Facebookproduct design manager, Julie Zhou wrote Online, Anonymity Breeds Contempt for the New York Times today, 11/30/2010. Just one more piece of the discussion other parts of which can be found on Locally Grown, the Northfield News in 2008, and this year and this blog.
Ms Zhou points to Facebook’s efforts to use its very social nature to create checks on “the online disinhibition effect.” I think this is probably more powerful than legislation. One reason I told my then-13 year old that if she wanted a Facebook page she’d have to “friend” me, was just this principle. If she knows Mom might be listening, she is more likely to think before posting. And, because Northfield is such a great community, my daughter also has other adult friends (her theater directors, parents of friends, coaches, grandparents, neighbors) who form part of her online social network and safety net so there are many caring adults who can follow the conversation.
I’m not quite sure how the Facebook social network model transfers to comments on news sites. It suggests at a minimum that anonymity should be discouraged in favor of being accountable for one’s words. Fair enough. I still think thoughtfulness and self-restraint are unlikely to be created by legislation, however, and editorial control over comments can weed out problem comments/commentators, but probably won’t help create a better culture of public discourse.
Vigorous public debate, I’d add, is not necessarily pleasant or nice, but involves criticism, rebuttal, and refutation, too. There must be ways to allow players to fight for the puck in the corner and even throw the occasional well-timed check.