Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Turning Worm

The Republic is ending anonymous comments, as I've been advocating in online communities for literally decades.

Yes, this will mean a lot of people won't comment. It'll also mean that those who do will be more responsible about what they're saying.


Zig E. said...

We have gone over this before. I feel that " Zig " has a reputation to uphold just as I do. Zig doesn't state anything that I don't say in public to those who know me. However - I have learned that when dealing with people who hire you or whom you have as costumers, that its best to not say anything that might cause them to go elsewhere. Its not just business Steven, its survival. In a small town such as this word gets around and everyone is replaceable. Are there jerks out there ? Yes. I see their stupid bumper stickers and hear them babbling in public. Do I want to confront each and every one ? Yes. Do I ? No. Does that mean that somehow I'm hiding or that I don't have strong beliefs that I'm willing to back up with my person/name ? Again No. All it means is that I'm sensible. After all confronting some of these nuts could get you shot. Or you could just loose business.
Small town survival. Fight the good fight but keep your head down.

Steven Ayres said...

I understand the argument -- I've been debating the question actively since the '80s, it's nothing new. What I'd like everyone to notice here is that the people who host these communities sometimes come around to the understanding of how destructive anonymity is in the aggregate. It serves the individual in its way, but it's inimical to the larger society, regardless of whether a given individual is using it responsibly. Like gun regulations, this is a greater-good problem.

I'm not at all attracted to Facebook, but its success shows me that very large numbers of people can be perfectly comfortable using their own names in public.

Zig E. said...

Well that's one of the problems - I don't use social media like facebook.
But on the bigger issue, anonymity is critical to preventing "the powers that be" from crushing all opposition. If blogs were around during the civil rights movement we might have been surprised at the amount of support that the movement had. But require those same supporters to use their names and crosses would have been burned in their yards. They would have been ostracized by their small minded communities. Currently we see the uprisings in the middle east. Tell me how having the governments of those country's having the names of dissenters would work out. Not very well I imagine. Its kind of like free speech in general. Do I like the Nazi's, Muslim Brotherhood, Tea Party, or Christian extremist groups ? No. But they must be allowed to speak their minds.
Besides its probably better to know that these types are out there and for everybody to know that they're out there. Driving them under ground does none of us any good.

Steven Ayres said...

Two points.

If we understand that anonymity is destructive to online communities, then we understand that it ultimately prevents the individual from speaking at all in this way. Further, it devalues what you have to say in the process.

Second, and more important: changing the thinking of the majority involves cultivating the perception of a majority. If people think most people think a certain way, they're more likely to adopt that thinking themselves. So, for instance, we have the bumper stickers you mentioned in the first post. You see people adopting extremist views. I'll posit that the vast majority of the people in those cars believe that they are participating in a majority, and are jut going along. They're not dangerous, they're sheep.

This dynamic is essential to the anonymity debate because anonymous views are easier to dismiss, and anonymous online communities inevitably becoming extremist in tone as the extremists drive the moderate voices out. A new majority is created in which extremist views are the norm, and the entire community becomes a waste of time, without the potential to inform anyone or build anything positive.

The answer to this is creating public spaces that are safe for non-extremists, who will then go on to express, explore and ultimately help form true majority views.

These are the people who are always left out of this discussion: the many, I'll venture the majority, who will not participate because they just won't put up with the BS.

I'll also venture that the practical exclusion of the reasonable majority is an important factor in your own perception that speaking your piece under your own name is dangerous to you.

Zig E. said...

I see your point. I guess I'm looking at it in a shallower depth, if that makes any sense, than you are. So then maybe the answer is something in between a free for all and requiring name tags. As pissed as I get at the Courier when I'm censored, maybe that's the compromise or middle ground that's needed. I participate in other forums where moderators are apparently paying attention to what is being posted and culling out the extremist ones.
I also don't know if requiring names or facebook membership would change that much. In the case of the Az rep., how will that requirement stop that person from posting the same crap ? It's a big city with a few million people.
Honestly I've never spent much time thinking about this till now, but if I had to choose I'd have to go with the Courier/Moderator version. Kind of like what you do. Besides I'm not interested in facebook.

Steven Ayres said...

Requiring real names doesn't stop anyone form posting anything, but what I've seen in practice is that people are generally more responsible and respectful, leading to a substantially higher overall tone.

Incidentally, the employment of Facebook comments is just the first step, according to Lovely's press release, and it's being phased in. I'm hearing that all Gannett papers are going this way, which makes the experiment much more interesting.