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Will Real Name Policies Improve Comments? 264

TechCrunch has a story about the recent trend of websites wanting users to use their real names in an attempt to make comments better. The story points out that the practice didn't work in South Korea. From the article: "...In 2007, South Korea temporarily mandated that all websites with over 100,000 viewers require real names, but scrapped it after it was found to be ineffective at cleaning up abusive and malicious comments (the policy reduced unwanted comments by an estimated .09%). We don’t know how this hidden gem of evidence skipped the national debate on real identities, but it’s an important lesson for YouTube, Facebook and Google, who have assumed that fear of judgement will change online behavior for the better."
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Will Real Name Policies Improve Comments?

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  • by Tim Ward ( 514198 ) on Sunday July 29, 2012 @03:23PM (#40809941) Homepage

    Eventually people will realise that employers Google these things, and that posting nasty stuff means you can't get work.

    But this could take a generation to work through.

    • by Znork ( 31774 ) on Sunday July 29, 2012 @03:52PM (#40810261)

      Actually, it means you can't post personal stuff, as you'd find that employers would refrain from hiring people for everything from their political view through religion to sexual preferences, medical issues or even hobbies. In fact, a whole lot of things that _shouldn't_ be a problem are far more likely to be a problem than some bad behaviour.

      Then one'd try and fail to rectify those issues by a vast and comprehensive anti-discrimination law(book), while internet asshats plead tourettes and keep trolling.

      Banning anonymous speech mostly bans speech that shouldn't be banned.

      • by jonfr ( 888673 )

        Companies that hire people on there political views are doing so because it benefits them (so they believe) when it comes to having all employee agreeing on certain views.

        The downside is that a group of people how do nothing but agreeing with each other do not make a lot of progress at the same time. This is evident today's world.

    • by Jane Q. Public ( 1010737 ) on Sunday July 29, 2012 @04:08PM (#40810379)

      "But this could take a generation to work through."

      It will never get that far.

      An awful lot of people understand that freedom of speech requires the ability to speak anonymously (precisely because others will be seeing that speech and judging it). Imagine if the United States were like some countries, in which political dissidence could get you killed or imprisoned for life? Would you dare say anything against the government, using your real name?

      This employment situation is merely a small-scale version of the same kind of tyranny.

      Several states have already passed laws that prevent employers from using social network content in their hiring practices, or requiring account credentials. I expect soon that will be most states, or even a Federal law.

    • Where freedom of speech is long dead. But then you seem to embrace that.

    • by Gerzel ( 240421 ) <(moc.liamg) (ta) (terrefyllorb)> on Sunday July 29, 2012 @04:33PM (#40810567) Journal

      The only problem is everyone at some point posts nasty stuff, and at many points it is fully justified.

      You could get a cooling effect on free speech if all potential employers are going to rate their employees by their non-work related speech. Sure you don't want to hire a KKK clansman but what about an atheist? Does a Libertarian employer have the right to refuse to hire a Communist or Socialist employee? What about one that is merely Liberal? What about someone who argues for pornagraphy and/or erotic art?

      There are many decisive issues that we need to be able to freely discuss in online and public forums without fear of those discussions damning our chances at attaining our livelyhoods.

    • Try: douchebags that see comments that aren't politically correct will try to find out where you are employed and then complain with your employer "Did you know that your employee so-and-so said this-and-that?"

      Can't win online with arguments, then extort the employer. Because if they don't punish you, the employer must agree, no?

    • by burne ( 686114 )

      Eventually people will realise that employers Google these things.

      I think I was hired because my current employer googled my real name. Being what you are can be as much as an asset as it can be a liability.

    • And then another generation for employers to realize they are losing out on talent by applying prejudice and ending up with a specific subset of the population with a specific subset of less-than-ideal attributes.

      Everyone knows that the best form of management is management that works -- management that actually makes comprehensive judgement of its human resources and utilizes the individuals as effectively as possible. This means that Billy Bunkins on facebook may be a beer chugging lightly racist redneck

    • So if Alan Turing posted about homosexuality which was illegal in his time, he should never have been hired for anything?

      Anyway a better answer is a guaranteed basic income. Then people can post freely and employers can discriminate against them, and each individual can still contribute to society by working on their own projects, and/or towards challenges held by govt and biz (bug bounties, netflix prize, darpa challenges, etc.).

    • by assertation ( 1255714 ) on Sunday July 29, 2012 @06:07PM (#40811631)

      I see your point. It took years for it to sink down to some people that they should get a separate email from work for personal messages.

    • Eventually people will realise that employers Google these things, and that posting nasty stuff means you can't get work.

      And not posting nasty stuff won't help you either, unless your name is unique in the whole wide world. And this, of course, makes everyone "unhirable", leading this system to its well-deserved collapse. Time will tell if the concept of free speech dies first.

    • Yeah, but you can tell them you Googled them or you risk a lawsuit becasue of employers harvesting protected information....club memberships and group affiliations being a couple of them.

  • Yeah, my name is John Smith... I'm really afraid of people's judgement.
    • Re:John Smith (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 29, 2012 @03:51PM (#40810253)

      There are a lot of reasons to be concerned with people's (poor, inappropriate) judgement.

      A poster may have perfectly good reasons to be anonymous: they may be subject to various kinds of active hunting, from spouses to creeps to national agencies; there are people who may have made mistakes (or not), have been through the legal system, but have been pilloried on some list somewhere; they may be activists of one sort or another, engaged in illegal activities (and don't even try to tell me that all laws are good just because they are laws... it's just too easy to take your wet-noodle premise and slap you silly with it); there is strong tendency to "attack the messenger" rather than try to respond to the message, and anonymity makes that an empty exercise... it neither hurts the poster or benefits the attacker; anonymity means no one gets to scrape you from some forum and "market" to you (it may not be evil but it surely is annoying.) And so on.

      Yes, real name policies let the lowlives run essentially free. But that's what moderation is for, and that's where the most effective energy can be applied. The one thing slashdot does really wrong is start anonymous comments at zero. They should start at one, just like any other comment, and go down only when they're obviously of lower quality. It's a form of prejudice, nothing more. A counter argument is that it is statistically justified, but that's an over-democratic solution that harms the legitimate posters at the same time it addresses whatever problem there is. It's like racial profiling: if most of the crime in an area is from blacks, and then the police start pulling people over because they're black, we have a problem. With an anon post, when you droprate the post because it's anon, you've essentially done the same thing, except the problem area isn't arbitrary search, it is the chilling of speech (because low scores tend to make posts less visible.)

      In the end, real name policies are a bad idea, the only people who really benefit from them are corporations.

      • This. Real name comments are basically a way of saying "Hey! Anyone being stalked, stay off the internet.". Bear in mind, before dismissing this, that *anyone* can potentially be stalked, for any number of reasons. Imagine being active in an online community for years, being stalked, and having to beg that website to remove your comments...
      • The problem with starting AC's at 1 is the number of Off-Topic and Trolls. Keep in mind that /. allows us, when logged in, to get the karma bonus for posting AC. If I can't be bothered to log-in or don't have an account, then there is little reason for me to be granted any benefit such as the +1 Karma Bonus

    • by jrumney ( 197329 )
      I was thinking that was why it failed in Korea. Everyone just signs their comments as being from Kim.
    • Pleased to meet you, Mr. Smith. My name is Min-jun [koreanslate.com] Kim [wikipedia.org].

      Perhaps you know my friend, James Smith [lifesmith.com]?

  • So, let me ask you this: You intend to implement FEAR in your policy!!! What the f%$%$%$%
  • by punit_r ( 1080185 ) on Sunday July 29, 2012 @03:27PM (#40809979)

    Does Slashdot have any statistics to share on the percentage of troll posts / off topics and flamebaits by ACs vis-a-vis registered users ?

    Agreed, that registered users may not be using real names. But, still Anonymous comments v/s registered comments will provide a good starting point. My gut feeling is that the statistics would have a higher number of ACs being abusive and malicious than the registered users.

    • by gweihir ( 88907 )

      No idea, but I filter ACs out, unless they manage to get moderated up or answer my postings. I only answer to ACs answering my postings if they make good points.

      • by Skapare ( 16644 )

        I have the same rules about answering postings, but I don't limit that to just ACs.

      • I only answer to ACs answering my postings if they make good points.

        I dont suppose you answer to non-ACs that dont make good points either right. Then I dont suppose it matters if the person responding to you is anonymous or not, does it?

        • by gweihir ( 88907 )

          It does. I am not above to point out to non-ACs that they are idiots and why. With ACs, I assume they already know they are idiots and wrong, otherwise they would not post as ACs. /. does allow pseudonyms, after all.

    • Who cares? They get modded down and by and large don't affect the discussion. If your discussion forum doesn't have ancient features that help filter out the crap, it's because your discussion forum platform sucks, not because everyone needs to be forced or pushed to give up anonymity. Yours, Mr. Dust Mite.
  • by El_Muerte_TDS ( 592157 ) on Sunday July 29, 2012 @03:31PM (#40810027) Homepage

    So, no.

  • by bwintx ( 813768 ) on Sunday July 29, 2012 @03:31PM (#40810029)
    TFS linked only to another Slashdot thread. The TechCrunch article TFS mentions is:
    http://techcrunch.com/2012/07/29/surprisingly-good-evidence-that-real-name-policies-fail-to-improve-comments/ [techcrunch.com]
    • by bwintx ( 813768 )
      Sorry to reply to myself but just noting the obvious, namely that TFS does have that link now. Guess I caught it pre-"oops."
  • No. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ildon ( 413912 ) on Sunday July 29, 2012 @03:32PM (#40810037)

    You might get less trolling (but not much less) but you'll miss out on a lot of extremely useful comments that can only be made anonymously or semi-anonymously. Some people are too shy or scared to speak out without anonymity, some just value their privacy. You'll almost never get insight from insiders at a company without some level of anonymity. Too much good value is lost for too small a reduction in bad comments, and bad comments can be controlled by good moderation anyway.

    • Exactly.

      Part of free speech and the "marketplace of ideas" requires there to be at least some level of anonymity. Trolling is simply part of the internet. Just ignore the troll comments if you want, or read them if you want.

      Anonymous speech has had huge impact, particularly in early American history. You have to remember that the major works of early American politics were anonymous, including the Federalist and Anti-Federalist papers.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Political views. Eample: remember back in '02 when all those folks who were against invading Iraq had their property vandalized because they "didn't support the troops and hated America"? Turns out those people who "hated America and the troops" were right.

      Religion. Example: I live in the Bible Belt. If it were known that I am an atheist, I would have some serious problems with my neighbors. Like anonymous vandalism.

      sexual orientation. there are folks who have a severe prejudice against homosexuals and a co

  • For most people, using your real name (e.g. "Joe Johnson") doesn't really remove your anonymity that much - nor does it pin down your location anymore than posting under a pseudonym does. It might be interesting, from an academic viewpoint, to see if people with unusual names (e.g. "Moon Unit Zappa") behave in a more socially acceptable manner when they're forced to use their real name online.

    Also, why the heck does the only link in this story go back to another Slashdot post? That link adds nothing to the

    • by Sir_Sri ( 199544 )

      it's possible they updated since you posted this. The first link is a callback to the previous /. story, the second link is to a tech crunch article about how effective the policy was in south korea.

      • Yup, they updated it - several other commenters also noted the (initial) lack of a link to the Tech Crunch article.

        In any case, I'm not sure South Korea is a good test bed. A friend of mine is from there and has previously made the observation that some huge percentage of the population has one of two family names - Kim or Park. Having to post their real names probably isn't giving away much from a practical sense.

    • by rta ( 559125 )

      i have a somewhat strange name and tried to make this point in email to NPR.org and ConsumerReports.org both of which require real names. Unless you require SS# as well, "real name" really has a disparate impact on people w/ more uncommon names.

      My solution had been fairly easy. I won't even consider posting on a real-name site. And this doesn't even address the issue of how trivial it is to circumvent these by posting under a false name. So basically the only people you exclude are the ones (like m

      • Yeah, I also come from the school of internet thought that said "limit your real name on the net, it's the content not the person". I've worked pretty hard to build a "Web Brand" across a bunch of sites, while searching my real name leads to a fairly tame set of results. As I like to say, anyone that motivated can figure out the connection in under an hour, but it's a base level of veneer to slow down the most important cases like snooping HR and spammers.

        There was a site that made me REALLY angry when I wa

    • For some people using a real name actually improves anonymity. People with particularly common names will share real names, while most people choose their pseudonyms to be unique (or very nearly so).
  • by thetoadwarrior ( 1268702 ) on Sunday July 29, 2012 @03:36PM (#40810061) Homepage
    Facebook has proven people are happy to harrass or say retarded things even under their real name.
  • We don’t know how this hidden gem of evidence skipped the national debate on real identities...

    Because it doesn't fit the expected narrative!

  • by Hazelfield ( 1557317 ) on Sunday July 29, 2012 @03:40PM (#40810127)
    A couple of points about Facebook:

    1) You have a real incentive of actually signing up with your real name because otherwise your friends won't find you.
    2) Your friends can see what you write.

    This creates a (somewhat) self-regulated comment environment. People still post dumb stuff on Facebook because they're dumb, but at least you get rid of most trolls, one-liner thumb seekers and Justin Bieber haters that haunt for instance Youtube.
    • by devent ( 1627873 )

      This has nothing to do with the issue. You don't have spam on Fb because you can choose who you read and who you ignore. If a "friend" on Fb is just a troll I can revoke him from my friend list and never see him again. That has nothing to do if he is using a real name or not.

      • by gl4ss ( 559668 )

        ..oh but of course it is, if you didn't know there's people who post "OMG THAZ SHIT WACK POOPOO" allover the net but don't do with that their fb feed because their fb friends who sub to their stuff with their real names don't want to see that and they realize that, but they still do it on other sites. hell, it wouldn't be cool at all if all my slashdot rants appeared on my fb feed - however, I do realize that pretty much anyone of them could come to slashdot to read them. if they'd complain I'd say tough lu

    • by Mashiki ( 184564 )

      No it doesn't work on facebook. Hell it doesn't work on any site where they require the "facebook social plugin" if anything, the comments degenerate even faster, and it becomes a giant screaming shill match of epeen stroking to see who can become the biggest asshole of the thread with the most likes. Oddly enough, I generally just strike sites off my reading list that use it for commenting.

  • by hawguy ( 1600213 ) on Sunday July 29, 2012 @03:41PM (#40810131)

    I've found that moving from anonymity to real-identity based comments (i.e. Facebook) just makes comment board much less interesting.

    The SJ Mercury News switched to FB comments a year or 2 ago, and after the switch, I stopped reading the comments (and the site) because the comments switched from controversial discussion (and yes, even some trolls and personal attacks) to boring "Yeah, me too buddy" comments.

    On Slashdot, I often post anecdotes from current and past jobs, and I wouldn't do so if my name was attached to the post.

    • by Dachannien ( 617929 ) on Sunday July 29, 2012 @04:14PM (#40810415)

      On Slashdot, I often post anecdotes from current and past jobs, and I wouldn't do so if my name was attached to the post.

      Yeah, me too buddy.

    • A lot of sites are figuring out that user comments are relatively worthless. Yes, they increase page views and 'interaction', but at the same time only a small percentage of users are looking at them, because who has the time to read hundreds of largely worthless comments? When you see 1000+ posts about the latest smartphone news, most of those comments are "write-only", nobody ever reads them. But the site still has to maintain hosting and pay people to moderate the comments, which could easily outweigh the advertising revenue.

      So, I can see how a site would be perfectly happy with a smaller number of 'boring' facebook comments.

      Slashdot was largely set up as a discussion site with threaded comments, user moderation, filtering, etc. People post longer-form comments and actually reply to arguments. It's a tech audience which is generally OK with anonymity (even though everyone thinks everyone else is a "shill"). It's an entirely different atmosphere than most high-traffic blogs or newspaper comment sections.

  • Anonymous comments is critical for the free flow of genuine information. It is one thing for some twerp to call people schoolyard names but it is critical for somebody working at say the police department to mention that the policeman waving the club is named Bob Smith and that you can tell because of his distinctive boots. Or if you negatively comment on a beating video that the cops should be fired won't result in the cops pulling you over and "finding" drugs in your car.
  • People that are cretins will remain so, whether real names, pseudonyms or anonymity. There are some that will behave a bit better when they can be recognized later, but pseudonymity works just as well here. One massive drawback of real names is that many people will not be able to post anything marginally critical anymore, because their present or future employers could find out. In fact, I am inly allowed to post on /., because I do it under pseudonym. Real-name policies can have a massive chilling effect.

  • It will "improve" comments in the same way that the Stasi or the Holy Inquisition "improved comments": minority opinions will be silenced since any form of contrarian opinion is frowned upon, and tends to result in repercussions, by employers, friends, and governments.

  • Seriously, this is stupid.

    Fake names are easy.

    Bob Dobbs
    John Smith
    Jay Woo
    J. Wu

    I don't even have to make clever ones, just some of the most common names in the world will work.

    I don't want any of you to know who I am, if I did, you'd probably be a friend of mine. Not one of you needs to know what my last name is, and if I am, or am not famous. It's none of your fucking business unless I decide to tell you.

    Maybe we should use numbers instead of names, or I know, we'll all go by our Social Security numbers.

  • Really if you see a post on the internet from "John Doe" are you going to make the connection to the actor/singer?

    All this means is that people named "John Doe" or "Joe Smith" or "Sanjay Gupta" will be able to say whatever they want without it being associated with them.

  • It is the reduced fear of judgement among the population that is the real reward of such a policy. In my opinion. Reduced fear of judgement, together with more effective application of judgement in that small selection of cases where it's importance is recognized by all sounds win-win.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 29, 2012 @03:50PM (#40810245)

    Having subscribers' and posters' real names would vastly increase the value of their web analytics, and allow them to sell qualified leads to marketers ("all these email addresses are for people who proactively viewed at least one SUV product video within the last two weeks"). That's what those guys care about, not comment quality.

  • by Skapare ( 16644 ) on Sunday July 29, 2012 @04:04PM (#40810359) Homepage

    I am Skapare. Never heard of me? Then consider yourself lucky.

  • I switched to using my real name a long time ago. I do find that it makes me a bit more cautious about what I say and how I say it. As others have mentioned, there does seem to be considerably less flaming on Facebook than in forums that permit (much less are dominated by) anonymous posts. I've even heard it said that Facebook's #1 innovation was producing a system that actually encouraged people to use their real names.

    That's the crux of it, though; people use their real names on Facebook because it is

    • I think the difference though is that on Facebook, people have the ability to control (or at least the illusion of being able to control) who sees what, meaning (they believe) they can reveal for instance political views, religious views or sexual orientation without fear of for instance future employers finding out.

      I think the best model is one like Slashdot where users who have previously proven themselves worthy of moderating get to moderate and those who appear to be doing a shit job at it don't, but wi

  • A real names policy is important in some cases, is impossible in some cases, and is both important and impossible in some cases.

    An example where it's important is online book reviews. You don't want authors reviewing their own books, or, e.g., university professors getting their grad students to give five-star reviews of their advisor's book.

    An example where it's impossible is basically any web site that isn't selling a product. Presently, the main method for verifying people's real-world identities is to h

  • by RudyHartmann ( 1032120 ) on Sunday July 29, 2012 @04:19PM (#40810457)

    Some of the belligerent and rude comments on /. get to me sometimes. But I would rather have freedom of speech and hear the unvarnished truth than require proper etiquette. I think we might see more politeness and get lied to more often if real names were required.

  • Would it be better if I posted as Jonathan Robert Stevens or as houghi?
    At least with houghi people will be aware that the name is not one that I have on my passport. John Stevens just sounds real, but isn't. As my friends also call me houghi, that name is more real then Stevens.
    I can even add a fake address to it, if they want that kind of thing. Some sites ask for an American address and then I just make one up. If they verify if addresses exist, I often go for the address of the website/company.

    • At least with houghi people will be aware that the name is not one that I have on my passport.

      Not necessarily. Jon Houghi sounds just as plausible as Jon Stevens.

  • When you can put a name to a commenter, you can eventually put a face and location to the commenter as well. And it may not be "government" we have to most to fear but instead we can conveniently point to the apparently vast number of self-righteous nut-jobs who believe that thinking any way other than their way warrants a death sentence or other forms of harassment.

    Try disagreeing with scientology using your real name and see what happens.

  • The Wall Street Journal required full names on their comments pages.

    It didn't work. They had just as many abusive, right-wing idiots as they would get with pseudonyms. I get more rational discussion at Slashdot, so you can imagine.

    It's amazing what people will write under their full name. I could have gotten at least one or two people fired by reporting them to their employer, and I could have gotten at least 3 or 4 people visited by the secret service for shooting their mouths off about using their "second

  • The pool of shit that exists on facebook is proof enough of that.
  • I've heard this argument a lot over the years. In roughly chronological order:
    If you have nothing to hide then...

    • you won't mind the hidden microphone at work
    • you won't object to random drug tests
    • you don't care if we search you every day when you leave the office
    • you won't mind if we monitor your email and eavesdrop on your phone coversation
    • you won't mind supplying your real name

    ...and on and on. Personally, this argument always fails for me.

  • Anyone who reads the comments of an online newspaper will see plenty of people with their pictures and real names getting into pissing contests.

  • ^^^^^^^^^^^^ (real name)

    FUCK NO.

  • In that case I would stop posting, so obviously overall comment quality would be way down!

  • by bmo ( 77928 )

    As seen on Facebook, there are a lot of shit comments even under real names.

    The real names meme is not about improving comment quality, but rather it is a direct attack on anonymity as a right. There are busybodies, government officials, corporatists, etc, that think that the right to anonymity should be abolished. Doing it online is a quick way of getting people to accept it offline.

    And then comes the turnkey police state, whether intended or not.

    The US used to be the land of second chances. It is quick

  • Real name commenting does not improve my comments, it merely increases my regrets.

  • OK, Prove that my real name is not Michael Mouse.
  • ... and see that since requiring real names did not significantly reduce the number of unwanted comments, then it would also seem to follow that requiring real names does not tend to adversely impact the level of anonymity that most people already enjoy online by simple virtue of a level of indifference towards them.
  • by TeddyR ( 4176 ) on Monday July 30, 2012 @05:56AM (#40815839) Homepage Journal

    Unique accounts should be required. But not "real names". The problem is that many HR departments (I know of at least one that does not admit to doing it but I know for a fact does) will as part of their research/vetting of a potential employee actually check for the name/email/phonenumber on resume on MANY online sources (myspace, facebook, google, and USENET) at the very least.

    The problem is that once the information is out there, there is no way to control what it is used for. Many poeple that were active on usenet in the 90s would never have thought that their posts would last longer than the longest USENET retention period of the time. Google ended up purchasing dejanews and all their backup spools (http://googlepress.blogspot.com/2001/02/google-acquires-usenet-discussion.html) to be included in googles archives. [BTW; Google also aquired MANY other backups of USENET spools from other sources as well to round out gaps in their archives]

    - An innocent comment about "Apple" now for example may cost someone their job in 3-5 years when Apple buys out the company that they work for which is currently competition...

    Another problem that I have with Real Name requirement is that it would make it extremely easy for the crooks to impersonate someone and commit identity theft.....

You know, Callahan's is a peaceable bar, but if you ask that dog what his favorite formatter is, and he says "roff! roff!", well, I'll just have to...