Why using your real name will not mean better behaviour online

In this guest posting, Alison Michalk takes issue with a recent opinion piece on Mumbrella on online anonymity.

It is fallacy that anonymity breeds terrible behaviour – poor community management and poorly designed reputation systems do that.

Being made to use your “real” name online does not hold most accountable. If that were the case hundreds of facebook/social media managers around the world would be out of work while people behaved politely online and with civility towards fellow humankind.

“Persistent identity” – because real can’t be regulated (yet anyway) – does not stop people from behaving badly, if anything it stifles their ability to say what they really think. Which as a society, is something we should all hold in high regard. And defend.

Most people I meet who are anti-anonymity have never inhabited an online forum because almost everyone who ever has, has a completely different understanding of the issue. (Quite possibly Randy Zuckerberg also falls into this category, and no doubt her anti-anonymity views of indicative of what gets said in the halls of facebook.)

There are myriad places where our real name is completely irrelevant to the discussion – and instead what matters is our interests, our experience, our thoughts, our beliefs and our ability to self-disclose and share this information. Whether it be to seek an answer and support, or simply to help others.

Whether it be breast cancer, pregnancy complications, divorce issues, workplace situations, whistleblowers, political discourse (including freedom from persecution) the list truly goes on and on an on. To have these often deeply important discussions attached to your “real” identity creates far more issues than it seeks to solve.

The issue of “real” or persistent identify of course is one that has been discussed with fervor amongst online community managers like myself. It’s a serious issue that goes much deeper than “bullying” and bad comments.

The potential for the internet where we have protected online spaces where we are not tracked, stalked, and followed to have our data sold to the highest bidder (or worse under some regimes)… well I consider it a future worth fighting for.

The internet, after all, fosters communication unlike anything that has ever existed before. To attempt (and fail) to eliminate “bad behaviour” at the expense of all people’s freedoms would be a very short sighted trade indeed.

Alison Michalk is director of online community management firm Quiip


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