By Anne Collier
“Letting people remain anonymous while engaging in fundamentally public behavior encourages them to behave badly.” That’s according to Farhad Manjoo in “Troll, Reveal Thyself” at Slate.com . Really?! Not everyone, certainly. We know about online disinhibition (but see “Net use may be making us nicer: Studies”). And the establishment of social media’s social norms is nothing if not a work in progress (at least until most of us get what our children understand, that there isn’t really a big firewall between online and offline life). This is only the beginning of our – humanity’s – time in this new “space” where human behavior and relating plays out. Sociology professor Sherry Turkle at MIT told the New York Times that the Internet’s only in its “toddler days.” So “everybody” and “for always” aren’t accurate where online behavior’s concerned. Of course requiring people to identify themselves when they comment on other people’s work, as Slate.com does before readers can comment on a story, adds accountability. I think that policy is a great idea at this point in time, when a whole lot of nastiness can be found “in the comments section on YouTube, in multiplayer Xbox games, and under nearly every politics story on the Web,” Manjoo points out. “At TechCrunch, the movement to require real names has significantly reduced the number of trolls who tar the site with stupid comments.” And more and more news and blogging sites allow people to log in and comment with their Facebook accounts – which means that their friends can see what they say. What just may be happening, here, is that this growing identity transparency is having a social norming effect. It may be contributing to disinhibition loosening its grip. But let’s remember that social media won’t always be in its toddler phase and it doesn’t make sense to base policy and legislation on a phase.