Anonymity and the Internet have been a long-time couple since the earliest days of the information age. Now, they may not be married, but they are more like Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn — they’ve been together so long, they may as well be married.
Now, that’s not to say that the couple have been without their relationship issues. The anonymity granted to users of the Internet has been a problem since Day 1. Using a screen name to protect one’s real identity has been blamed as the root cause of everything from Internet stalking to cyber-bullying and just about every rude behavior that exists in between.
In some Internet communities, the poor conduct anonymity enables is enough to turn people off and prevent them from logging on, and some sites are getting wise to it (finally!).
That’s why YouTube is starting to transform its user interface with regard to the comment sections that reside below their millions of online videos. Tired of the rudeness, profanity and divisive behavior typical of the open comment sections, YouTube is introducing the concept of users being identified not by their screen names, but rather, their real names.
According to Wired, Dror Shimshowitz, head of product at YouTube, recently revealed, “We’re working on some improvements to the comment system, so hopefully we’ll have an update on that in the next few months.”
Well, some of those changes are starting to take place.
When you comment on a YouTube video now, a window will pop up with the title “Start using your full name on YouTube,” which will prompt you to login to your Google+ account and use that account as your YouTube identification.
Now, let’s say you don’t want to do that. You can still refuse, but then a second prompt will pop up and ask you “Are you sure?” If you click that you are sure, you are further prompted to write an explanation of why you don’t want to use your real name. How’s that for pushing the issue?
Now, I imagine some of the reasons they get are reasonably ridiculous, such as “I work for the government” or “I am the wind — the wind has no name,” but the reality of it is that YouTube is simply trying to reduce the ability of people to act the fool on their dime and their servers.
But the new move toward making people put their names next to their comments harkens back to the days when the only way you could share your opinions with people was if you put your name next to your words. Before the Internet, a newspaper’s Letter to the Editor’s section was the only place you could sound off to a public audience. In those sections, it was required that you signed your real name, and many newspapers to this day will actually verify that the person who signed the letter is the one who actually wrote it and sent it in.
But the Internet is a bastion of freedom, if not outright anarchy. I have heard many use the analogy that the inmates are running the asylum, but the truth is that no one really runs anything.
The community of opinions on the Internet is more like a force of nature without any rhyme or reason. It’s just there and will always be there as long as people have points of view to share.
But there is a genuine ethical drive with YouTube’s new interface for comments. They aren’t forcing people to reveal who they are, but they are trying to make people think. Would you have written what you’re about to post if everyone who read it would know who you are? Are you willing to stand behind your words? Would you say what you are about to post to someone’s face in person?
Some will answer no because they legitimately fear recriminations from others because the substance of their opinion is unpopular. However, that’s not who YouTube had in mind when they created this interface. My bet is that they are targeting Internet trolls, those nameless, faceless dipsticks who use rude, boorish behavior as a way to stir up the pot and amuse themselves at the expense of others.