Tag Archives: anonymity

g+-real-names

“Real”/legal name communities behave better: where’s the evidence?

This is something I asked in comments here the other day:

So I think at this point we ideally would turn to research: how do people perceive the quality of communities on the real name required/encouraged/discouraged/forbidden axis and is this perception linked with or overwhelmed by their minority/exceptional/marginalised status in that community? Because it’s fairly clear by now that many people who personally have better perceived experiences with real names will universalise based on their own experience, and possibly people who prefer pseudonyms likewise (although pro-pseuds-allowed people don’t to me seem to turn it into pro-no-real-names-allowed as much).

Suw Charman makes a similar point:

I’d like to see the evidence that using real names changes people’s behaviour that much. Whenever I’ve been trolled/stalked online, it’s been by people using their real name. Dicks will, sadly, be dicks whether pseudonymously or eponymously. Whenever I bring this point up, people always point to 4Chan as an example of the sort of negative place that springs up when people are pseudonymous or anonymous. But 4Chan is a small corner of the web, and they are vastly outnumbered by all the pseudonymous people elsewhere that act perfectly nicely.

The ‘anonymity/pseudonymity = trollish behaviour’ meme has been doing the rounds for years, but it’s just not that simple. And it’s especially not that simple when the easy way to get round it is to use a pseudonym that looks ‘normal’ to Western eyes.

Are people aware of better-than-anecdotal evidence in either direction, that there’s a connection between permitted or encouraged pseudonymity and a decrease in civility or an increase in harassment? Or the other way around?

Note: when I say “better than anecdotal” I mean better than anecdotal. Comments along the lines of “well I don’t think I know of any evidence, but I have this anecdote/opinion that I really want to share” will be summarily deleted or possibly replaced with pictures of cranky cats.

Note 2: let me be even clearer (in response to stuff in moderation). What I want is data. Maybe not superb quality data, maybe self-selected or limited demographic or small sample or similar (obviously the better the quality of the data and the analysis the more convincing the research), but “my experience as a forum moderator” and “my friends’ experience online” is anecdote. I don’t have something against anecdotes in general—they are crucial in understanding lived experience—but in this thread I am asking for research.

(Tangent: I am hopeless at starting memes, but my G+ Share this if you’ve been harassed online by someone(s) using their legal name prominently in their email headers/profile/etc. is the second most successful ever, with 32 reshares.)

Another round of “real names will solve everything”, Blizzard edition

Via everyone everywhere, Blizzard’s (developer of World of Warcraft and the Starcraft and Diablo franchises) game discussion forums are the latest online forum to come up with the bright idea to make everything all better by requiring people to use their legal names.

Here’s their forum announcement:

Recently, we introduced our new Real ID feature – http://www.battle.net/realid/ , a new way to stay connected with your friends on the new Battle.net. Today, we wanted to give you a heads up about our plans for Real ID on our official forums, discuss the design philosophy behind the changes we’re making, and give you a first look at some of the new features we’re adding to the forums to help improve the quality of conversations and make the forums an even more enjoyable place for players to visit.

The first and most significant change is that in the near future, anyone posting or replying to a post on official Blizzard forums will be doing so using their Real ID — that is, their real-life first and last name — with the option to also display the name of their primary in-game character alongside it… the forums have also earned a reputation as a place where flame wars, trolling, and other unpleasantness run wild. Removing the veil of anonymity typical to online dialogue will contribute to a more positive forum environment, promote constructive conversations, and connect the Blizzard community in ways they haven’t been connected before.

Links abound:

  • Blake: Blizzard Wants The World To Know Your Name: This is an important issue, because names carry markers of gender, ethnicity and real-world relationships that may be irrelevant to someone’s game play, but open up the possibility of harassment. It also makes it easier for harassers to follow people beyond the internet, making it a matter of personal safety. I find Blizzard’s decision unfortunate in every possible way.
  • everstar: WoW Fail: That means every post you make will have the name linked with your account published. On a public forum. Where everyone can see it. If you want to ask a question in their Customer Service forum, if you want to post a Bug Report, if you want to talk to other people in your realm, the name associated with your account will be displayed. And it’s supposed to be your real name. (via hoydenabouttown on Twitter)
  • Lodur (semi-supportive), Real ID on Blizzard forums, the good and the bad (via James in the linkspam): Some are concerned for their safety. They fear stalkers and real life harassment and fallout from the forums following them into real life. As a person who has worked in internet security for a long time, I can tell you the chances of this are pretty slim.
  • Miss Medicina, And I Didn’t Even Catch Her Name… : Being a WoW gamer is not exactly a mark of prestige in my field. It would not be a hobby that worked in my favor, but in fact, more than likely the opposite… The people who work at Blizzard don’t have to worry about their future employers knowing how much time they spent on the WoW forums.
  • Apple: Real ID, RP, and why only one person gets to have mine and RealID Forums (via James)
  • Chastity, Seriously Not Okay (via James): It is a common misconception that trolling is caused by anonymity. It is not. It is caused by people being assholes. Frequently, it is caused by people being racist asssholes or misogynist assholes or various other sorts of assholes who like to target people of a particular type.

See also wot Skud said.

Hacker News and pseudonymity

Mark Suster has a post about improving civility on YCombinator’s Hacker News:

I’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 wasn’t up for the inevitable public pummeling this week). [...]

In fact, I was reluctant to write this post because I know it’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 — This in and of itself would help temper comments. It’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 doesn’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, “don’t say anything in a comment thread that you wouldn’t say in person.†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.

There’s more about pseudonymity on the Geek Feminism Wiki.

The linkspam-whore dichotomy (17th May, 2010)

If you have links of interest, please share them in comments here, or if you’re a delicious user, tag them “geekfeminism†to bring them to our attention. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links in comments and on delicious.