Peter M Howard ::

wintermute.com.au

On Anonymity as Trolling

01December2010 [myth]
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Julie Zhou, a product design manager at Facebook, has an opinion piece on anonymity in the NY Times, being heavily linked around the web.

Morality, Plato argues, comes from full disclosure; without accountability for our actions we would all behave unjustly.

My first reaction was mere twitter-sized; it just looks like the NY Times are the next in a long line of people rediscovering GIFT (John Gabriel’s Greater Internet F***wad Theory). There’s nothing new here — it’s long been obvious that anonymity is responsible for the lion’s share of online trolling, and moreover, that that stems from human nature.

But when I noticed that Zhou writes from Facebook, the article became a whole lot more interesting, and my reading of it changed. Consider:

Instead of waiting around for human nature to change, let’s start to rein in bad behavior by promoting accountability. Content providers, stop allowing anonymous comments. Moderate your comments and forums. Look into using comment services to improve the quality of engagement on your site. Ask your users to report trolls and call them out for polluting the conversation.

In slowly lifting the veil of anonymity, perhaps we can see the troll not as the frightening monster of lore, but as what we all really are: human.

It seems that Facebook’s well documented disdain for privacy is being spun in a different way within those walls — they don’t want to out people, they want to prevent trolling. But this logic sees the “veil of anonymity” only as a bad thing — something that encourages bad behaviour. There’s no room in that world for people hiding behind the veil because they can’t be truely themselves in the real world, or because they genuinely fear being exposed. If it’s only Facebook, that’s one thing, but when they want to spread their worldview to other providers as well, people desiring anonymity will have few places left to hide.

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