Who do you think you are?

23Oct07

In the early days of the WWW, nobody wanted to be anonymous. The whole point of Internet based communities was to interact with people who you would not normally meet and share your life experiences. These days, the trend has shifted and many now use the Internet as a way of hiding away from their ‘real life’ issues.

In almost all of the communities I have encountered there is no certainty people are who they say they are. In fact, I dare say only the Leeds Metropolitan message boards which I use are the only place I can be almost sure of the persons identity. Even on Facebook, a social network which prides it’s self on the privacy of it’s users, there is the possibility of users creating accounts under fake identities.

In many situations it is harmless, but there are occasions when it can spill over into the ‘real world’ and become a ‘real’ problem.

In a blog on which I write news there was a particular post which harboured much attention this week. The entry had over 300 comments in 24 hours and became a nightmare to moderate. Because the blog did not require users to sign up, there were hundreds of comments where the username was simply listed as ‘anonymous’. Not only is this a problem for me as a moderator, but also for users as it became almost impossible to reply to individual comments.

Furthermore, a user decide to post a telephone number claiming it was that of a local game shop (to save explaining in full what all the comments were about, have a quick read here). It turned out to in fact be the home telephone number of a friend who he wanted to annoy. I received a phone call at 2am from a very irate chap asking why his number was plastered all over our blog. Of course I explained it was not us who had posted the number, but nevertheless apologised as it was my fault for not putting in place a better system for stopping this kind of commenting. Need less to say we have since improved our commenting system, but there is nothing stopping people signing up with false names and e-mail addresses.

As the Internet and it’s communities continue to expand, I dare say the problems with anonymity will only grow. But then there is the problem of just what to do about it. Is there any way around these kind of issues without asking everyone for a N.I. number on sign-up?

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One Response to “Who do you think you are?”


  1. 1 number phone » Who do you think you are?

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