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.

There are 14 comments

Comments are closed.