I can remember being in The Holte End at Villa Park back in 1998 and watching Stan Collymore score an absolute screamer against Athletico Madrid in a European football match, it wasn’t enough to keep Villa in the competition but the atmosphere at the match was awesome. Years later Stan has became a pundit in print and radio. Today he reopened his Twitter account after closing it down for 12 hours. The reason Stan temporarily closed his account was due to what he reportedly perceives as a lack of action by Twitter to combat racist abuse and death threats. The radio station he works for, Talksport, have banned all references on air and in print to Twitter as they also don’t believe Twitter do enough to combat abuse.
I’m glad to see Stan’s account back on Twitter, not because he used to play for The Villa, but because deleting your account let’s the trolls win, although I fully understand why people who make such a decision feel it is the only option. The thing is, the vast majority of Twitter is a pleasant experience.
One of the criticisms of Twitter is the anonymous nature of the site, which many claim allows people to troll without worry. Although there have been cases whereby Twitter trolls have been arrested and charged for their actions. So people often aren’t as anonymous as they’d like to think they are. However the last thing we need in social networking circles is heavy handed and conversation stifling solutions.
An interesting article appeared on The Guardian last week: Why should I reveal my ‘real identity’ online? Anonymity isn’t so terrible. The article makes some very sensible points regarding identity and why posting with your real name everywhere using one account isn’t such a wonderful concept:
One of the beauties of the internet is the anonymity of your identity. Not the kind of disposable anonymity you get in comment pages that require no sign-in, but the kind that allows you to have separate identities that are independent of each other. Reading some of the more alarmed talk surrounding this subject, you’d get the impression that this is a terrible calamity, and civilisation can only be restored if every interaction you have on the internet comes attached with your name and address, like the tags your mother used to sew on your school clothes.
This is the point oft missed when it comes to debates about online identities, online identities are identities, ok they may not be your actual real name but many an author doesn’t use their actual real name either, indeed it was once fashionable for newspaper and magazine columnists to use, shock horror, a pseudonym or even have different authors use the same pseudonym. Robert X Cringely is one glaring example, that actually got quite complicated regarding who was allowed to use the name. Another, that some may remember was Lloyd Managram who was a columnist for the Sinclair Spectrum magazine Crash. Years later I discovered he never really existed. Does this matter? Absolutely not as it was the content I was interested in.
People often use different identities and engage in different activities, in different circles. I know some people down the pub by their nickname only, their family may not even know they have a nickname. Which brings us to TechCrunch. I pretty much stopped reading TechCrunch back in 2011 when they introduced Facebook comments. I have never commented much on TechCrunch but the Facebook push was just a huge turn off. Facebook comments reduce trolling, they also reduce commenting full stop. This was exemplified in January 2013 when TechCrunch made a plea for commenters to come back and announced their experiment with Facebook comments was over:
It was early 2011 and TechCrunch’s comment section was overrun with trolls. Bullies and asshats were drowning out our smart commenters. We hated our commenters because, well, they hated us. So we Facebook Comments in an attempt to silence the trolls — by removing their anonymity.
But we eventually discovered that our anti-troll tactic worked too well; The bullies and asshats left our comments sections, but so did everyone else. Now, several years later, after dozens of endless meetings and conference calls, we’ve decided we’re going to try out Livefyre instead of Facebook Comments.
Frankly, our trial with Facebook Comments lasted way too long at too steep of a cost. Sure, Facebook Comments drove extra traffic to the site, but the vast majority of our readers clearly do not feel the system is worthy of their interaction.
And we want our commenters back.
One would think that would be that? However no, in December 2013 TechCrunch embraced Facebook comments once more, managing to completely miss the point:
We know that the lack of anonymity is an issue with Facebook Comments, but we’re willing to accept that in return for a commenting system that is relatively stable. We also like the idea of comments sorted by Facebook Likes versus recency, and Facebook offers that as a default. Sometimes it’s that simple.
The issue isn’t anonymity, it’s more pseudonymity for many but what’s more amazing about TechCrunch’s decision is that having driven away commenters the first time around, they seem to be somehow oblivious to it happening again.