Anonymity vs Attribution

(Russo Greg) #1

The debate between the value of anonymous comments and their role in facilitating trolling will probably never be resolved. We have a discussion going on about removing the ability to comment entirely, but this story about Huffington Post moving away from allowing anonymous comments to forcing commenters to provide their identity got me thinking about making transitions between rules of community interaction without removing them entirely.  

On the one hand, not facing consequences for comments tends to facilitate some truely toxic behaviour in many online communities. Trolling, vulgar or bigoted language, and general mean-spiritedness tends to occur more often when the poster does not feel any sense of responsibility for their comments. Commenters on YouTube as well as players on XBox One and League of Legends are notorious for this kind of behaviour. 

On the other, anonymity and pseudonymity have always played a vital role in the development and spread of the internet since its early days. There's a strong argument to be made for allowing some degree of anonymity to allow for honest discussion of sensitive subjects or to give people the space to discuss experiences or opinions they would feel uncomfortable having be common knowledge. On a news based community like Huffington Post I could see this being a core need. In less dire terms, the ability to have different "brands" of yourself online is tied to the ability to create a new persona for yourself and is commonly employed by entertainers, writers, and musicians. 

It's worth noting that removing anonymity doesn't stop trolling or stop people from embarrassing themselves with ignorant or racist posts. And that many communities which support anonymity do not turn into troll pits. Neither option reliably results in an absolute outcome as far as I can tell. 

Has anyone had the experience of moving from anonymous comments to verified comments? What about vice versa? How have the values and interests of your community informed your decision in that regard? I'd love to hear your thoughts and experiences on dealing with this.

Anonymous questions
(Davisl) #2

Hello Gregory, I've got an answer to part 3 of your question. How have the values and interests of your community informed your decision (to remove anonymous comments). As this is a religious organization, you are going to get a religious perspective.  I'm a community manager who connects 900 remotely located community members (including our online instructors) to our campus culture, faculty and mission. We encourage our community members to have a professional photo, so there's not only a name but a face. Our Universities President shared the following on the dangers of anonymity:   

            "I am afraid that there is an attitude emerging among many of our students.  They are beginning to believe that if they participate in the Internet—whether it is Facebook, a blog, Twitter, or whatever medium—they can say and even do inappropriate things because on the Internet they are anonymous.  They believe there will be no repercussions.  That is not true.  It is a great fallacy.

Elder Bednar taught that we have bodies for a divine purpose.  Our bodies are very important eternally, and they are very precious.  Lucifer and all of his minions do not have bodies.  They try and are very successful at getting us to give up our bodies and let them control us.  When we go to an Internet site and participate in activities where we believe we are participating anonymously, we, in effect, abandon our identity and our bodies.  When we go online and participate as ourselves, in reality, we are there.  

People who post anonymously are participating in a different plan from the Plan of Salvation.  They are in effect choosing to participate in Lucifer’s plan.  They give up their bodies and their control.  They let the natural man, which is an enemy to God, govern what they say, what they write, and what they post.  In effect, they participate in the plan that Lucifer presented in the pre-mortal realm.  It is very dangerous.

Apart from whether or not they are actually doing what they claim to be doing, people who post things anonymously online and participate in sites that are inappropriate think that no one knows who they are and that no one is watching them.  But that also is also a fallacy. Everything we do is recorded.  It is recorded in our bodies and in our spirits.  And it is recorded in Heaven.  

I would not be surprised if we discovered that our loved ones, both those who have gone before us and those who will come after us, are aware of the things we do.  Therefore, because they care about us and they want to help and support us, they are aware.  They may even try to help us repent when we need to.  

Please teach your children and those you work with that the idea of anonymity is a great fallacy.  It is one of the fascinating lures that Lucifer uses in his quest to destroy peoples’ souls. 

 --President Kim B. Clark, Employee Q&A, March 6, 2013

(Russo Greg) #3

That's a perspective I rarely hear from Leah, thank you for sharing it! Has anyone else had some experiences in this, especially the transition side of things? 

(Juergenderlath) #4

Whether anonymity is detrimental to the community (or not) seems to depend on the type of the community. I would expect that a community of practice, for instance, is not sustainable with a large number of anonymous members.

Ren, Kraut & Kiesler (here is a summary) describe two groups in terms of social psychology:

  • In common-identity groups, members feel more attached to the group as a whole. Identity means that a member feels commitment to a group’s purpose or topic.
  • In common-bond groups, a member feels socially and emotionally attached to particular members as well as to the group as a whole. Here, the focus lies on social interaction.

So, interest-based communities may cope with anonymous members, but bond-based communities profit from repeated interaction of its members. This requires that member's actions are visible to each other, that people meet frequently. Public and private communication will also enhance the likelihood of forming ties. These prerequisites are not very compatible with anonymity. I reckon that communities of practice have much more in common with common-bond groups than with common identity groups.

From my personal experience, I can add the following observation: We are running two communities of practice as closed groups on Facebook: One is for lawyers and their employees, another one is for medical doctors and their employees. The topic in both communities is about billing issues (in Germany there are fairly tricky fee regulations for doctors and lawyers). Members help one another in dealing with complicated issues. Given the fact that one needs a Facebook account in order to become a member, I suppose that the number of anonymous/fake accounts is very small. In general the community members are very supportive and the conversational tone is highly constructive.

The community members were generated from several Facebook fan pages where we provide fans with information on billing issues.  My impression is that on the fan pages the conversational tone is much more thoughtless, and condescending remarks are made comparatively more often than in the communities. Of course I haven't checked if a particular member tends to act differently on the fan page and in the community.

(Russo Greg) #5

We talked about the HuffPo situation in great detail on the latest podcast, but I reached out to one of their ex-community managers for an insider-on-the-outside perspective. 

She sent me back a really fascinating blog about the value of comments in the first place and offers some interesting alternatives to that engagement model.