Another in a series of prescient articles looking at why exactly this whole anonymous comments on a news post thing is such a toxic idea, with some intriguing behind the scenes stuff from professional moderators.
Inside the mind of the anonymous online poster - The Boston Globe
At Boston.com, the website of The Boston Globe, a team of moderators – or “mods” – monitor the comments. Actually, with just one or two mods on per shift, and an average of more than 6,000 comments posted every day, on every corner of the site, the mods could never hope to monitor all the simultaneous chatter. Instead, they focus on evaluating the “abuse reports” that commenters file against one another. For Steve Morgan, a veteran editor who coordinates the monitoring, the color of trouble is red. The crimson message at the top of his computer screen keeps a running total of the abuse reports that are awaiting action. Some complaints don’t ultimately turn up abuse – coarse language, ad hominem attacks, and the like – but rather just a political stance that the person doing the complaining doesn’t care for. So a mod needs to evaluate each complaint and decide either to remove the comment or let it stand.
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Owens insists that a no-anonymity rule is not just good journalism but good business as well. “My competitor allows anonymous comments,” he says. “We don’t. We get 10 times what they get. My users are more willing to engage in conversation, because they know who they are arguing with.” Almost all the heavy users I spoke with said they would continue to comment even if they had to provide their real name.
While news organizations debate scrapping anonymity, the ground may be shifting beneath them. With all of our identifying information getting sliced, diced, and sold, by everyone from credit card companies to Facebook, is there really such a thing as the anonymous Web anymore? Consider this demonstration from the late ’90s by Carnegie Mellon University computer science professor Latanya Sweeney. She took three commonly available data points: sex (male), ZIP code (02138), and date of birth (July 31, 1945). Those seemingly anonymous attributes could have described lots of people, right? Actually, no. She proved they could belong to just one person: former governor William Weld. She tells me that 87 percent of Americans can now be identified with just these three data points.
Maybe the best approach to getting people to behave better online is just reminding them how easy it is to figure out who they really are.