Using real names online doesn't improve behavior

J.Nathan Matias takes a clear-eyed look at The Real Name Fallacy, the belief that forcing users to communicate using real names will improve online conduct. In my experience, the biggest problems come on platforms like Twitter where it's a mix of real and pseudonymous users.

Roughly half of US adult victims of online harassment already know who their attacker is, according a nationally-representative study by Pew’s Maeve Duggan in 2014 [6]. The study covered a range of behaviors from name calling to threats and domestic abuse. Even if harassment related to protected identities could be “solved” in one effort to move to ‘real names’, more than half of US harassment victims, over 16 million adults, would be unaffected.

Conflict, harassment, and discrimination are social and cultural problems, not just online community problems. In societies including the US where violence and mistreatment of women, people of color, and marginalized people is common, we can expect similar problems in people’s digital interactions [1]. Lab and field experiments continue to show the role that social norms play in shaping individual behavior; if the norms favor harassment and conflict, people will be more likely to follow. While most research and design focuses on changing the behavior of individuals, we may achieve better results by focusing on changing climates of conflict and prejudice [17,16].

The real name fallacy (The Coral Project via Medium)

Image: Harikrishnan Tulsidas