Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Anonymity vs Real Name

Recently there has been a buzzing debate in Japanese blogs on the benefits of anonymity versus real name. The simplest argument is that requiring or using real names increases the responsibility of the user; that is, the author is less likely to make libelous or unfounded statements. A Japanese blogger credits anonymity with the growth of the internet, however, also labels it responsible for the recent slack in blog growth compared to SNSs like Facebook and LinkedIn, both of which require real names. Libelous comments not only hurt the recipient, but also any companies that use the site for advertisements. He cites the difference between Wikipedia, “paradise of unlawfuls” as he calls it, and the new knol, a Google-powered site very similar to Wikipedia except that it requires the author’s real name. Google’s Udi Manber, the VP of engineering, emphasizes this difference:

The key idea behind the knol project is to highlight authors. Books have authors' names right on the cover, news articles have bylines, scientific articles always have authors -- but somehow the web evolved without a strong standard to keep authors names highlighted. We believe that knowing who wrote what will significantly help users make better use of web content.
However, other bloggers argue that the risks in blogging anonymously and blogging with your real name are not that different, in fact, that it all depends on the context. A penname no longer gives the cover of anonymity should people realize whom the alias refers to. On the other hand, using your real name does not matter if the reader cannot place you in context:
Unless the reader knows who you are, your name is only another pen name. However, once the name is associated with a company, for example, the story changes. For example, readers will receive very different impressions from “Mr. Tanaka” criticizing NTT on his blog, and “Mr. Tanaka who works for NTT” criticizing NTT on his blog.
The opinion is nearly evenly split outside the blogosphere as well; when viewers of a certain Japanese TV program were polled through their cell phones and internet whether “Internet users should be required to publish their real name”, the results were 53% affirmative, 47% negative.

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