More on nicks

In today’s NYT, an op-ed piece by Julie Zhuo of Facebook (“Where Anonymity Breeds Contempt”) about anonymity and trolling on the net, with this observation:

Psychological research has proven again and again that anonymity increases unethical behavior. Road rage bubbles up in the relative anonymity of one’s car. And in the online world, which can offer total anonymity, the effect is even more pronounced. People — even ordinary, good people — often change their behavior in radical ways. There’s even a term for it: the online disinhibition effect.

Zhuo goes on to discuss ways to combat the wicked consequences of anonymity, suggesting (no surprise) Facebook’s approach:

Content providers, social networking platforms and community sites must also do their part by rethinking the systems they have in place for user commentary so as to discourage — or disallow — anonymity. Reuters, for example, announced that it would start to block anonymous comments and require users to register with their names and e-mail addresses in an effort to curb “uncivil behavior.”

I’m dismayed to see that though I suggested in my “Nicks” posting that commenters on this blog who wanted to continue posting under a nick or with only their first name should sign their (whole) real name to their comments, no one seems to have taken me up on it. Trollish behavior has not been a problem on this blog — though it has on Language Log, where some of the LLoggers go to the trouble to hand-delete inflammatory comments — but there are other good reasons, explained in my earlier posting, for commenters to be identifiable.




3 Responses to “More on nicks”

  1. Rick Sprague Says:

    As one of those who has recently commented without using my full name (I used Rick S), allow me to apologize, and explain. Enough time elapsed between your “Nicks” posting (Nov. 12) and my first subsequent comment (Nov. 24) that I had forgotten your request and simply left the value my browser pre-filled in the Name field of the reply form, which was the nick I had been using previously. This comment will correct that for the future (as indeed, posting a fully named comment is the only way to update the browser’s pre-fill function).

  2. irrationalpoint Says:

    As one of the commenter whose commenting habits have dismayed you, I guess I should explain why I didn’t take up your suggestion.

    I really like what you’re trying to do, and I wonder if there isn’t more middle ground here. The reason I use a pseudonym for my online activities is because I’d potentially otherwise be quite vulnerable through them. I blog extensively on political issues, but also on my experiences with disability, queerness, and other day-to-day stuff. The risks in my offline life for the plan you suggest are extremely high for me, and they’re not risks I am able to take in my current circumstances.

    In terms of using real names to anchor people in their real lives: my pseudonym links back to my personal blog as well as another blog I contribute to, and you could use it to trace the comments I leave here and elsewhere. I don’t change my pseudonym to leave different comments here, and I have not met you offline, so my pseudonym gives you as much information about my offline life as my real name does.

    So maybe there’s some middle ground here. If people can’t use their whole real name, maybe they can use a single (distinctive, so not just another “Anonymous”) nick and stick to it. Some bigger blogs use a registering process, which means you have to chose a nick, and encourages people using the same one every time, and maybe something like that would help with LLog.

    The points you make about difficult behaviour in commenting are important ones, and it’s certainly hard to know how to address that kind of behaviour constructively. On some progressive political blogs like Shakesville, the moderators have fostered a culture of making all the readers/commenters partly responsible for helping maintain a civil and progressive ethos. Other big blogs use heavy moderation, which as you note, that can be seriously energy/time draining. I’m not saying there are easy answers, but maybe this is something on which more dialogue could be useful. I think your approach has a lot of merit, but I’m just not able to use it myself in my current circumstances.

    I’m not sure if that helps. I’m not trying to be difficult and as I say, it may be that our approaches are not so orthogonal.

    Finally: I apologise for having used a commenting style that upsets you.


    • arnold zwicky Says:

      Dismay and upset are really too strong to describe my reactions. I do understand your reluctance to follow my suggestion — it was just a suggestion — and respect your reasons for it. And you’ve stuck to a single nick and commented often enough for readers to get a sense of what you’re like; you’ve got a history here and established a persona.

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