Do you require (and display) real names?

(Sarah Hawk) #1

I’m interested to hear opinions on enforcing the use (and display) of real names. Do you have a policy around this?

Full disclosure: I registered at a community yesterday and I was declined entry because I didn’t want to publicly display my real name in full. I requested to use a pseudonym instead, but was still declined (kindly, I should note, but firmly). The explanation I was given was that it is a community of real people and it helps to prevent trolling and abusive behaviour.

I’m posting this with the CM of that community’s blessing because I’m interested to hear other peoples’ perspectives on it.

If you do enforce the use of real names, why?
If not, is that an active choice and why?

Anonymous questions
Weekly Breakdown: Survive France Network
(James Higginson) #2

Hi Sarah,

I’m the manager of that community and I’m very happy to share the reasoning behind it, feedback is very welcome too!

We chose to insist upon real names as there were many similar communities in our niche at that time around six years ago (that have since disappeared) that did not and the general level of conversation was poor on those communities.

Regular abuse was common and users were being banned and simply signing up under new pseudonyms. The quality of those sites lists/members was questionable as a result. Inversely those members that did sign up with us were much more inclined to enter in to quality discussion and reasoned debate as they knew their real name would be associated with their views.

Pros - Quality of discussion is high and less moderation is required (we believe).
Cons - We will have dissuaded those from joining that prefer to remain anonymous.

(Sarah Hawk) #3

It is. :slight_smile: Thanks for responding. I think the discussion could be a valuable one.

I’m going to sit on my thoughts pending input from others.

Does anyone have data which can give us a definitive answer one way or the other?

Edit: this is a really interesting (and relevant) article

(Rob Nicholson) #4

Same question was raised a couple of days ago by one of our long term old forum (phpBB) users about why he doesn’t want to join Discourse because we’re insisting on real names. The CAMRA forum is only accessible to members (authentication has been integrated with our membership system) so I asked why he was reluctant.

He said it was because he didn’t want a potential client or employer Googling for him and finding hundreds of posts about beer…

(Chris Detzel) #5


That’s probably a good reason! Privacy is important to a lot of people.

(Katie Paffhouse Bussey) #6

I change my thinking based upon the type of community. Communities of Practice = definitely use real name. Communities of circumstance - probably allow for user names. The more personal trust required at launch, the more I like display names.

(Sarah Hawk) #7

The real question for me isn’t whether real names are required to register (which I think is fine) but whether they are displayed publicly (in full).

After many years of requests from people to remove content that is showing up on Google (my clients will see that I’m not an expert, my boss will see that I said this, I was young when I wrote that and now I’m embarrassed) and with the much more present threat of stalking, bullying and predatory behaviour, I teach my kids not to use their real names on the internet.

I think the right to privacy should be a choice.

Another interesting read on the topic.

(Richard Millington) #8

I mostly agree with this, though I also think members should have the right to remove (or ask for the removal) of any posts they’ve written in the past.

Interestingly the EU ‘right to be forgotten’ laws have provisions about the removal of user data after a specific amount of time. No-one seems to have tested this yet (it would cause havoc in communities I imagine), but it’s out there at the moment.

(Rob Nicholson) #9

Hmm with us leaving the EU, I wonder if we’ll loose the requirement to remove content as well…

(MHCommMgr) #10

My community is health-related, so we allow usernames for privacy’s sake. We do have problems with trolls and multiple usernames, but our moderation team takes care of that as part of their daily work. I think when it’s a case of health issues, a lot of people wouldn’t feel comfortable initially sharing if they had to use their real name.

In terms of the communities of practice vs communities of circumstance distinction, I chose not to use my real name here, even though it is a community of practice, and public, because I was cautioned not to by colleagues. However, my username is now linked to my business name, which I think may be a mistake as well. The concerns most people had were that the posts I made could be traced by to our company or to myself. I’m still considering it, to be honest! But I like that I have the option.

(Sarah Hawk) #11

Part of me agrees with you, but after receiving daily requests from people to remove 20+ posts (at SitePoint) I’ve come to realise that it’s actually not ok. It destroys the data integrity of the forum. Suddenly threads don’t make sense. In a perfect world people would remember that the internet is forever, but given how unrealistic that is, I think a good compromise is to allow people to change their username to something that won’t be associated with them so that the posts can stay without damaging their reputation.

I have never seen evidence to suggest that real names stops trolling. I’d be interested to know if anyone has data.

And I think that’s the key. I believe that it should be your choice, and if we take that choice away from you, we risk losing you and the value that you bring.

(Priscilla McClay) #12

I also work on a health-related community and we actually actively don’t allow real full names and I do change them if I see them. They can use their real first name if they choose, though. As you say, privacy is really crucial for health communities, particularly open ones. Also, people are usually signing up at a particularly stressful or emotional time in their lives and might not be thinking through the privacy issues as clearly as they would at other times, so I think a blanket policy protects everyone.

(We do ask for real names and hold them privately, so that we can match people up with our main CRM and make sure everything is updated if someone opts out of communications or dies. But there wouldn’t be anything to stop someone giving a pseudonym).

(Sarah Hawk) #13

I think that’s an ideal compromise.

(Kristen Gastaldo) #14

I SO wanted to require first and last name, but we just can’t at this point. Our community is worldwide and we have several members who use their real names NOWHERE online.

As a developer community, many of our members are much more known by their username anyway (Stack Overflow, Github, etc).

I’ll be requiring first and last name, but making them optional to be displayed publicly. If a user REALLY doesn’t want to put in their first and last name, even to the company, they’ll have to make something up to put there - which we really can’t verify anyway!

(Sarah Hawk) #15

I can relate to that. I don’t get called Sarah much these days!

(purldator) #16

Sarah brings up a point I asked advice for elsewhere.

A well-worded, thorough user content license tailored to fit a community’s needs will aid in mitigating these kinds of content removal requests (or, if allowed, to better process them in a timely and neat manner).

You (general you) need to define what “trolling” be in a specific context.

Sometimes, all it takes is more honest, straight-forward communication.

Also, a timeless adage: one cannot eradicate brief unpleasantries from their life. Rules and regulations seeking to do such return not a benefit but a deficit.

(Sarah Hawk) #17

I’d be interested to hear what @Steve_Combs has to say on this. Steve, what does the law say around people’s right to have all their content deleted?

@purldator Do you think people that have the active intent to behave badly (whatever that may mean) will temper that behaviour if their real name is on display?

(purldator) #18

Terse answer: Nope.

Verbose answer: Fake, randomly generated names aside: if someone is so passionate about something, then they not only be unabashedly abrasive in displaying it, but they aim to have their name attached as well.

Their name is a source of power and authority. They see their delivery as part of reaching out to their intended audience hiding in a community’s whole. Matters not their opinion regarding taste and tact, as that will vary so much from person to person. And to compare it with a given community’s expected decorum would make it clear the user’s intent.

An active intent.

I admit my own affinity for this active way of speaking at Discourse Meta, but also my intense ability to discern the levels at which I employ it. All based on everything around me and what I truly want in response to it.

Some have more ability to discern these things than others.

I have the Predator’s share of ability, used well. *smiles*

But, I be an anomaly, and why my terse answer blankets a wider possibility I observe at enough constant to say it be that wider possibility. And, taking a community’s context into account too.

(Steve Combs) #19

There is no absolute right for a person to have their content deleted, even under the EU’s “right to be forgotten” rules. So the answer is “it depends.”

Note that Google v. Spain required Google, as a search engine, to remove links to a newspaper article related to personal financial matters of an individual. The court did not require the newspaper to remove the actual article from the newspaper website (based on press freedoms). This seems to bode well for forums who want to retain content, but it would depend on the circumstances.

Absent some specific law, the terms of service will control. For example, under the Feverbee Terms, contributions are licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International, and the license is irrevocable. However, that license states the following:

The license may not give you all of the permissions necessary for your intended use. For example, other rights such as publicity, privacy, or moral rights may limit how you use the material.

So…it depends :slight_smile: I think having a feature to anonymize posts is appropriate for many sites.

(Steve Combs) #20

Some data at

There are plenty of examples of Facebook users engaging in hateful behavior under their real names, however. Research about online identity shows that “real ID” policies are not as effective as their proponents claim. Disqus, an online commenting platform, conducted an informal analysis of about 500 million comments by 60 million users and found that pseudonymous users wrote better comments (and more of them) than those who were using their real names, with anonymous users being responsible for the bottom-feeder-quality comments.

An econometric analysis of a South Korean third-party commenting platform by two Carnegie Mellon professors reached similar conclusions: Although real-name policies are “likely to reduce the probability of using offensive words, the greater number of users seems to prefer participating in the commenting activity by using their pseudonym accounts.” But they found that for active commenters, real-name policies actually increased the frequency of offensive words.