Durable Pseudonyms

An interesting piece by Alfred Moore over at The Conversation talking about “Online anonymity: study found ‘stable pseudonyms’ created a more civil environment than real user names“. This hearkens back to a lot of thoughts I had about online identity back in the day – it’s interesting to see newer studies examining the space. The basic gist is that when comparing online discourse using real-life names, pseudonyms, or “durable pseudonyms”, stable pseudonyms led to notably more civil discussion.

Our results suggest that the quality of comments was highest in the middle phase. There was a great improvement after the shift from easy or disposable anonymity to what we call “durable pseudonyms”. But instead of improving further after the shift to the real-name phase, the quality of comments actually got worse – not as bad as in the first phase, but still worse by our measure.

Alfred Moore

This makes sense to me! I couldn’t tell you why a stable pseudonym ends up hitting the sweet spot, but anecdotally, it matches my experiences. There needs to be enough friction to spinning up a new account that folks are reluctant to do it just to talk trash, but not so heavy a process that no one will sign up. Sounds like the study authors are not 100% sure why, either, though they have some hypotheses:

We don’t know exactly what explains our results, but one possibility is that under durable pseudonyms the users orient their comments primarily at their fellow commentators as an audience. They then perhaps develop a concern for their own reputation within that forum, as has been suggested elsewhere.

Alfred Moore

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