Online anonymity is a feature, not a bug, as we've pointed out several times here at Techdirt. True, being faceless and nameless can often bring out the worst in certain people. Anonymity may make a bad things worse, but anonymity, in and of itself, isn't a bad thing.
Ask any website that has battled back by routing comments through third parties like Facebook, Google+ and Disqus. Requiring registration before commenting tends to result in fewer commenters. It also doesn't eliminate the trolling issue as many people are just as willing to troll away post-registration. It does make it easier to ban troublesome commenters, but it rarely raises the level of discourse.
There are nearly as many "solutions" as there are varieties of trolls but until the problem of human nature can be solved, trolls will troll. Editors of websites will continue to fight a battle that's pretty much unwinnable, shedding quality users along with a few trolls with every implemented system.
There's one plan that hasn't been considered yet (and for good reason). Via kenichi tanaka comes this alternative to online anonymity, courtesy of Officer Anonymous, puportedly answering a question that must have been phrased very badly (if it was asked at all) at KSL.com's "Ask A Cop" column.
Here's public enemy #1 as described by Officer Anon.
I am speaking about the spineless bottom feeders who sit at their computer all day bullying other people with inflammatory comments and remarks. A troll's sole purpose in life is to comment about an article, statement, question in a forum or other Internet venue so that comment will upset the target person or persons to the point where they are yelling at their computer and punching the monitor... These arguments tend to be typed in all caps lock. There are professional troll organizations where this becomes a quasi profession. Lame, I know.
Officer Anonymous wants to beat back the troll horde with cliches, it would appear. He (or she) sounds like one of those people who reside just outside
the sphere of discussion. Officer Anon's depiction of trolls and their lives is all broad brushstrokes, the kind that appeal to other people like himself (we'll just say it's a "him" to save keystrokes) -- the kind of people who label anyone who can safely browse the web without picking up extra toolbars as losers simply because "the internet isn't real." It's like Andy Rooney reading Dilbert strips and spending his next segment trying to twist laughs out of cubicle farm stereotypes, bypassing any sort of subtlety and just generally banging out easy hits -- slapstick discourse.
Some actually think they are providing a source of entertainment. Unfortunately the people who do find this funny are trolls themselves. I can just imagine two pasty skinned trolls, one hand in a bag of Funyun's, spraying crumbs on their overly used keyboard as they laugh at each other's wit.
I'm sure Ofc. Anon. can "imagine" this scenario. Anyone can. It's the "internet user" archetype, one that has been converted into a horse, killed and beaten nonstop for nearly 20 years straight. Snacks? Check. Crumbs? Check. Pasty? Check.
At this point, Anonymous Cop answers a question no one asked, not even himself. The answer he comes up with is surprising, not because it adds some previously unseen nuance to his argument, but because it's so mindblowingly horrible.
So why should trolls go to jail? They are causing or inciting a riot plain and simple.
At this point I would add some commentary
, but I really think it's best that AC keep speaking for himself. Here's the "riot."
The victims of these trolls are upset the rest of the day. They are driving aggressively on the roads, yelling at their co-workers and being consumed with a way to find out who that person on the Internet was.
This is not good for public safety.
If you go through this post and replace the word "victim" with "Officer Anonymous," the picture starts to take focus. (Nothing harder on public safety than an angry, aggressive cop.) This isn't an editorial. This is a police officer attempting to get even with the internet and using the only weapon he has: authority.
Anyone who wants to comment or post anything needs to do this with their official email address registered by the government. This will be verified in person at your local driver's license division. No more anonymity on the Internet. Every time you post anything, your picture and name will pop up.
Wow. Where do we go to sign up? The Dept. of Public Safety? Do we need to wait until we're 15 or 16 and get an adult's permission to acquire a provisional Internet License? Or do we have to wait until we're 18? If you're old enough to vote, you're old enough to have an opinion. Just sign up for the draft and the Internet, all in one stop!
Won't a registry like this just add to the problem? If someone's pissed off enough and knows exactly
where their tormentor lives, wouldn't they be more likely to respond with violence or vandalism or some criminal action more serious than trolling?
Officer Anonymous touts the benefits of his Internet-as-police-state plan. No more phishing. (Really?) No more email scams. (Really?) No more catfishing. (Possibly...) Somehow the possibility that those seeking to scam others will be stopped by internet registration escapes this cop, who surely must be aware of things like identity theft, underage drinking and unlicensed gun sales. Making something illegal doesn't stop it from happening. It can deter it, but those truly wishing to break the law will just route around the roadblocks. And while they do, good citizens using government-approved Commenter's Licenses will have their every online action scrutinised, if not by the State then by their fellow Licensed Commenters.
How refreshing it would be to see who actually posted those racially charged comments. It would be interesting to see if they posted at all. Do you think those same people are making those same remarks in person? I don't think they are. It would take awhile for them to adjust to sunlight, or being around people. I bet it would be nice for their parents to have access to their basements again. They could finally put in that game room they always wanted.
Oh, LOL. Internet users live in Mom's basement. How droll. One last shot at Internet users from Officer Anon before he wraps up his incalculably stupid editorial. Aversion to sunlight? Check. Anti-social? Check. Basement? Check.
These cliched shots at a world that seems weird and scary to Officer Anon could have come from any number of other "authority figures" whose failure to comprehend the internet has lead directly to cheap, hollow mockery. See also: former NSA director Michael Hayden
and Sen. Mike Rogers
You may be reading this, flabbergasted by my own hypocrisy. I am aware that I am writing these articles through the safety of anonymity. But if you guys are willing to come forward, then so am I. Let's break down the barriers of the Internet and come forward showing our true selves with no judgment. I can't wait to see the national email registry!
I'll admit I am flabbergasted, and your anonymity is only part of it, Officer Anonymous. Your offer of shedding your
anonymity is contingent on citizens (those without
power and authority) shedding theirs first. How convenient.
By the end of this exhausting glimpse into the mind of a cop, one is almost inclined to believe the post itself is guilty of trolling. Certainly it fits the description of trolling (via The Urban Dictionary) Officer No Name quotes earlier:
The art of deliberately, cleverly and secretly angering people, usually via the Internet, using dialogue…
The most essential part of trolling is convincing your victim that ... you truly believe in what you are saying, no matter how outrageous.
Everything about the post, from the casual use of outdated tropes to the notion that anyone (other than the author) would actually consider a national email registry to be a good
thing, screams "troll." This gives the cop an easy out should the complaints and comments make him angry enough to "drive aggressively" or "punch his monitor."
"I was just trolling to make a point, etc."
No one should give him this out. Decrying anonymity from behind the two sets of protection -- anonymity and the blue line -- is more than simply disingenuous, it's dangerous.