From an op-ed at the New York Times:
Facebook also encourages you to share your comments with your friends. Though you’re free to opt out, the knowledge that what you say may be seen by the people you know is a big deterrent to trollish behavior.
This kind of social pressure works because, at the end of the day, most trolls wouldn’t have the gall to say to another person’s face half the things they anonymously post on the Internet.
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.
It’s written by Julie Zhuo at Facebook. I’ll be honest in saying that my initial reaction sounded something like this, “Fascinating. Facebook wishes to advocate for more online accountability. Privacy much?” She finishes the article with a line intoning that by lifting the veil of anonymity we can see that we are all human.
I don’t think she could have missed the point any more than she did in this nice but misguided editorial piece. The problem is not anonymity, it’s about civility. Mrs. Zhuo’s post seeks to lump all anonymous comments and replies into one giant guilty pile. That’s extreme in its scope and unreasonable in its criteria.
Anonymous authorship is the second amendment issue of free expression. Just as there are many gun owners who are responsible law abiding citizens, there are many well spoken and articulate people who write anonymously online. For every crime committed by a gun, there is a standard hue and outcry about how gun are awful, horrible things that no one should have. This ignores the staggering volume of non-incidents that occur with or around guns each and every day. One could draw the same parallel to trolls and other acts of anonymous uncivil posts that go on every day versus the majority of perfectly reasonable and rational anonymous comments and postings.
It is all in the perception of the issue. You will always see a news story about gun violence and online stories about people engaged in trolling behavior. You will never or seldom see a story about a responsible gun owner teaching respect for firearms or gun safety and stories about people who have perfectly normal anonymous discussions. The focus is skewed toward the salacious and tawdry side of the issue about how bad it can be, how bad people act, and the rare acts of awfulness that cross the lines of social norms. Where is the data to support this position before requesting that every content provider eliminate anonymity in the name of accountability?
In my reckoning, the anonymous posting is just a symptom of overall societal incivility and the polarization of speech at present. It is a matter of re-asserting and re-establishing a courtesy for the views and opinions of others. It is a matter of respecting the free expression of another person. It doesn’t matter whether they are anonymous or not; what matters is the appreciation of differing viewpoints.