Anonymity, Intelligent Posting, and Trolls

| Tuesday, July 6, 2010
RealID is the Star of David on the shoulder.
RealID is an Orwellian nightmare.
RealID is going to tear out your perfectly healthy appendix and eat it in front of your children.

Moving on from the trolling part... Or can I ever?

First off, I do believe that anonymity is somewhat of an enabler for assholishness. The guy who calls you a nigger cunt fag jew is probably not going to say that to your face. However he was still an asshole before he was able to be anonymously profane. Or as Chastity put it (omg what's his real name!?) It is a common misconception that trolling is caused by anonymity. It is not. It is caused by people being assholes. Anonymity removes some of the inhibitors which normally keep assholes in place. It's virtual booze, which explains all the anger and sadness. Some people are troll drunks.

With their push for real names, Blizzard seems to be trying to kill trolling and thereby encourage intelligent discussion. Bollocks! Intelligent discussion is not the opposite of trolling. Removing one does not cause the other, or the other way around. At times trolls can be part of intelligent discussion, forcing us to think a different way. This should be differentiated from trolling which takes the form of "I'm pretending to be stupid and you believed me, so I'm going to act superior." Sometimes I troll in real life, not to annoy (sometimes), but to force the person to more fully explain themselves, both to me and to themselves.

Even with no trolls, intelligent discussion is not guaranteed. Listen to the average conversation and you'll see what I mean. Trivial topics may be backed with some fact, but bring in politics and religion and facts, and intelligence, tend to go out the window. While WoW isn't religion or politics, it's a pretty good virtual equivalent. For some people they may even be more affected by the latest round of nerfs than the latest round of taxes. There won't be much intelligent discussion even with no trolls. I wish I could say better.

In fact it may be the complete opposite: anonymity may encourage intelligent posting. Imagine if your dissenting opinion of class balance, while correct, was able to be punished not with a flame war, but with something more real. Anonymity gives safety to dissenters. It gives freedom of speech, free from retaliation. Some misuse this to spread lies and hatred. Some use this to spread truth where it is unpopular. The first group can go fuck themselves, because they give ammunition to those who hate freedom, while the second group is one more line of defense against tyranny.

Of course that's a bit of an exaggeration, rather ridiculous, and I am sorry if anyone thinks I am putting anonymity on the WoW forums in the same league as protesters and dissenters who have spread freedom. They are in different leagues. But maybe they're playing the same game; like children in an alley compared to the World Cup. If no children played, we'd soon have no adults to play either. So while they are clearly different, they are also similar: freedom starts in the small places.

If Blizzard does truly wish to reduce trolling, flame wars, and spam, I'm with them on that. But let's find better ways. First off, a middle ground of anonymity. Use a single name across all characters, a name which is entirely unrelated to our ID or our real name. We could choose different characters to post with, but we'd still have the overall name displayed. This isn't perfect, but I think it's a much worse loss than real name display. Second, increase the pyramid of forum punishments for trolling, so that repeat offenders can eventually be banned from the game itself. We can still post anonymously, dissent safely, but we cannot so easily break rules and spread chaos.

But maybe I've been looking at this all wrong. Maybe this is just an elaborate plan to get me to stop posting on the forums without resulting in a "I've been banned" post, which would surely result in the loss of thousands of subscribers in protest. Instead I'll go on my own, but I'm still going to make my ban post.

I have been banned from the forums, if not by the letter, then by the unacceptable consequence.

I don't cherish my anonymity absolutely. This name has been in use by me, and as far as I've ever found, only me, for around 10 years. At my young age of 23 that's a very long time. I still hide behind this name, but at least my disguise is consistent. I don't always hide though. Sometimes I give my real name. But I give it when I wish to (or screw up my email), not by default to everyone. A few bloggers know it, a few players know it.

What does it indicate about our society that we so often assume that people who wish to be anonymous must wish to do terrible things? Why do people so often defend intrusion with "well then don't do anything wrong"?

Good night, and good luck.


Anonymous said...

I'm not sure I understand your point: you're an asshole, but you seem to be posting under the assumption that it's bad to be an asshole?

Does not compute.

Klepsacovic said...

Normally I'd delete that, but it seems that it should stay.

Stabs said...

Would he have posted it though if you required real names?

Tesh said...

RealID may not be a Star of David-level move on the Orwellian board of statism, but it certainly is a page out of Big Brother's book.

You're right; anonymity is one of the few ways to get honest feedback without fear of reprisal which distorts feedback for good and of ill (hence anonymous feedback at the end of a college course). True and full anonymity is perhaps the best way to spur honest and clear conversation; you can dodge a lot of "appeal to authority" and ad hominem problems. Imagine that; arguing ideas rather than egos.

In short, prejudice is a bigger problem than trolling, methinketh. State control is worse than either... and yes, we're not there yet, but truly... what price, identity?

Gevlon said...

"There won't be much intelligent discussion even with no trolls. I wish I could say better."

Let me help you: "trolls act stupid, and removing them would decrease stupidity by 1%. The other 99% don't act stupid. They are."

Klepsacovic said...

@Stabs: Perhaps not.

@Tesh: But if we argue ideas someone might not like mine!

@Gevlon: I meant I wish I could say something nicer, not phrase it better. I don't think 99% of people are stupid, though I might say that most people are only smart at their jobs. We live in a very specialized economy where we are paid to know how to build cars or manage workers, not to understand economics, politics, and class balance.

But in the context of such things, perhaps 99% isn't so ridiculous. High, but not so high that I'll have to write an entire post to call you stupid because of it. :P

Anonymous said...

"But in the context of such things, perhaps 99% isn't so ridiculous. High, but not so high that I'll have to write an entire post to call you stupid because of it. :P"

Because you already tried and failed to do that today, as usual?

Klepsacovic said...

I have? That was no sooner than the day before.

I wonder, since Gevlon wouldn't pay someone to troll me, are you just a friendly helpful social?

We Fly Spitfires said...

I suppose the RealID system might put off some people from making obxonious comments because they don't have anonymity to hide behind but is it even worth a single situation of some psychopath tormenting someone in real life after having discovering their personal information on a WoW forum? The answer to that is a big fat no.

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