Justin du Coeur (jducoeur) wrote,
Justin du Coeur

Should anonymity be encouraged/allowed?

So I'm still working my way through the responses in the last CommYou thread -- my thanks to everyone for the many insights and ideas there, and I'm still planning on responding to a bunch more of the comments as I have time to do so properly. But let's toss out another while I think of it: several recent events (both personal and in the tech news) have brought this specifically to mind.

One issue that pretty much any online communication system has to wrestle with is anonymity. Some allow it, some don't. Of those that do, some have it as a normal, default mode; others don't. I need to decide how CommYou is going to deal with this.

My bias is pretty strongly against anonymity -- indeed, strong enough to be worth a reality-check. Since the system will initially be embedded inside Facebook, anonymity isn't very natural to the environment: almost everything in FB has your name attached to it. And I've rarely seen much value to anonymity in LJ: in about 90% of the cases I've seen it used, it was simply because the poster hadn't bothered to get an account yet, not because they actually cared to protect their identity. (And in well over half the cases where it *was* used to hide their identity, it was for strictly trollish behaviour.)

So my plan is to simply disallow anonymity to begin with: every message has a name attached to it, and can be followed through to the corresponding FB account. There's still the possibility of someone creating multiple accounts to harass a target, but FB already has some abuse mechanisms in place to deal with that, I believe.

Down the road, I have a low-priority story to enable anonymous posting, but strictly on an opt-in basis: when you create a conversation, you can explicitly permit anonymous comments. In these cases, responders may choose to make their comments anonymously. (I will probably still log the identity internally, but only release it in case of court order.) This is specifically to allow folks to raise sensitive topics where there is value in allowing anonymous reply. I'm not likely to get around to even this level of anonymity for 4-6 months, though.

Note, BTW, that I have *screened* conversations and comments somewhat higher in the list -- still a ways down, but probably a couple of months before I would get to anonymity.

Opinions? Does this sound like an appropriate approach? Does anyone care to argue that anonymity is high priority, and should be dealt with sooner? Or that it is not even worth doing if screening is in place?

ETA: Several people have made the very good point that anonymity and pseudonymity aren't the same thing, and that the latter may have value over and above the former. I'm not sure how much I can do within the Facebook context (which sets a lot of expectations and *may* have regulations on the subject), but I've added the "pseudonymity" story to the list for future consideration. Thanks!
Tags: commyou

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