If the leading Internet companies have their way, nicknames like "honeybunny68" and "joecool" will soon be a relic of the past. Facebook has long required its users to use their real names (though
), and Google is also considering a similar solution. Google+ only allows pseudonyms and nicknames when a real name is provided, and YouTube recently began asking its users to
Even the short-message service Twitter, which is popular among anonymous activists because you can freely choose your user name, is wrestling with pseudonyms. Twitter CEO Dick Costolo recently noted in an interview with the Financial Times that he is frustrated to see how the anonymity his company offers is misused in such horrendous ways. Most recently, the British Olympic icons Tom Daley and Zoe Smith were subject to a
from Twitter trolls. In the future, Twitter hopes to hide hate messages with sophisticated algorithms.
Genuine identityMany consider the unique identification of users who submit comments and publish content online to be the solution to the problem of hate postings, abuse, and Internet trolls. Because comments that constitute defamation or slander could quickly be attributed to a single person. "On Facebook people connect and share using their real identities. This culture creates accountability and builds trust and safety for everyone. Claiming to be another person, creating multiple accounts, or falsely representing an organization undermines the community and violates Facebook`s Terms of Service," say the online network`s community standards, for example.
For this reason, Facebook offers its own commenting system that can be displayed beneath online articles and that only allows comments to be submitted by Facebook members who are logged in. The high-tech blog Techcrunch began using the system on its web site, and the number of trolls has decreased and the quality of the posts increased since then.
Harsh realityBut what sounds plausible in theory often fails in practice. A quick look at the Facebook page of Freedom Party head HC Strache reveals postings like the following, all of which were given under real names, and not under the cloak of anonymity:
"You`re all so stupid hahaha xD the whole fpö/fpk is nothing but a great big pile of SHIT!!!!"
"Faymann is a lying bastard and a socialist asshole, i would like to punch him right in the face his fake smile and the crap he pulls"
"you son of a bitch austrian i`ll kill all of autstria"
Things are similar in South Korea. The requirement to use real names for web sites with more than 100,000 users was adopted there in 2007 – but only reduced insulting online comments by 0.09 percent, and was dropped again.
"Unfiltered truth"The Berlin Internet sociologist Stephan Humer (www.internetsoziologie.de) says it is a misconception that real identities on the Internet will reduce the number of trolls and bring a more civilized discussion. In reality, people underestimate the value of anonymity. It allows people to show the "unfiltered truth"; "you see a lot more of the true person because he is no longer bound by the rules that would apply to his real identity," Humer told futurezone. There is no need to use real names: "If someone writes nonsense, it is nonsense no matter what name they use. It`s more important to have people in the forum who guide the discussion back onto the right track."
Humer also thinks that justifying the pressure to use real names by saying it will improve the quality of posts is dubious at best. "Twitter and Facebook don`t really care what you talk about, what`s most important is that you spend a lot of time on their platforms."
The real reasonThe real reasons behind the push to get Internet users to use their actual names are primarily economic. Facebook is showing the Internet industry how real identities can be sold to advertisers (its sales rose to USD 1.18 billion in the second quarter of 2012, as futurezone reported). Twitter and YouTube are saying little about their advertising revenue, which is not indicative of record cash flows.
Many other web sites are also working more with user identification. In addition to Facebook, there are companies such as Gigya, Disqus, IntenseDebate and Livefyre that have specialized in social commenting systems. Their plugins can be easily embedded beneath online articles and blog entries (on platforms such as Wordpress and Tumblr) and allow users to post comments with their Facebook, Twitter, or Google names.
The benefits they tout are that users do not have to create a new account on the web site, that they can log in more easily, and that they stay on the site longer and generate more hits, which results in more advertising revenue.
Argument for pseudonymsDisqus, whose commenting system is integrated into over one million web sites (including CNN.com, RollingStone.com, and Wired.com), has made surprising discoveries about user behavior. “We found that users with pseudonyms or nicknames write higher quality posts than completely anonymous users or users commenting under their real names,” Disqus manager Ro Guptra told futurezone. So it pays for sites to allow pseudonyms, he said. Because they generate 6.5 times more comments than anonymous users and 4.7 times more comments than Facebook users according to an analysis of 60 millions Internet users and more than a half a billion comments.