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August 23, 2013 7:29 PM   Subscribe

Managing Editor Jimmy Soni appeared on CNN Friday to explain The Huffington Post's latest effort to fight trolls: as of next month, commenters won't be allowed to post anonymously on the site. "We're looking to promote civil discourse on our site," Soni said. "We want to do what we've always done: promote a positive, healthy community at our global news website." "We feel like it reflects the maturing internet and our maturing website," he added. Video here.
posted by Benny Andajetz (87 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
HuffPo: No anonycomments, still 76% "sideboob."
posted by nevercalm at 7:38 PM on August 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


It baffles my mind why this didn't happen a lot earlier. And when I say earlier, I mean like April 1994.

I used to work at a newspaper back in the day, and when people would write cranky notes in, we'd make fun of them if they didn't sign real names. And they went into the trash. It's bizarre that the hunger for eyeballs online made news outlets just drop that cold.

"Maturing internet." Hm.
posted by Miko at 7:39 PM on August 23, 2013 [15 favorites]


"Maturing internet."

That does seem like a bit of an oxymoron, doesn't it?
posted by Greg_Ace at 7:44 PM on August 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


it reflects the maturing internet and our maturing website

Organisms mature. There is a logic to the way the human body and mind develop. Step by step infants become toddlers, gaining new capabilities in an old, familiar sequence.

Ways of organizing human activities change, but the metaphor of maturing does not fit well. We are not riding the rails; there are many possible ways the internet could change over time, some better than others. We do need some way to control online anonymous harassment, but to imply that exactly these changes are inevitable is an abdication of responsibility.

The slow death of anonymity and pseudonymity online is not a natural process. It is a choice.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 7:44 PM on August 23, 2013 [14 favorites]


I think this is a good thing, generally speaking. Most of the time anonymous trolls are not contributing any useful information or comments. I used to believe anonymous speech in general should be illegal until I read up on the issue a bit and learned about the Federalist Papers and the free exchange of ideas. But, yeah, for the most part it's useless on most Internet comments sections.
posted by ChuckRamone at 7:45 PM on August 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


My local TV station's news story comments section are full of vicious, racist, hateful comments posted by people logged in through Facebook with their own names.

They don't need people posting under their own names, they need moderation. Lots of moderation. But to do that they'd have to pay people, and HuffPo isn't big on paying people.
posted by edheil at 7:48 PM on August 23, 2013 [90 favorites]


Previously, at the LA Times.
posted by cashman at 7:51 PM on August 23, 2013


It doesn't matter if the majority of anonymous comments are trash. The question is whether the non-trash ones are worth it.

In my experience, they are. Anonymity, or pseudonymity, gives people space to voice unpopular opinions. That's a useful counterweight to groupthink. Groupthink is a trillion times more destructive than trolling, and any significant reduction in it is worth grinding through more or less any amount of dross.

Civility is not the highest value in the world. Community isn't valuable if it leads you astray.
posted by Hizonner at 7:56 PM on August 23, 2013 [27 favorites]


My local TV station's news story comments section are full of vicious, racist, hateful comments posted by people logged in through Facebook with their own names.

I'm glad their names are out there. For people who deal with them to find. For their friends and family to find. For employers to find. Those comments that have, as has been said recently, no place in civil society, can be judged as such and attached to the people who utter them. What's scary to many of us is people who approach us and put up a fake front, meanwhile behind closed doors they seek to do us harm and say the most vile things.

Make your views that have no place in a civil society known, so I can skip hiring you, skip patronizing your business, skip associating with you or helping you unless you apologize. It also helps humanize these people, because even though most people will agree that racism exists, a lot of people just cannot accept that someone is a racist unless they are walking around in a white hood.
posted by cashman at 7:56 PM on August 23, 2013 [10 favorites]


Civility is not the highest value in the world. Community isn't valuable if it leads you astray.

Huffpost is a business. What's valuable to them is money. Money comes from engagement of users and readers. And if people are being driven away from a community because of outofcontrol astroturfing, cranks, and Lulz, then de-anonymizing makes business sense. Any other considerations are for other websites that are not businesses.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:03 PM on August 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


... and I should care about Huffington Post's business problems why, again?

If you're trying to determine whether their Web site is valuable to you (or to anybody else, for that matter), then their reasons matter not at all. The bottom line is that their discourse is less useful even it's more comfortable or more profitable.
posted by Hizonner at 8:09 PM on August 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


In related news: Seemingly Mentally Ill Internet Commenter Presumably Functions In Outside World
posted by blue_beetle at 8:10 PM on August 23, 2013 [7 favorites]


My local newspaper's website did this a few years ago. When they made the announcement, lots of people were angry. But they implemented the change anyway a week later, and the first news story I clicked open had one comment. It was signed, "Bugs Bunny."

My local TV station's news story comments section are full of vicious, racist, hateful comments posted by people logged in through Facebook with their own names.

Yup. Mostly I don't go near politics on Facebook, but I'm linked to one prominent political figure and occasionally I look at the comments on his statuses. People are positively vile: racist slurs, anti-Semitic comments, wishing violence crimes or cancer upon political opponents...it's disgusting, and right there in the open with their names attached.

Groupthink is a trillion times more destructive than trolling, and any significant reduction in it is worth grinding through more or less any amount of dross.

I agree wholeheartedly with the first part, but I don't think anonymous commenting makes a dent. It doesn't here on MetaFilter. It doesn't on Slashdot. It doesn't on the Boston Herald's website.
posted by cribcage at 8:21 PM on August 23, 2013


Friends don't let friends read online newspaper comments.

Sometimes I slip and read comments when there is a newspaper story about bicyclists. I am always so very sorry I did. Anonymous or not, they never make my experience richer.
posted by cccorlew at 8:24 PM on August 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


Groupthink is a trillion times more destructive than trolling

I see this repeated a lot on the internet and it's never really clear to me just what "groupthink" is or of just what it's destructive.
posted by octobersurprise at 8:35 PM on August 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm pretty sure The Newsroom just covered this... yep, they did.
posted by elmer benson at 8:41 PM on August 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm glad their names are out there. For people who deal with them to find. For their friends and family to find. For employers to find.

First of all, this is a dramatic oversimplification of the overall issue at hand. Feel free to post your full name and address in this thread if you think otherwise.

Secondly, "civil discourse" and "forcing people to be truthful about who they are" do not need to go hand in hand. Namely, the former does not necessitate the latter; MetaFilter has gotten by with plenty of civil discourse without having to rid itself of anonymous users.

Thirdly, social media is in its infancy. Facebook's about to turn 10 and you still can't even define friend circles. You have teenagers serving prison terms for comments that sometimes amount to a bad joke; mothers calling from different countries to report them. This is unnatural. Maybe I'm wrong about this, but I'm happier not having all my comments tied down to my real identity, or getting doxed by my fellow Mefites in the name of civility, or having people call my work because they disagree with my political opinions, or having the FBI/NSA keeping a file on me because of something I said in a thread. In other words, this is a really dangerous game that can hurt people on any side of the spectrum.

What, you assume civil people won't be targeted? What if one day you wake up and you're in the minority?

I've grown up with the internet. What I see happening in front of my eyes that I never really expected is how much the internet can change fundamentally practically overnight. I felt this in particular with the collapse of Google Feeder and potentially FeedBurner. One day, you're connected to all these sites, the next day, you're scrambling to replace something you took as a given. Certain givens just disappear. The internet used to really be about the free flow of ideas and data, and yes that involves a certain amount of stupidity and piracy, but what we are replacing that with in the name of corporate profits and national security is total lockdown, total accountability; a "we know who you are, where you are and what you're saying" mentality that we're being told is a good thing. A "gut-check" as Soni calls it. A form of community building, even.

I really fucking doubt that HuffPo is on the cutting edge of community building.
posted by phaedon at 8:44 PM on August 23, 2013 [24 favorites]


For many around the world, comment sections are probably the first experiences with real Americans, beyond TV and movies. I think America had great propaganda through Hollywood for a long time but the Internet has dismantled myths and revealed the truth.
posted by stbalbach at 8:48 PM on August 23, 2013 [5 favorites]


Eh, it should be abundantly clear I'm not a huge fan of anonymous comments (everyone commenting here requires an account), so HuffPo requiring people to register accounts seems like it'll at least eliminate the worst of the drive-by nonsense it gets for comments.
posted by mathowie at 9:02 PM on August 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


Groupthink is what you get when people's desire not to stick out of the crowd, not to challenge high-prestige community members, not to associate themselves with low-prestige people and ideas, and sometimes to avoid outright retaliation, keeps them from challenging opinions held by a perceived majority of a community or by those they perceive as leaders. In its more pernicious forms, it can actually lead people to compete with one another in espousing more extreme variants of some random and often wrong idea... as well as to compete with one another in marginalizing or ostracizing dissenters.

It's one of the major things that's kept people from saying "Wait, maybe not all homosexuals are child molesters", or "Wait, maybe the Jews shouldn't actually be exterminated.".

It's a well established term for a well established phenomenon, and it has its own Wikipedia article.

I guess it's only destructive if you don't want your community to turn into a mob, or if you like the idea of being right about things.
posted by Hizonner at 9:03 PM on August 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


First of all, this is a dramatic oversimplification of the overall issue at hand. Feel free to post your full name and address in this thread if you think otherwise.

I stated one thing. I never said anything about this being the entirety of the issue. I said I'm glad people who make vile comments on local news websites that have facebook-only style commenting have their names out there. I do. I like that. That's what I said. I did not say "and that wraps up all the issues with this".

Secondly, "civil discourse" and "forcing people to be truthful about who they are" do not need to go hand in hand. Namely, the former does not necessitate the latter; MetaFilter has gotten by with plenty of civil discourse without having to rid itself of anonymous users.

I didn't say they did. I said that I'm glad that the people who leave vile comments on facebook-only style commenting pages on local news websites have their names attached.

Maybe I'm wrong about this, but I'm happier not having all my comments tied down to my real identity

Ditto. I said if people are going to make vile comments on those websites, I'm glad their names are attached. I was addressing the prospect of vile comments. There are either vile comments with names attached or vile comments without. I said I like with.

I see this repeated a lot on the internet and it's never really clear to me just what "groupthink" is or of just what it's destructive.

I feel like a lot of this is like that weird defense of rape that often appears here. That defense of "well we need to be able to look at young girls pictures in certain ways or else we'll lose all freedoms and be slaves". When in reality, the slope isn't nearly as slippery as it gets painted as, and we can hash these things out without acting like making facebook-only commenting on HuffPo is the signal of impending destruction.

And this is a good place to say thank you to the mods here. In the video he says they have 40 mods and they spend all their time cleaning up nonsense. I remain amazed at not only how well the mods clean up stupidity here, but how they also have an incredible ability to reason with people in threads hundreds of comments long.

And it should be noted that the mods here are able to clean up things without falling into that slippery slope argument. Get down to the details and every move doesn't have to mean there are hard and fast rules that mean the end of existence.
posted by cashman at 9:07 PM on August 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


Eh, it should be abundantly clear I'm not a huge fan of anonymous comments (everyone commenting here requires an account)

Ah, but you don't necessarily know the identity of every member, leaving many users anonymous.
posted by troll at 9:14 PM on August 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


If we're going to bring Metafilter into it, first of all Metafilter accounts are pseudonymous. And I could get a completely untraceable account, unlinked to any other part of my online presence, if I cared to do so. It would be a lot easier to do that here than on a place that used Facebook commenting.

Secondly, Metafilter sometimes feels like a very conformist place, and people definitely do get mobbed here. There's valuable discussion on Metafilter, but I'd hardly hold it up as an example of how there's no danger.
posted by Hizonner at 9:16 PM on August 23, 2013 [10 favorites]


In my experience, they are. Anonymity, or pseudonymity, gives people space to voice unpopular opinions.

In order to have groupthink, you need a group. Most news sites and so on don't have communities. They have the internet equivalent of shitty bar bathroom stalls.

And sure, those bathroom stalls might challenge the dominant paradigm of what your mother is willing to do for a buck. But mostly, they aren't offering any sort of insight into anything deeper than fart jokes.

Because why would they ? There is no benefit to it. You don't see seagulls building statues to famous birds. They just shit on your car. It's way easier.

Fundamentally, the problem is that unless those sites are willing to tend to a community through moderation, they are better off not bothering with comments. It can be anonymous/pseudonymous, or whatever, as they like - but without effective moderation, it descends into chaos in short order.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 9:27 PM on August 23, 2013 [5 favorites]


People who post vile stuff under their real names are (mostly) not trolls. Trolls don't believe the things they write; they're just vandals stirring up shit. The people who post under their real names presumably believe the things they write. For that reason, like cashman, I'm glad their names are attached. OTOH, it does have a chilling effect and I won't write anything controversial under my real name for fear it'll come back to haunt me while job hunting. I don't have to participate in those sites, though, and if mefi were to require real names, I'd leave in a heartbeat.
posted by desjardins at 9:30 PM on August 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, maybe I'm being selfish, but it does give me a pulse on things. When I see people free to almost proudly say those things, and clearly they aren't concerned about any problems coming about as a result, that says something. It doesn't mean there aren't lots of people out there who disagree and who would retort if they had the time. I ran into a situation like that really, and it warms the heart to see a vile commenter get confronted by people who don't want society to go backward. I guess my feeling is its useful.

it does have a chilling effect and I won't write anything controversial under my real name for fear it'll come back to haunt me while job hunting. I don't have to participate in those sites, though, and if mefi were to require real names, I'd leave in a heartbeat.

Same here. I think the intervening factor is the moderators here culling vile comments. If HuffPo could do the job that is done here, by far fewer people, I don't think they'd need to do whatever they're about to do.
posted by cashman at 9:40 PM on August 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'll admit, I give less weight to anonymous(-facing) comments on MetaFilter. I don't often click open profiles to check, but depending on the topic and the tone, occasionally I get curious whether I'm talking to an "Anonymous Coward"; and if I discover that I am, I'm more likely to disengage the conversation.
posted by cribcage at 9:42 PM on August 23, 2013


At least in revolutionary days anonymous commenters had to spend some time drafting their thoughts and send a letter, or get them printed and post them outside somewhere. With the internet, you can post every bit of mental diarrhea as soon as it forms in your head. "Go back to China wetbacks" is hardly the federalist papers.
posted by ChuckRamone at 9:46 PM on August 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, requiring people to comment using their real names will work as well to weed out the trolls as it has for Facebook. Which is - not at all. Every day I see some really repugnant shit posted on FB by people right alongside their full name and photo. Edheil is right - the only way trolls will go away is if moderation makes them go away.
posted by triggerfinger at 9:50 PM on August 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've got one name, and that is all I have ever used for email or handles.

If you don't believe in what you say enough to say it out loud and stand behind it, then don't think anyone is going to take you seriously if you are hiding behind a cute screen name. All it does is make you a coward up front, and a weasel in general.
posted by timsteil at 9:51 PM on August 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


Because those people should think their wrong thoughts, live their wrong lives, and say wrong things, only if they are willing to suffer for it.

They may not be heroes, but I wouldn't call them all cowards and weasels.
posted by zamboni at 10:27 PM on August 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


The flip side here is that if you go into the HuffPo comments section and make a tempered, articulate and entirely positive comment in favor of say, gay rights or feminism, with your real name attached to it, you are opening yourself up for Internet detectivework and real-life harassment by the bigots, trolls and general sleaze that inhabit the place. Not everyone wants that or is prepared to deal with it.
posted by Vulgar Euphemism at 10:32 PM on August 23, 2013 [7 favorites]


As a place that supports the views and identities of so many ethnic, gender, and political minorities, as well as plenty of plain weirdos, I'm surprised at the level of support here for this sort of thing. The downside of using shame and reputation to police civility is that, in addition to the bigots, misogynists, and racists, a huge swathe of those unfairly and often dangerously situated on the outskirts of society are blocked from one of their few touchpoints with other sympathetic souls. Much better to police the language and posts themselves, than to use the horrifically blunt instrument of narrow-minded neighbors, family, and future employers. Not only does almost everyone have, if not major secrets, minor little ones that they want neither the NSA nor their neighbors knowing about -- but we should all have such things! God forbid you live your life so close to the Venn intersection of everyone's approval that you generate nothing private, risky, or even shameful. And being able to discuss those things with others should be worth quite a lot of moderating overhead.
posted by chortly at 10:39 PM on August 23, 2013 [14 favorites]


I've been involved in managing online communities in one form or another for about 15 years. There is no magic formula that will make people act civil on the Internet, regardless of whether or not they are forced to use their real names. I like to compare it to how some people act in their cars. There are drivers who come pretty close to attempted murder on a regular basis with their behavior behind the wheel, and they're not wearing masks and they have license plates that make them easily identifiable.

Cars and computers create artificial barriers that make certain people feel like they can act out dark impulses without consequences. At a previous job, we were about to hire somebody after a couple of interviews but then we looked up his social media presence and it turned out that his Twitter handle was @BManRocksHoes. He used that account to viciously attack people and his real name was attached to it.

I used to have a hard time understanding how people like him could be so short-sighted and stupid, but now I recognize that navigating the modern world successfully usually requires a certain level of sophistication, and since 50 percent of the population has less-than-average intelligence, there is almost no mechanism that will prevent many people from displaying their bigotry, misanthropy and general ignorance online. I say "almost" because requiring users to pay a subscription fee to post comments appears to weed out most of the morons judging by this site and others like it, but that doesn't appear to be a business model that is catching on at big-time media companies.
posted by Scott Carefoot at 10:40 PM on August 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


So how are they going to know that Bob Slate from isb34sj93k@gmail.com and Sue Barker from jekf32j40a9@gmail.com aren't the same people? Unless I'm missing something, you can still hide behind a mask.
posted by Slackermagee at 10:46 PM on August 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


Heh, I just realized that this probably has much more to do with collecting more invasive, personally-identifiable marketing data on users, rather than any genuine desire to delouse their comments section.
posted by Vulgar Euphemism at 10:51 PM on August 23, 2013 [6 favorites]


I'll admit, I give less weight to anonymous(-facing) comments on MetaFilter. I don't often click open profiles to check, but depending on the topic and the tone, occasionally I get curious whether I'm talking to an "Anonymous Coward"; and if I discover that I am, I'm more likely to disengage the conversation.

Are you calling me a coward, cribcage?

It's not like I'm hiding my identity. If you want to know more about me look through my commenting history. You'll find out more about my morals, politics, taste, judgment, personality, life history and professional expertise than you could possibly want to know. Why would knowing the name on my passport increase or decrease your level of respect for me?

Is it unreasonable that I'd rather not have students and potential employers searching through my comment history? Being open about who I am with you here is a lot easier if I can draw a boundary that keeps them out.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 11:10 PM on August 23, 2013 [7 favorites]


Anonymous Coward is the username of people posting anonymously on some sites such as Slashdot.
posted by Justinian at 11:22 PM on August 23, 2013


octobersurprise: "Groupthink is a trillion times more destructive than trolling

I see this repeated a lot on the internet and it's never really clear to me just what "groupthink" is or of just what it's destructive.
"

IRAQ IRAQ IRAQ!
posted by symbioid at 11:28 PM on August 23, 2013 [1 favorite]



The flip side here is that if you go into the HuffPo comments section and make a tempered, articulate and entirely positive comment in favor of say, gay rights or feminism, with your real name attached to it, you are opening yourself up for Internet detectivework and real-life harassment by the bigots, trolls and general sleaze that inhabit the place. Not everyone wants that or is prepared to deal with it.

Then don't do it

In the real word, should someone say something you felt strong enough to comment about, would you think it is appropriate to leave them an anonymous note/phone/call/email etc?

Yes, you probably shouldn't tell your boss he is a [insert]-ist asshole to his face, but if your beliefs are that strong, I would think you might eventually find it hard to justify working there.

I guess I am older than your average mefite, but some days it just truly feels to me like there is a rising tide in this country that is fierce, passionate, and committed to justice, as long as their real name can never be associated with their actions in the furtherence of it.

Change is never initiated by people whose first concern is covering their own ass.
posted by timsteil at 11:31 PM on August 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


As I've said to other people, the true threat to anonymity/pseudonymity online is how it's been abused. This rejection isn't just happening out of the blue - it's happening because people are tired of seeing the two concepts used as a shield to allow people to act reprehensibly, and have lost trust in the concept as a whole. If you want to protect anonymity to preserve it when it's important, then you need to be willing to call out people when they are abusing it.

See also: abuse of "anonymous source" in journalism.
posted by NoxAeternum at 11:34 PM on August 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


Secondly, Metafilter sometimes feels like a very conformist place, and people definitely do get mobbed here.

The mobbing phenomenon in forums (among strangers) has been studied by academics, not particular to MeFi. A best it's a method of keeping the peace from real threats to the operation of the community. Serves a purpose but it can go off the rails like xenophobic vigilantism that crosses into RL. If you get mobbed get out the way and live to fight another day. Zombie hoards are worse but that's another thing.
posted by stbalbach at 11:40 PM on August 23, 2013


timsteil, consider this story. It's the last post by Jen McCreight, a blogger who was bombarded with hateful and misogynist mail to the point where she couldn't keep doing it. In the end her harassers were going after her loved ones. I think it's bad that I can't read her words anymore. Why should exposing herself to that kind of attack be a precondition for raising her voice in public?

Upthread you said this:

If you don't believe in what you say enough to say it out loud and stand behind it, then don't think anyone is going to take you seriously if you are hiding behind a cute screen name. All it does is make you a coward up front, and a weasel in general

You're insulting many members of this community, including several people on this thread. Is that intentional?
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 11:44 PM on August 23, 2013 [15 favorites]


>>timsteil, consider this story.

I did, and admittedly I didn't go back and read the blog from day one, whatever, I guess it didn't go the way she had hoped. I would think that people realize once you set pen to paper and put you name to it, then you better be ready for the next step.

Had she written a book no one liked, and issued this statement after realizing that, would it seem as noble or sad?

While I would love to live in a world, where I could express myself online, and everyone loved that I did so, shakes come to jakes the world is full of assholes, and some of which are truly bent on just torturing anyone they find vulnerable. Talk to Darwin man.

If folks are truly that emotionally sensitive to things, then you would think it would almost be an autonomic reaction to avoid those scenarios. If you are allergic to peanuts, dont book a vacation in Georgia.

Personally, I take things the anonymous posters say with a block of salt. There are screen names I have come to know and trust here on the blue, for both their subject expertise and taste in general, but in general, anyone with however a clever, ironic or personally meaningful handle is sort of a non-entity until they step up and show their cards.

>>You're insulting many members of this community, including several people on this thread.

On the plus side, there is very little chance your noticing this will be flagged as "Newsfilter."
posted by timsteil at 12:14 AM on August 24, 2013


timsteil, consider this story. It's the last post by Jen McCreight, a blogger who was bombarded with hateful and misogynist mail to the point where she couldn't keep doing it. In the end her harassers were going after her loved ones. I think it's bad that I can't read her words anymore. Why should exposing herself to that kind of attack be a precondition for raising her voice in public?

I'm not disagreeing with your point at all, as McCreight has been through some nasty shit, but she is thankfully still blogging. That "indefinite period of time" she was going to step away for didn't end up being very long.
posted by brundlefly at 12:41 AM on August 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


It must be nice to have the freedom to attach your real name to everything you say online. Calling people who don't have that freedom "cowards" is pretty silly.

As I've said to other people, the true threat to anonymity/pseudonymity online is how it's been abused.

I'd say the true threat to anonymity/pseudomity online is site operators who want to take advantage of the benefits of developing a community around their services without bothering with the moderation required to stop that community turning into a cesspool.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 1:30 AM on August 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


timsteil: There are screen names I have come to know and trust here

OK, that's all I wanted to hear. It had sounded as though you were dismissing anonymous mefites out of hand.

I took a glance at your commenting history. The way you've expressed yourself on metafilter over the past decade makes me much more inclined to read what you've said in this thread charitably.

We're still in disagreement about the value of anonymity for protecting the vulnerable online. Look, if you want to call my straight white cis-male self a coward for using a pseudonym that's fine, but keep in mind that some people would pay a far, far higher price for using their name than I would for using mine.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 1:46 AM on August 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


A Thousand Baited Hooks: The two points are linked, though. Part of preventing that cesspool from forming is making it clear that abuse has repercussions. Consider the story a few months back where an anonymous source burned ABCNews' Jonathan Karl on the Bengazi emails. There was a pretty hard push for Karl to reveal his source, and for good reason - it was clear that said "source" was using Karl to launder his deceptions, and so needed to face repercussions in the form of getting "burnt" in order to protect the principle of anonymous sources for the people that genuinely need it.
posted by NoxAeternum at 2:01 AM on August 24, 2013


My political views and social values are in rough alignment with the industry in which I work. I live in a country where I needn't act within the prescribed confines of the dominant religion. I am of a social class where, if I go to a person of authority in a situation - a cop, a politician, my child's teacher, my own doctor -- I expect to be taken seriously and listened to, even if that person secretly rolls their eyes at me.

My opinions are relevant in my community. I am educated, and I speak and write clearly. If I am vulnerable legally, I will call a lawyer, and I will pay that lawyer.

I think this is true for many, if not most, people on Metafilter.

I'd bet Arianna Huffington has rarely risked anything by stating her opinion and I think it's extremely difficult for many people who enjoy major or minor privilege in society to imagine what it is like to have none of these things - to have values not in alignment with their employer, to not be listened to, to hold disallowed religious beliefs, to not have the opportunity to speak, to risk being fired or risk being sued and be unable to afford a lawyer. Anonymous speech and writing is of critical importance in society both because it provides a path to expose abuses of power and because it protects people who are otherwise vulnerable.

From a news industry standpoint, anonymous comments are far more interesting than non-anonymous comments, and news sites need to be interesting, entertaining, and to outrage and rile people up and add to the article on the page. They need to be destinations for more than the simple conveyance of intermittent bits of information. They need people to show up every day and to continue to be a central part of people's lives.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:22 AM on August 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


But they implemented the change anyway a week later, and the first news story I clicked open had one comment. It was signed, "Bugs Bunny."

This illustrates my big question about what they're calling "real names." Just how do they establish that the names are real? Because there's a working email account? Pfft - how hard is it to create a throwaway email account attached to your new fake name?

As to why anonymity can be good - if you google my fairly common real name, the first hits are a famous pervert who's not me. Then there are some OK people who are scientists or writers or whatever, also mostly not me. The point is, if I used my name, I'd be constantly denying that I'm that pervert. When I briefly had my email address (which doesn't even have all the letters of my name in it) in my profile here, within a week, someone was implying that I was a notorious banned troll. Which is why my profile doesn't have my email address any more; I don't want to have to deny being that guy, either.

As justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow says, if you want to know where I stand on a bunch of issues, or what kind of life experience I've got, the information is in my comment history. You don't need my real name to find out, and I don't need to deal with the confusion caused by people assuming that I'm somebody else.

Then there's the matter of HR researching prospective new hires on the Net. As it happens, my boss is politically very conservative, and I'm not. We get along OK and have a good working relationship. Would he have hired me if he had a report saying I'd posted numerous leftwing views on various forums? I don't know, and it's not something I want to test the next time I go job-hunting. Does that make me an anonymous coward? If it does, I'll accept that as the price of being able to work.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:36 AM on August 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


Part of preventing that cesspool from forming is making it clear that abuse has repercussions.

But for some people there are no repercussions, and they're quite happy putting their real names to really nasty stuff. Other people face repercussions for having their identities known whether they "abuse" anything or not. There are plenty of examples of both upthread. Good moderation gets rid of the first kind, but requiring real names (which seems to be what the HuffPo is trying to do, although it's not entirely clear) gets rid of the second.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 3:56 AM on August 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


I am surprised to hear so much support for this from a community where everyone is given the choice to be pseudonymous, and so many people choose to do so. I actually just deleted my MeFi account so that my real life identity would not be attached to it, because one sign of a "maturing internet" is that tying information to your real name on the internet is allowing third parties, both private and public, to build up an accounting of your life.

I think that Huffington Post is going to find that many people are perfectly willing to continue to be horrible people, even with no anonymity, but that it will be much harder to be a good person or to stand up for others when you are always in danger of being attacked or targeted by a faceless entity - be it a bunch of kids from 4chan, a grassroots astroturfing organization, an identity theft ring, or a security organization like the NSA who was no qualms vacuuming up everything they can get their hands on and putting it in a bin to check later. It's not just your employer who would be curious to know what you are doing on HuffPo at 2pm in the afternoon.

Put another way, the problem with non-anonymity on the internet is that it's one way. You know the identity of everyone who is talking, but no one who is listening. That's a recipe for television and theater, not community building.
posted by teh_boy at 4:47 AM on August 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


As I've said to other people, the true threat to anonymity/pseudonymity online is how it's been abused.

Aonymity/pseudonimity can produce great results with moderation. However, moderation requires commitment and spending money whereas getting real names is good for monetisation even though it does squat for civility.

Yes, you probably shouldn't tell your boss he is a [insert]-ist asshole to his face, but if your beliefs are that strong, I would think you might eventually find it hard to justify working there.

I guess I am older than your average mefite, but some days it just truly feels to me like there is a rising tide in this country that is fierce, passionate, and committed to justice, as long as their real name can never be associated with their actions in the furtherence of it.

That's very nice if you can afford to pick jobs in an awful market. Vulnerable people have the greatest need to express themselves but face a greater risk of reprisal and requiring that they pass your purity test by exposing themselves to an anonymous crowd of inquisitioners is absurd. People have different facets and requiring that everything you say is traceable and might be online forever is a position I find hard to defend.
posted by ersatz at 4:55 AM on August 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


"It must be nice to have the freedom to attach your real name to everything you say online."

This exchange is sort of pissing me off because both of you are wrong. The fact is that some people, some times, suffer harassment and other damage associated with things they've written on the web with the real identity attached. And other people, at other times, have not. You can't claim that backlash and harassment isn't a problem for anyone who writes unpopular things, and you can't claim that backlash and harassment is always a problem for anyone who writes unpopular things.

Women, especially, have very real concerns about disguising their real identities on the net because men do harass women and threaten them with sexual violence and even stalk them and attack them.

And employers these days, especially in this job market, are trawling internet history and making hiring decisions on the basis of what they find or don't find.

Those are real concerns that move beyond reasonable ideas about social accountability.

And then your statement annoys me. My real name has been attached to just about everything I've written on the Internet for almost twenty years, and on other commercial networks for the decade before that. I have written politically controversial things everywhere, at length. I've advocated for gay rights and gay marriage for over twenty years, I've described all sorts of personal experiences that many would consider very embarrassing, I've had internet enemies and people writing horrible things to me, I've had internet stalkers.

But what I've never had, in thirty years, is anyone, ever, contact me in real life and threaten or harass me. Ever. Right now, you can go to my profile page, click to my website, and click on a Google Voice thing and call me on the phone. In the late nineties and very early aughts, I had my resume available on my webpage, with my home address — my webpage was easily available because in the early days, you could search for my name on the web and you'd find me. And my real name is how I've identified myself. Sometimes it's my userid, usually I use "kmellis", generally any sort of user information page or wherever I'll make my real name available. This has never, ever caused me any problems whatsoever.

I find that a lot of people vastly overestimate how much risk there really is for making your real identity available.

But, again, that's not to say that for some people there isn't, in fact, some considerable risk. I think it's very different for women than men. I think that some people in some industries (like schoolteachers, say) necessarily must be careful with their online identity because it very easily could affect their employment and career. Others, not so much.

Finally, for a long time I believed that anonymity was driving bad behavior, but like others above, I no longer believe that it's much more important than several other factors. It's a factor. Eliminating anonymity probably helps to a limited degree. But there's other causes for bad behavior that are equally as important.

Nevertheless, I remain committed to always participating on the web with my real identity attached in some fashion because I believe in my personal accountability. And I do, in fact, like cribcage, all things being equal (which they usually aren't), think better of people who are not totally anonymous. But it's not a major consideration, just something that has some influence on my estimation of someone.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 5:02 AM on August 24, 2013 [5 favorites]


""We feel like it reflects the maturing internet and our maturing website."

Carousel, Arianna. Carousel!
posted by markkraft at 5:37 AM on August 24, 2013


I enforced the "no tabloids" rule by removing Huffpo from my bookmarks some years ago.
posted by telstar at 5:38 AM on August 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


1. History is replete with examples of why anonymous political discussion is necessary. Indeed, some of the most famous political works are anonymous.

2. Identity has zero to do with the quality of the point being made. Either it stands on its own or it doesn't.

3. Commenting online is not the same as interacting in person. First, people from anywhere can be listening. And, second, in real life I could make my point right to your face and yet never identify myself.

4. Civility is a good and desirable thing. But choosing civility over the ( often very messy and uncivil) free exchange of ideas and viewpoints is stifling and short-sighted, IMO.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 5:52 AM on August 24, 2013 [7 favorites]


If you don't believe in what you say enough to say it out loud and stand behind it, then don't think anyone is going to take you seriously if you are hiding behind a cute screen name. All it does is make you a coward up front, and a weasel in general.

so you've just called the majority of us cowards and weasels

and you've done so without showing us your i d to prove that you are who you claim you are - (don't bother - i can't be arsed to look)

and you've also forgotten that any idiot could just post as john smith or my name or your name without actually being that person

i wonder how many people on facebook are who they really say they are - it would be trivial to make up a "real name" and post under it
posted by pyramid termite at 5:54 AM on August 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


If you don't believe in what you say enough to say it out loud and stand behind it, then don't think anyone is going to take you seriously if you are hiding behind a cute screen name. All it does is make you a coward up front, and a weasel in general.

I use my real name just about everywhere online, and what you said is idiotic at best, vile at worst.
posted by Rory Marinich at 6:25 AM on August 24, 2013 [8 favorites]


I'm not sure having a posting history is much of a cogent argument. I haven't often heard anonymity criticized on the basis that it makes it difficult to discover how the speaker feels about other issues. Exposure to repercussion, accountability, is the entire point.

History is replete with examples of why anonymous political discussion is necessary.

ChuckRamone said it well above: "'Go back to China wetbacks' is hardly the federalist papers." That's what we're talking about. And as NoxAeternum said, if you want to protect anonymity as a concept to preserve it when it's important, then you need to be willing to call out its abuse—which includes "Go back to China wetbacks," but equally people who invoke it unnecessarily.

News outlets will keep using anonymous sources. On relevant occasions, they'll publish an anonymous Op-Ed. And notwithstanding Mathowie's comment above, I'll bet my five bucks he'd post your anonymous comment if you have something informative to add to a thread. James Madison's legacy is secure without our silly usernames and Internet grar.
posted by cribcage at 6:28 AM on August 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Five bucks is a better barrier to entry for civil discourse than no anonymity.

Honestly though, we only have anonymous askmes and allowable sock puppets (oh how I wish you were real George Clooney - your comments were fantastic. Oh how I wish you weren't real NSA, though this is a cheap use of Taxpayer dollars.)
posted by Nanukthedog at 6:29 AM on August 24, 2013


Bummer. So which of the other news aggregators will we go to now when we want to speak our mind and make it just a tad more difficult for the NSA to catalog our every thought?
posted by nowhere man at 6:38 AM on August 24, 2013


Now how does the Huffington Post plan to handle the fact that it is merely an outlet for tinfoil-hat types and airhead celebrities to spew alternately laughable and harmful half-truths while the grown-ups talk elsewhere?
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 6:48 AM on August 24, 2013


Creating Chilling Effects On Speech Is A Feature, Not A Bug, Of The Surveillance State
posted by Horace Rumpole at 6:54 AM on August 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


If you don't believe in what you say enough to say it out loud and stand behind it, then don't think anyone is going to take you seriously if you are hiding behind a cute screen name. All it does is make you a coward up front, and a weasel in general.

I agree. For me. This is why I use my real name on everything I do. I'm pretty sure if I was anonymous I'd be a way bigger ass.

I don't think it makes everyone a coward or a weasel though. That's a matter of character. What anonymity does allow is for these character flaws to shine on through.
posted by cjorgensen at 6:55 AM on August 24, 2013


Exposure to repercussion, accountability, is the entire point.

Who brings the repercussions and accountability? Whose responsibility is that? If Mary Smith, posting on HuffPo via her fb account, makes some horrible comment that reveals how [ist] she is, what repercussions will come, and from whom? Is it some HuffPo mod's job to....contact Mary Smith's boss, husband, child's teacher, or whomever? Is it another commenter's job to do that?

There was a facebook group of NYPD officers where a bunch of cops posting under their real names posted all kinds of stuff that revealed racial bias. The page got taken down. As far as I know, no cops lost their jobs or got suspended or anything. So what kind of accountability happened there?

(Also, I am perhaps being unreasonably irritated by the conflation of pseudonymity and anonymity, but whatever. I'm not being paid to be an editor today.)
posted by rtha at 7:13 AM on August 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Like one of my professors used to say, popular speech doesn't need protecting, kids.
posted by entropicamericana at 7:23 AM on August 24, 2013 [4 favorites]



If some people consider me a coward for not using my real name I don't really care. When I first started using the net years ago I got harassed by another (I assume) women. Thing was it wasn't over something that most people would think was controversial. It was a gardening discussion and it was over some comments I made about growing tomatoes. There was more then likely some mental illness involved, otherwise I can't explain it. Since I used my real name she was able to figure out where I lived and my phone number (though never called that I know of). I was never scared about what she did but it was a hassle to deal with as well as just generally uncomfortable.

It did make me feel more insecure about naming myself. If I could get that type of flack over a tomato comment what could happen over something that people would find even more controversial. I'm not concerned about employers. As a rule I don't post anything that I would care if anyone saw or read. I'm also not a die hard. Mefites I've emailed know my real name.

I appreciate those have brought up the issue that many women face. We can be (i have been) many times harassed and flamed simply for having an opinion on some topics and daring to have a set of boobs. I can take it. I have for many years. I know what some places on the internet are like. I however don't feel like I need to make it easier for those types of folks to know who I am in real life by using my real name.

I don't see it as being cowardly at all. To me it's just practical and prudent. If things were different and my owning a set of boobs didn't cause so much consternation and anger with a certain type of people, responses which in many cases aren't even that predictable, I would be more then happy to post with my real name.
posted by Jalliah at 7:25 AM on August 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


If the NYPD should have disciplined officers and didn't, that's unfortunate. It doesn't bear on the issue of anonymity, though. The relevant concern is exposure to repercussion; whether repercussion actually occurs is a subsequent issue. Similarly, it's unfortunate if someone is harassed for gardening chitchat but the harassment is the issue to address. No offense to green thumbs, but gardening chitchat ain't the Federalist Papers, either.
posted by cribcage at 7:35 AM on August 24, 2013


Exposure to repercussion, accountability, is the entire point.

Using one's name doesn't ensure that, however, as having a common name like Smith is significantly different from having a unique or uncommon name.
posted by ersatz at 7:57 AM on August 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


The relevant concern is exposure to repercussion; whether repercussion actually occurs is a subsequent issue.

But it's very clear that that concern is something that a whole lot of people out there (like those cops) don't have, and at the same time, posting under one's legal name can bring death threats and rape threats and stalking (like, for example, every female atheist blogger who writes about sexual harassment and feminism). Those are repercussions I don't find acceptable, no matter who they're aimed at.

The repercussions on a place like mefi are there because of moderation, not because people are required to login via facebook. Harassment and trolling are things that happen on the internet, and they are not prevented by making people post under their real names, but by having strong and enforceable policies and good moderation.
posted by rtha at 8:00 AM on August 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Moderation is an important tool, I agree. MetaFilter is a great example of how fair, attentive moderation can make a pseudonymous community work. But it doesn't follow to say anonymity (or pseudonymity) is of such value that every community should invest in moderation.

And it's a tangential point, but MetaFilter's policies only prevent harassment on MetaFilter. To my recollection we've only had a few brushes with off-site harassment—somebody made a mocking Twitter account using somebody else's username, there was a Craigslist post jokingly threatening to punch someone at a meetup, somebody scraped user profiles to compile a spam list—but I don't believe any moderative repercussion was seriously discussed, let alone enacted. If we had a real case, I doubt MetaFilter's moderators would get involved.
posted by cribcage at 8:18 AM on August 24, 2013


I agree that even awesome moderation cannot prevent off-site harassment. But neither can making people post under their real names.
posted by rtha at 8:38 AM on August 24, 2013


I know for a fact that my boss trawls social media, which is why my Facebook and real-name Twitter are squeaky clean. It's not that I'm cowardly about expressing my beliefs: do I want him to know that I'm looking for another job? In another field? That I dislike aspects of my current job (including him)? That I'm into BDSM? If I used pot (illegal here), would I want him to know? If I had a serious medical condition that would affect my work at some point?

I am waaaay more myself here than anywhere else. I'm nowhere near totally anonymous; I've met dozens of people from mefi and I've given out my real name, address and phone number even to people I haven't met many times. Just because I don't give it to everyone doesn't mean I'm anonymous. I don't wear a name tag on the bus either.
posted by desjardins at 8:44 AM on August 24, 2013 [16 favorites]


I think there's a legitimate place for anonymity. But I don't think news outlets - ultimately, the only citizen resources we have - are that place.
posted by Miko at 9:24 AM on August 24, 2013


"I don't wear a name tag on the bus" is a great way to put it. It would be pretty easy for someone who had been following my comments here and had some spare time and interest to dox me, and of course many individual MeFites know my real name. It's just that a Google search for my name would not automatically turn up everything I've ever posted here. In the age of data mining this kind of soft anonymity can be especially valuable to the average person.
posted by en forme de poire at 10:01 AM on August 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


it's never really clear to me just what "groupthink" is or of just what it's destructive.

And thus the benefit of a classical education - being at least exposed to the arguments about a Republic VS a Democracy as made by ancient Greeks and then kicked about by the foundling* fathers in the drum circles with the talking stick.

*They are all really Odo.
posted by rough ashlar at 10:12 AM on August 24, 2013


troll: "Eh, it should be abundantly clear I'm not a huge fan of anonymous comments (everyone commenting here requires an account)

Ah, but you don't necessarily know the identity of every member, leaving many users anonymous.
"

The Cabal has scary internet skills. They know EVERYTHING about you.

One of them wanted me to ask you - "Really? THAT underwear today?"
posted by Samizdata at 10:25 AM on August 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Hizonner: "If we're going to bring Metafilter into it, first of all Metafilter accounts are pseudonymous. And I could get a completely untraceable account, unlinked to any other part of my online presence, if I cared to do so. It would be a lot easier to do that here than on a place that used Facebook commenting.

Secondly, Metafilter sometimes feels like a very conformist place, and people definitely do get mobbed here. There's valuable discussion on Metafilter, but I'd hardly hold it up as an example of how there's no danger.
"

And, as per the recent government compromise of TOR, I am sure Matt and pb could cook something up to compromise us if they wanted to everytime we visited the site. I feel extremely confident in their general goodness that they wouldn't.
posted by Samizdata at 10:26 AM on August 24, 2013


If you're not going to wear pants, you can't expect people to not know what underwear you have on!
posted by rtha at 10:27 AM on August 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


Jalliah: "If things were different and my owning a set of boobs didn't cause so much consternation and anger with a certain type of people, responses which in many cases aren't even that predictable, I would be more then happy to post with my real name."

Pics or GTFO!

(Just kidding of course.)

I am not especially rabid about protecting who Samizdata really is. Many MeFis know my real name on Facebook and such.

Why I like being Samizdata is simple. It makes me more comfortable with revealing certain things about myself the "real" Samizdata (unabusive things). It makes me sound a little cooler and a lot braver than the "real me" is. As I mentioned in another thread, I recently filed a FOIA request on my old phone line. "Real me" wouldn't do that so easily. Samizdata would.

I use the same ID just about everywhere (unless someone previous to me makes me use a variant), so there's that. (Few things in life are funnier than hearing fellow MeFi's mangle trying to pronounce it over voice chat during a game of Left4Dead 2, so feel comfortable referring to me as just Sam.)

I don't think I am really pseudonymous or all that good at hiding. I just find this mask provides me a light cognitive disconnect that allows me to be a little more outgoing, a little more sharing, a little more swashbuckling.

And, before anyone asks, NO, I HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH A BRITISH LIBERTARIAN BLOG. Read my profile for why I use it.
posted by Samizdata at 10:39 AM on August 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


rtha: "If you're not going to wear pants, you can't expect people to not know what underwear you have on!"

Or DON'T have on, as the case may be.
posted by Samizdata at 10:40 AM on August 24, 2013


(Oh, and FWIW, I have a pathological hatred of using names with numbers attached to them. Nothing against anyone that uses them, it just isn't going to happen with me.)
posted by Samizdata at 10:41 AM on August 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Now that I think about it, in one way Metafilter is one of the most anonymous sites I know: Not having threaded comments, and more importantly, the convention of quoting a previous comment without necessarily citing the author, together produce a wonderful focus on content over personality. Obviously it doesn't eliminate personal wars and rudeness, but it's an interesting form of intra-page anonymity, implying that even from one comment to the next you should be judged more by what you say than who you are. And it works.
posted by chortly at 2:21 PM on August 24, 2013


chortly: "Now that I think about it, in one way Metafilter is one of the most anonymous sites I know: Not having threaded comments, and more importantly, the convention of quoting a previous comment without necessarily citing the author, together produce a wonderful focus on content over personality. Obviously it doesn't eliminate personal wars and rudeness, but it's an interesting form of intra-page anonymity, implying that even from one comment to the next you should be judged more by what you say than who you are. awesome. And it works."

FTFY. [grin]
posted by Samizdata at 5:04 PM on August 24, 2013


I have so completely lost any semblance of confidence in the "good" internets people. All it takes to make them salute this creepy shit is to say that it'll prevent trolling and abuse (which isn't actually true).
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 9:35 PM on August 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


"They don't need people posting under their own names, they need moderation. Lots of moderation. But to do that they'd have to pay people, and HuffPo isn't big on paying people."

(Former HuffPost employee here)

You're referring to the blog. That's a completely separate entity from the moderator program, which does pay people--lots of people, and uses some pretty smart software--to moderate comments. I think what you're saying is they don't have a big enough comment mod staff, which is probably the case, but HuffPo has an order of magnitude more comments than other news sites. It's insane. I remember working there when the health care law was being debated, in 2010 or so, and there were something like 20k comments on the top article on the homepage: a record-breaker. Now there are regularly articles with many times that number of comments on them.

So yeah, I agree with Anil Dash's take on this: if you can't keep discourse on your website civil, don't have comments on your website. But it's inaccurate to imply that, because they don't pay bloggers, they don't have a large, competent group of mods who are in fact paid to do what they do.
posted by andromache at 12:34 PM on August 26, 2013


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