Thursday 22 August 2013
What's going on?
The Huffington Post has announced plans to ban users from commenting anonymously on articles, with the change expected to be introduced next month.
Currently the site attracts 25,000 comments per hour with the majority of them left by users who choose not to give their own name.
Site founder Arianna Huffington explained the decision with reference to the increased aggressiveness of online trolls. "I feel that freedom of expression is given to people who stand up for what they say and not hiding behind anonymity."
Is this a good move?
Case for: Stops abuse
Do you think any of the people who abused Caroline Criado-Perez, Grace Dent, Caitlin Moran etc etc etc would have dared be so vile under their real identity? And do you think the racist/homophobic/abusive comments left under articles would be so prevalent if the option to hide behind a pseudonym was taken away? Certainly not. The land 'below the line' would be a more civil, more interesting place with anonymity stripped away. This is already the case for some websites - such as the Times, which only lets subscribers comment. Of course, people should still be able to be rude - but only as rude as you would be face to face.
Case against: Democratic
It tends to be article authors who worry about anonymity. Commenters fret less. This is because, when you remove the choice of anonymity, you move power towards the writer and away from the reader. Those in the privileged position 'above the line' then become something of a molly-coddled and protected species, spared the criticism (or praise) someone might not feel comfortable giving under their real name. The Huffington Post is taking a worrying step. At an extreme - say in China - anonymity online is a vital outlet for commenters who might reasonably fear repercussion for their views.