People often say that online behavior would improve if every comment system forced people to use their real names. It sounds like it should be true – surely nobody would say mean things if they faced consequences for their actions?
Yet the balance of experimental evidence over the past thirty years suggests that this is not the case. Not only would removing anonymity fail to consistently improve online community behavior – forcing real names in online communities could also increase discrimination and worsen harassment.
We need to change our entire approach to the question. Our concerns about anonymity are overly-simplistic; system design can’t solve social problems without actual social change.
The idea that anonymity is the real problem with the internet is based in part on misreadings of theories formed more than thirty years ago.
In the early 1980s, many executives were unsure if they should allow employees to use computers and email. Managers worried that allowing employees to communicate across the company would enable labor organizing, conflict, and inefficiency by replacing formal corporate communication with informal digital conversations.