User Comments: Should they be anonymous or not?


I often get thoroughly disgusted when perusing through user comments submitted in response to items posted on certain sites. YouTube commentary, for example, is a veritable cesspit of vulgarity, obscenities, racism and flaming. I have to admit, it often makes me wonder what the world is coming to when people appear unable to carry out civilized, respectful and polite conversations/discussions.

To me, it’s the ultimate incongruity that a so-called ‘social’ site would play host to so much ‘anti-social’ commentary. Forums, blogs, etc. generally manage to keep user comments under control via a system of moderation, I wonder why sites such as YouTube don’t (or won’t) follow suit. Sheer volume would certainly be an issue but surely Google has accumulated enough billions by now to provide adequate policing to help protect innocent eyes from the tirade of offensive comments.

It appears the authorities are intent on cleaning up certain areas of the internet, particularly where it serves the cause of political expediency, yet allow this type of disgraceful behavior to continue unabated – I know I would not want my children or grandchildren visiting sites such as YouTube. The question is; can the situation be mitigated by enforcing the use of real names? As I see it, granting anonymity has the undesirable side effects of deterring online civility and precluding accountability.

Now, it appears, Google may be making an effort to try and clean up it’s YouTube act, albeit a rather feeble one. Since late June, Google has been offering (note; not insisting) users an option to use their real names in the hope that lifting the veil of anonymity might encourage a more refined approach. Of course, this type of voluntary system was always destined for abject failure, a fact that I’m sure the Google hierarchy were only too aware of. At least it displays an awareness of what is a worsening situation and Google can say they ‘tried’. I guess even a token gesture is better than none at all but in reality, after several weeks, the impact on YouTube comments has been practically zero… it remains an offensive cesspool.


I have no idea how or why obscenities, which were once generally frowned upon in mixed company, have now become a part of everyday discourse. I was riding in an elevator several months back, the occupants consisted of two young men (early 20s) and 3 young ladies (18-20) and, of course, myself. The males and females were obviously not ‘together’ and the males were swearing profusely. I asked them to stop using profanities in the presence of the ladies and one of them (the bigger of the two – and he was quite large) gave me a quizzical look and said…”settle down geezer!”… which, on reflection, I admit is quite humorous. No apologies, no sign of having done anything wrong, just that veiled threat. It then dawned on me that I was an old man confronting two infinitely younger and fitter men in an enclosed space. So, in the interests of prudence (some might say self preservation), I heeded his advice and said no more.

But I digress. Getting back to the matter at hand. Even though I entirely agree something needs to be done to clean up user submitted comments on sites such as YouTube, I’m not sure banning anonymity altogether would be either legal or workable. There are many valid and practical reasons for utilizing usernames and keeping real names private, especially in a modern society where personal safety has become such a relevant factor. Although, Google appears to have successfully enforced such a policy on its Google+ site.

As far as I can see, the only viable solution lies in the hands of the legislators. Make site owners, including Google, responsible for the content they display. If ,as in the case with YouTube,  this includes a myriad of vile and offensive comments, hit them with heavy fines – or even worse for repeat offenses. Hopefully, this would have the effect of forcing a much higher and more discerning level of moderation.

Or do you think that method might hand over even more control in an already over-governed society? Perhaps you think it might involve too many gray areas and be totally unworkable? Do you maybe have an alternative solution? Or do you in fact think there is nothing wrong with the current system? Let us know your thoughts via the comments.


About the Author

Jim Hillier

Jim is the resident freeware aficionado at DCT. A computer veteran with 30+ years experience who first started writing about computers and tech back in the days when freeware was actually free. His first computer was a TRS-80 in the 1980s, he progressed through the Commodore series of computers before moving to PCs in the 1990s. Now retired (aka an old geezer), Jim retains his passion for all things tech and still enjoys building and repairing computers for a select clientele... as well as writing for DCT, of course.

14 Comments

  1. Hey Jim,

    While I sympathize with you (an “old geezer” myself), I think it’s an issue of generational communications skills more than Internet anonymity.

    What I mean is this: To communicate even simple ideas, the youth of today apparently (because the practice of communicating using vulgarities is just about universal and not confined only to the Internet) MUST use these expletives. It’s just become a “normal” part of their speech. Not excusing it (don’t like it myself), is just my take on it.

    For example, listen to a newscaster’s interview of any young celebrity figure. That young person’s speech patterns are so peppered with “ya know”, AND some of these people are supposedly college educated, that I find it difficult to believe they can even come close to articulating a COMPLEX idea. When they’re done with all those “ya know’s”, all they were really saying in that long “ya know” sentence was “Yes”.

    Unfortunately for us and these young folks, they have gotten by in their schooling with the speech patterns (so I might lay this on the doorstep of their teachers, or maybe even the parents too) . . . and these speech patterns have now become the predominant way to express, as I say, even simple ideas (never mind complex ideas.)

    It’s always been refreshing to me when I run into a young person who can express themselves WITHOUT using expletives. We have some of them here on DCT, but sadly they seem to be a minority in the general population.

    As far as using “legislation” or LE to solve the problem . . . that seems to me like sending the fox to guard the chickens. These folks ARE running the world, so I doubt they’re going to legislate against themselves.

    Of course, when I watched Elvis on Ed Sullivan in the 60’s, my parent’s said “What’s this world coming to. What’s wrong with these kids these days?” And then I said the same thing when I raised my kids. And they now say the same thing as they raise my grandchildren. So it may be a generational thing, rather than a You Tube thing.

    Probably good that you and I will not be around in this “brave new world.” I think our idea of civil communication may have come to an end. Civil communication is a lot different than it was in times past. Do I like it? No. Is it reality? Unfortunately, I think it is gaining acceptance. Sponsoring legislation against this mode of communication is likely to be seen as the ranting of a cranky old person. And indeed, I count myself among the “cranky old” people. By the way, the conclusion I’m drawing from your article is that you and I would be wise to remain silent in an elevator full of young people.

  2. P.S. I don’t mean to portray you as an old fuddy-duddy with outdated ideas, on the contrary I agree with all you said and I think the idea of reforming speech patterns is worthy of an effort. BUT I honestly believe the means of communication you are seeing is pretty much “normal” for the current generation. Can it be regulated? Again, I don’t see this happening because the generation itself is BECOMING the regulators! Should it be? Of course, I vote “Yes”.

    • Hey Bob – Appreciate your comments. But it’s not only about profanities and bad grammar, I’m talking about obscene (as in pornographic) avatars, racism and flaming which are rife on certain sites, and in particular YouTube.

      I visit a couple of sites where avatars are often sexually explicit/graphic in nature. Plenty of sites where exchanges between users are more often than not heated and offensive – involving racist remarks, the worst and most insulting language imaginable. It is, in my opinion, out of control… and there is no doubt in my mind that the cloak of anonymity has a lot to do with it.

      By the way, the conclusion I’m drawing from your article is that you and I would be wise to remain silent in an elevator full of young people.
      LOL. Yep, you got that right mate!! 🙂

  3. Maybe I’m an old fuddy-duddy as well; after all, I visit You Tube once in a blue moon, usually when I’m directed to something ‘interesting’ (interesting to the person who directed me, that is) by someone else, or, occasionally when it’s for an instructional video. I’m rarely there long enought to read any comments, especially since on the few occasions I did read some, the content was non-existent and the grammar and spelling atrocious.

    However, I have to agree with Jim about the standard of language among the younger set these days. Expressions which used to be confined to all-male environments – and then only under stress – are now part of everyday speech. Yes, it offends me too, but apparently it’s the norm. To me, moderating language to a civilised extent is simply good manners, but that seems to be yet another facet of courtesy that has disappeared from modern upbringing.

    What is more germane is that a point made without a liberal sprinkling of swear words is made far more effectively. My grandad always said that once told that if you have to resort to cuss-words, then you’ve already lost the argument – and I never. ever, heard that man use a word stronger than ‘cussed’.

    If you can see away to control the trend, go for it, but quite honestly, I fear you’ll be told what to do with your ideas in far more graphic terms than you might like…

    • I agree Barry. My view is most likely more idealistic than pragmatic – tilting at windmills. What I don’t understand is why this type of behavior… posting pornographic avatars, the cussing and racist remarks… can be permissible on sites which are, for all intents and purposes, open for general consumption.

      If site owners/admins were to publish similar remarks, they would be in all sorts of hot water. But because these comments are emanating from an anonymous source, nobody does anything… weird!

      We live in hope. 🙂

  4. I blame a lot of this on TV shows and movies. They started out with words such as damn and got away with it. Now every other word is the “F” word. Now you hear it almost every where.

  5. Hi Jim, people should indeed use ‘normal’ language. But…what is normal? You don’t curse (I hope) and I don’t, but some guys think that kind of words is perfectly usable, be it spoken or written. One can hardly expect Google etc. to take responsibility for everything that is written on a website they happen to own. And even if they did act as censor–who feels the idea behind a word belonging to an other language than his own? The F** word is used quite extensively here in the Netherlands but more as a ‘loose expression’ than with the real feeling behind the dutch word for the same act: ‘neuk’.

    Practically: how can people use their real name AND be known by that name. Check the number of persons with some given name on Facebook–at the moment there are 5 of them with exactly the same name as mine. I am not with them and I know several others with the same name that are not on Facebook either, at least not under their own name.
    If I do not like a comment I just stop reading it. If I do not like a picture I just stop looking at it. Often people just don’t realize what they are doing.

    My age: 70 and still going strong.

    • Hi Henk – Appreciate your comments, you make some good points.

      I am just a ‘kid’ at 66, got a little way to go before I catch up to you. 🙂

      Cheers… Jim

  6. Hello Jim,
    My pet peeve is the use of all those stutter words like “you know” and “right” etc. In this fast paced world, the ones that have to stoop to the use of these crutches in their speech need to slow down their brain so it catches up with their mouth.
    As a Great Great Grandfather, I’ve also seen a progression in the use of profanity and unfortunately each new generation seems to need more of theses curse words than the generation before them.
    As already mentioned in one of the other comments, It might be a good thing for our blood pressure that we only have a limited time left to put up with something that seems to be OK by the younger generation.

  7. I sorry to say that all this use of foul language attributed to the younger generation does not only remain there. Some of the older folks, who supposedly know better are wont to use some very juicy words themselves. The F word being one of their favorites. If some of the older generation folks have been doing this for decades, then how can the younger generation be held accountable for something that they may have grown up with.
    Think about it. This percentage of older people, albeit could be small, has produced another percentage of people that would be larger. Hence the more noticeable usage. Then again the more interconnectedness of our society via all the availble electronics has enabled us to be more aware of this problem. We are now in the ‘future’ folks!. So, is the foul language usage more prevalent today than in the past, or is it just that we have more instruments coming at us, which may make it seem as if it is all-present? Are the ‘noise-makers’ more abundant, or is it just that their noise level is more intense, making it seem a bigger crowd. The old addage comes to mind: “A squeaky wheel will get the grease”. My hope is high that this is just a very ‘noisy’ small percentage. If not, then indeed, our society does have a problem. Sometimes examples are ignored; and then sometimes they become ingrained. (Good examples are left by the wayside. Bad examples are taken up). Human nature? The easier road taken? But then there is more ‘future’ to come. Let hope float!

  8. Seventies united here!

    Catching up to Jim’s idea and trying to make it feasible, If “I were Google” (or YouTube, etc) I’d request a valid e-mail in order to publish something. The e-mail would NOT be made public, but would be used to ban people who got their posts objected to (and moderated) after warnings.

  9. Ok, here I go! I do occasionally use inappropiate words, usually when I get PO’ed at customer service that is “ho Hum, but that is my right.when I am getting paid even if I can’t or won’t do the job”. As far as pornographic You Tube, or any other mediam. Please, Please, Please do not get legislature involved in making more laws. most of which are not considered final. but are then part of a lawsuit and then cost our tax revenues to be spent to only put $$$$ in Lawyers pockets. Here is what we should do!!! Parents- make sure you are ready to devote 20 or 30 years to bringing up your kids and making sure that you bring them up to be responsible citizens. And if you want to make sure your kids are brought up right– make sure you show them by being what you want them to be you are yourself. YOU CANNOT LEGISLATE MORALITY!!!! You also cannoot make everyone Cristians as you should not try to do. We need to allow everyone be what the want to be. We cannot make everyone fit into our little box that is comfortable to us. I do not like a lot of what is put on the news, movies, Facebook, Twitter, etc, and but what I do not like or agree with I ignore. I think the “the live and let live” is a good philosophy until what you are doing does not impact with me physically In other words ” Your have the freedom to swing your arms as wide as you can as long as your hands come in contact with my nose”. Thanks for letting me vent!

  10. Jim,

    I have to throw my two cents in.

    This is the end result to people in general all across the globe when you remove God from everything. No you cannot legislate morals or Christianity, nor can you force anyone to be moral or live a certain way. People are free to choose whatever they want, but that does not change the fact that when you do take God out of everything including raising your children, you are left with children who know no boundary on morals, which comes out in every aspect of their lives.

    But it’s not just kids, the parents of these kids are to blame as well.

    Legislating laws is not the answer because we do not need government having any more control over our lives. They have too much already.

    Making people use real names is not the answer either, you have to cut to the “heart” of the matter. The problem lies in people’s hearts. In order to fix the problem, you would need to fix their heart first, otherwise, it is a losing battle. It’s like trying to clean up the bathroom floor of water without first shutting off the faucet that’s causing the water to overflow.

    Just my thoughts

  11. A great article Jim, and I fully agree with your article!

    I believe the situation started at the ‘top’ with ‘Political Correctness’…………(where nothing in that system relates to correct language and behaviour).

    16 year old teenagers now have their own rules, afforded them from the ‘top’, because of this many think they can ‘do as they please’ and
    to hell with good manners, courtesy, honesty and respect for other people, and this continues through later years, to a point where or what do we do, close our ears and eyes and allow the ferals to run wild.

    Censorship in the media, movies and current songs is almost non-existent, and parental control with many small children seems to be an unknown factor.

    When it comes to petty crime, there is no definitive, effective punishment, just a slap the offenders on the wrist and send them through the revolving door, allowing more petty crime, which includes attacking shop-keepers and people in the street for a handful of dollars and their possessions.

    Our correctional system is flawed to the point that when a judge tells a young lout it is OK to tell a police officer to f***k off, it indicates to me that our society is being degraded beyond belief.

    Our local bus drivers recently refused to stop at school bus-stops due to many instances of gangs of students attacking the drivers.

    …….and hope eternal. :>(

    Regards,

    JonInOz.