Some cherry-picked quotes:
What do you think of this dichotomy? I had been thinking about what it would be like to meet a member of this forum whom I've put on my ignore list. I find this person's posts altogether obnoxious and wondered if they're like that in person. And if they are like that in person have their comments caused real-life repercussions? Does this person hide behind online anonymity to get away with being odious without any repercussions, merely using us as a sounding board?When Arthur Santana, a communications professor at the University of Houston, analyzed nine hundred randomly chosen user comments on articles about immigration, half from newspapers that allowed anonymous postings, such as the Los Angeles Times and the Houston Chronicle, and half from ones that didn’t, including USA Today and the Wall Street Journal, he discovered that anonymity made a perceptible difference: a full fifty-three per cent of anonymous commenters were uncivil, as opposed to twenty-nine per cent of registered, non-anonymous commenters. Anonymity, Santana concluded, encouraged incivility.
On the other hand, anonymity has also been shown to encourage participation; by promoting a greater sense of community identity, users don’t have to worry about standing out individually. Anonymity can also boost a certain kind of creative thinking and lead to improvements in problem-solving. In a study that examined student learning, the psychologists Ina Blau and Avner Caspi found that, while face-to-face interactions tended to provide greater satisfaction, in anonymous settings participation and risk-taking flourished.
At the same time I know there are some members of this forum who are very pleasant but quite shy, and in a way anonymity is something they use to overcome their anxieties.
We have been told by official decree to "calm down" but I wonder if the 'trouble' lately isn't just spontaneous self-regulation against members who have no credibility left with the community at large.Anonymous forums can also be remarkably self-regulating: we tend to discount anonymous or pseudonymous comments to a much larger degree than commentary from other, more easily identifiable sources. In a 2012 study of anonymity in computer interactions, researchers found that, while anonymous comments were more likely to be contrarian and extreme than non-anonymous ones, they were also far less likely to change a subject’s opinion on an ethical issue, echoing earlier results from the University of Arizona. In fact, as the Stanford computer scientist Michael Bernstein found when he analyzed the /b/ board of 4chan, an online discussion forum that has been referred to as the Internet’s “rude, raunchy underbelly” and where over ninety per cent of posts are wholly anonymous, mechanisms spontaneously emerged to monitor user interactions and establish a commenter’s status as more or less influential—and credible.
The specific context of the studies mentioned in the article is mostly news sites. I find comments sections on news sites off-putting, to the point where I avoid particular news sources entirely because of the comments sections. In many ways it's just a modern version of the editorials and opinions sections of a newspaper, and I avoid particular newspapers for their editorials and opinion sections too. And yet,
I'm put off by comments sections because I don't want to "share realities" with these people—most of their opinions are offensive—but comments sections on news websites are becoming more prolific as time goes on. In fact some (e.g. one of the local papers) have gone as far as to integrate their comments sections with Facebook. I think that integrating a comments section with every news story takes away from the source's coverage. The news piece itself suffers because it becomes associated with the ravings of its often boorish audience.Removing comments also affects the reading experience itself: it may take away the motivation to engage with a topic more deeply, and to share it with a wider group of readers. In a phenomenon known as shared reality, our experience of something is affected by whether or not we will share it socially. Take away comments entirely, and you take away some of that shared reality, which is why we often want to share or comment in the first place. We want to believe that others will read and react to our ideas
In my experience people who post comments on a news website don't feel accountable for their actions anyway. They're mostly anonymous, and if they were accountable they wouldn't say the sorts of objectionable things they say. To me Facebook and Twitter then seem like the perfect venues for those sorts of discussions. On one hand I don't participate in those venues so it would make it so that I can read an article without having half the webpage taken up by the rantings of the peanut gallery. On the other hand Facebook and Twitter, Facebook in particular, are usually not anonymous. How is it then that diffusion of responsibility occurs in Facebook, where you'd be signing your comments with your name, rather than on the news website's comments where they might as well be signed 'd0uchebAg69'?But a ban on article comments may simply move them to a different venue, such as Twitter or Facebook—from a community centered around a single publication or idea to one without any discernible common identity. Such large group environments, in turn, often produce less than desirable effects, including a diffusion of responsibility: you feel less accountable for your own actions, and become more likely to engage in amoral behavior.
What do you think?