a way to avoid accountability for one’s words. It’s not. Persistent pseudonyms (those used over many years and perhaps across multiple sites) can accrue social capital and respect just as “real” names can, and be subject to the same social pressures towards civil behaviour if the community has a strong culture of respect. Without a culture of respect, real names won’t help. With it, real names won’t matter.