Nov 212011
 November 21, 2011  Posted by  Online

Can you legitimately call yourself a privacy advocate or privacy lawyer if you advocate reducing others’ privacy? I don’t think so, and I was very disappointed to read a letter to the editor in today’s New York Times by Christopher Wolf (@privacywolf). Chris writes, in part:

It is time to consider Facebook’s real-name policy as an Internet norm because online identification demonstrably leads to accountability and promotes civility.

People who are able to post anonymously (or pseudonymously) are far more likely to say awful things, sometimes with awful consequences, such as the suicides of cyberbullied young people. The abuse extends to hate-filled and inflammatory comments appended to the online versions of newspaper articles — comments that hijack legitimate discussions of current events and discourage people from participating.

Read more on The New York Times. The paper is inviting readers to respond to Chris’s commentary and they will publish responses and his rejoinder in their Sunday Review.

  2 Responses to “Invitation to a Dialogue: Nameless on the Web?”

  1. The main problem with his argument as I see it is that he conflates arbitrary and temporary pseudonyms that are commonly used in online forums and comments with persistent pseudonymous identity, and ignores the reality that even in the real world we show different identities in different contexts.

  2. “People who are able to post anonymously (or pseudonymously) are far more likely to say awful things…”

    But this describes everybody.

    Anyone intending to troll, stalk, etc has only to set up a single-purpose disposable account under a fake real name, regardless of whatever policy against pseudonyms may be in place. When the site eventually finds them out (which always takes time), they simply sign up again under another fake real name and continue their evil-doing. Only honest people who value their privacy are silenced by a real names policy.

    In other words, the argument that a real name requirement significantly inhibits online evil is meaningless. That is, unless your idea of evil includes privacy and free speech.

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