Have you heard of The Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory? It’s a real thing. Jerks, halfwits, and annoying adolescents prove it everyday. And thanks to the erosion of Internet anonymity, sites finally have the means to combat the trolls.
On this week’s podcast, we briefly discuss the ramifications of TechCrunch’s decision to switch to a Facebook-based comment system. Readers must now log into Facebook to post comments. TechCrunch claims that, despite early negative reactions, the switch has been well-received. The overall number of posts is down, but they’re generally more thoughtful than the trash that used to litter the boards.
TechCrunch did note an odd side effect: “whereas trollish garbage used to infest the comment section, now we’re seeing almost the opposite. Many people are now leaving comments that gush about the subject of the article in an overly sycophantic way.” It’s almost as if, now that their posts are public, people don’t want to look like dicks.
In response to TechCrunch’s switch, Slate’s Farhad Manjoo argued in favor of Facebook comments, invoking the Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory by name. While Manjoo recognizes that not every Internet act should be made public – you should be able to keep the more embarrassing items in your Netflix queue private – he believes that comments aren’t public enough:
“But posting a comment is a public act. You're responding to an author who made his identity known, and your purpose, in posting the comment, is to inform the world of your point of view. If you want to do something so public, you are naturally ceding some measure of your privacy. If you're not happy with that trade, don't take part—keep your views to yourself.”
Manjoo’s writing as, well, a writer on the Internet. People from other corners of the Internet are less willing to intertwine their physical and digital lives. Leading up to last year’s release of Starcraft II, Blizzard Entertainment added a Facebook-enabled Real ID system to its Battle.net forums. A portion of the community went ballistic. Three days later, Blizzard canceled their Real ID plans.
Some gamers simply wanted their privacy. Others – members of gaming minorities (defined by race, gender, and/or sexual orientation) – preferred the anonymity because misogyny, racism, and homophobia remain disgusting trademarks of the online gaming community. These problems will not go away easily (as unfortunate as that is), and many felt that the Real ID authentication would make it worse in the short run.
Whether we like it or not, we’re moving out of the Era of Anonymity. Thanks to social media services like Facebook and LinkedIn, people are taking more responsibility for their digital actions. Hopefully the fuckwads will, too.