Is it Time to End Anonymous Comments On The Internet?

Is it Time to End Anonymous Comments On The Internet?

With so much discussion over the supposed scourge of online bullying, many are beginning to wonder if we should prohibit anonymity on the internet. While the idea is outright ludicrous, Lance Ulanoff at Mashable makes some interesting points:


Ellen Pao is right. The trolls, those online idiots who harass, threaten and essentially ruin the Internet for everyone else seem, at times, almost unstoppable. What she neglects to mention in her thoughtful Washington Post op-ed is that there’s a simple, albeit painful, solution to this problem: End online anonymity.

Please, please, spare me all the privacy arguments. I know that each and every one of you is terrified that if your real names appear anywhere online, a cyber-crook will start wearing your identity like a cheap suit. Of course, you often forget that you’re sometimes complicit, in some fashion, in the crime: Answering phishing attack emails, using terrible passwords, not shredding your snail mail. Granted, sometimes the cyber thievery happens when hackers scoop up tons of private data on a third-party server.

Yes. This all happens. And I still want to end online anonymity – even if it does leave us a little more exposed online and, though not my objective, destroys Reddit.

Pao puts it perfectly when she writes in her op-ed,

“Reddit is the Internet, and it exhibits all the good, the bad and the ugly of the Internet.”

But is it a real reflection of society, which is really what the Internet should be and then, by extension, what we should expect of Reddit — the thing that’s supposed to be the Internet?

Reddit abusers

The once embattled interim-CEO who tried to change Reddit for the better described in her post the written abuse and threats she endured. I missed most of it on Reddit, so I decided to see how much of it still existed on the wildly popular “Front Page of the Internet.”

It wasn’t hard to dig up a lot of hateful stuff written about Pao, virtually all of it by Reddit members with clever and quizzical handles like Cynical_Doggie, QUINETY and thrw121. It was also clear that a lot of it had been removed and that some members had been banned for their behavior.

This became clearer as I stumbled upon more and more posts by members fearful they’d be banned just for posting in anti-Pao subreddits, even when they hadn’t said anything negative.

There is no way to know exactly who any of these people are. Reddit hosts user pages with Karma ratings and so-called “Trophy Cases” where the system displays user awards and whether or not the User has provided a verified email address.

One active poster in the “Ellen_Pao_Hate_Subreddit” had a Reddit Gold award, which actually means he pays Reddit $29.99 for a premium membership — and then he hosts the most incredibly racist subreddit I have ever seen.

You see, I know there are good people and tons of good information on Reddit, but there are also a ton of sub-humans — cowards — who can write and post whatever they want.

On the Internet, no one can see that you’re a racist coward.

Reddit is not alone in this, but I think what Pao said is very true. The trolls are using the foundation of the Internet and, as I see it, the power of Reddit against it.

According to Reddit’s “About” page, “Anyone can create a community.” Yes, even that racist jerk. Sure, the page of hate is hidden behind an 18-and-over-only warning page that you only have to click a button to bypass, but it would make more sense to put a pay wall in front of it. That would discourage lookyloos and probably dampen the other amplifying effect: “Redditors Vote” to push content up onto the Reddit homepage (a.k.a. “All”). I noticed a number of threads where Reddit members were pleased because their voting activity had somehow pushed the Pao hate content onto Reddit/All.

Kill Anonymity

As far as I’m concerned, two things need to happen. We need to shut down online anonymity and stop confusing it with privacy. The answer to protecting yourself online is not to be someone else and please do not talk to me about online identity as if it’s some fluid thing to be protected. If you officially change your name, your address, your email, your phone number, please, by all means, change it online. “FunkyDawg” is not your identity. It’s a handle.

On virtually all of my social accounts, I am “LanceUlanoff.” Granted, I’ve built a tiny online brand around my name, but I’ve also found this transparency much easier to manage than a bunch of random handles and identities. It also keeps me honest. I am accountable for the things I post on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Even if sites like Reddit continue to allow members to hide behind screen names, they should know, in the Reddit system, who they are: Full name, age, birthdate and maybe even address. If Reddit does this, it will not only cut down the number of attacks, it will likely scrub Reddit of much of its disgusting, hateful and racist content. It might also help the site, assuming it survives, monetize more activity than it is now.

Those who truly want to use Reddit as a community for great, fun and funny ideas would, theoretically, stick around. None of this, by the way, should hamper “Free Speech” on Reddit. I know that most of the members who hated Pao and wanted her out were angry about the necessary changes she was making and they often decried her actions as an attack on free speech. Sorry, but, in my book, hate speech does not equal free speech.

If, however, these Reddit members really believe it is their right to harass, spew hate and post their insane ideas about various races, then do it without the mask of a user name. Put your real name and photo on the site. Stand up for what you believe in, you bastards.

Until we kill anonymity on Reddit and elsewhere on the Internet, the Trolls will win because we’re letting them.

What Ulanoff neglects to note is that the internet, as well as society as a whole, has become more and more intolerant of differing opinions that are not in vogue with the politically correct crowds. People feel free to speak anonymously on the internet because, quite frankly, they cannot spea freely anywhere else.

Sure, there are some real meanie-heads out there, but perhaps people should be grown-ups and realize that if they’re mature enough to use the internet, they should be mature enough to occasionally hear something that they don’t like. Or, if they are putting their whole lives on the internet for the world to see, they are inviting the whole world to comment on this life.

In short: we need more freedom on the internet, not less.

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