Has anonymity poisoned the internet? There are plenty of legitimate reasons to want to hide your identity online. On the other hand, some abuse the freedom from consequences that anonymity brings to target, bully or harass others. Would making it compulsory to use our real names on the internet prevent such behavior?
Pseudonyms have a long and important tradition. Journalists and campaigners have written pseudonymously long before the Internet era in order to protect themselves and their families from persecution. The current anti-democracy government crackdown in Hong Kong should remind us that the risks are still real. Not everyone can safely express their opinions, sexuality, or beliefs publicly under their own names. Nicknames and pseudonyms enable, for example, vulnerable minorities to have an open exchange on the Internet without fear of consequences.
On the other hand, anonymity can also be used to harass and persecute. For example, politicians with a migrant background have to endure relentless barrages of racist hate and vitriol online. Many users like to hide in anonymity and behind the notion of “freedom of expression” to hurl the most disgusting abuse and threats of violence at others. Yet, when trolls are confronted face-to-face, they usually have little to say or else manage to express their criticism in a more civil manner. Would using our real names lead to better debates on the Internet?
Should we use our real names on the internet? Do we need Internet anonymity so that everyone can freely express his or her opinion? Or would debates be more civil if everyone were forced to stand behind his or her statements with their own names? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!