The Times online vs “real and meaningful” communities
In amongst the noise about the new Times website and paywall is to me the more interesting change taking place in their community registration policies.
This quote from a Guardian article highlights the new and rather neo-conservative move to disable users to post their comment anonymously within the community – supposedly in the attempt to build a “real community”. The article reads…
“Whitwell said that the paper aims to build real, meaningful community relationships between journalists and readers. Part of this strategy will see users having to post under their real names only – there will be no anonymous posting or use of pseudonyms, which Whitwell believes does not build real community.
“The principle is to encourage comment under real names,” he said. A colleague added that the Times and Sunday Times would only consider allowing users to post anonymously if they had a real reason to protect their identity.”
This decision has caused quite some discussion at work and so I thought I’d share my thoughts on the matter with you - thoughts that have been flying around by email over the last few days.
When it boils down to it, this is the bit that really gets my goat. That the Times website… “would only consider allowing users to post anonymously if they had a real reason to protect their identity.”
A real reason to protect their identity… are the current reasons we use no longer valid? Or is it that the Times thinks that some reasons are valid and others are not? Have they somehow developed a definitive list of reasons that gives someone the right to privacy covering every situation?
How about some examples maybe… Should I perhaps be allowed to conceal my identity because I’m actually a celebrity in my field but want to be able to make comment without prejudicing my audience reaction… or is that wrong? Do they feel my words and my arguments should be coloured by prejudice and not based on their own merit?
What about if I’m busy looking for another job and want to ask the online community for advice? Am I allowed to protect my identity because I also know my Boss reads this newspaper online or is that too trivial, my privacy so unimportant in this way that it doesn’t warrant attention?
I’m an opponent of the single ID argument anyway not least because I believe that context is key to the way we interact and behave. I freely admit that I say and do things all the time (online and in games with my guildmates) that I wouldn’t dream of posting to my facebook or linked in and I do so similarly down the pub after work along with millions of others. It’s all a matter of context.
Having a single unique identifier online to me is the same as publishing everything you say to your whole family, circle of friends, current and future bosses and so on. It does not take account of context and even worse, once it’s been crawled by Google it doesn’t allow you to change your mind. You’ll be the same person with the same thoughts and opinions in 5 years time as you are today, at least as far as any simple search on your real name is concerned.
I’m going to end it there as I don’t want to belabour the point but forcing community members to reveal their true identities is not something I’d recommend any community adopts – especially in the name of creating a “real and meaningful” community.
So if I can leave you with just one point let it be this. We all have the freedom to use our real names online whenever we want to, yet hundreds of millions of us independently choose against it every day. What does that tell you about real and meaningful communities?