An answer for online anonymity

May 19, 2010

How do you rein in belligerence without restricting free speech? That’s a question many media organizations are wrestling with while weighing what to do about anonymous commenting on the Web. Online anonymity has afforded many users the opportunity to share opinions when, otherwise, they might not have been willing to do so; but that same obscurity has also encouraged an abundance of antagonism and hate speech.

I’m becoming more and more convinced that anonymous commenting, as it exists on many websites today, is irreparably broken. I’m not ready to outlaw anonymity altogether, as China is proposing to do, but I doubt that merely requiring registration and real names will be enough to foster significant change, either.

I’d like to see media organizations (and most sites where trolling is a serious issue) let users decide what should and should not be prominently visible on the Web, perhaps with the help of moderator(s) when the resources exist to provide them. Giving registered users the ability to rate individual comments, and then sorting comments according to those ratings, can encourage respectful and open discussion. Hopefully it can quiet a lot of ugliness and hostility, too.

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