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These reports from the UK appear to be well formed — http://blog.e-democracy.org/posts/1078 — and include this observation:
“We are still a bit of an outlier because we insist on e-mail publishing options for strong inclusion and the use of real names as the cornerstone for building community trust, ensuring greater influence with elected officials, and it is a heck of lot less work for volunteers to run because people are more civil.”
Also from those posts: “7% of American adult Internet users are members of neighborhood e-mail lists or forums? That is over 10 million people.” followed by — “why not 20 million?”
To that, I would note that Facebook has always been known as a site requiring real names, and they have been known to kick and ban users with nicknames as their usernames. Many say Facebook is serving as the network of community networks online already. There are roughly 150 million Americans registered with Facebook.
I also find Facebook, on the whole to be highly civil, if often vacuous. Is it the use of real names? The critical mass of users, couple with the knowledge that your mother might be watching?
Is Facebook a community news source?
Great post, Brian. I totally agree that real names help encourage civility. Facebook is moving us steadily in that direction, which is good. Is some of it trivial and silly? Sure, but so is much of what’s in the traditional medial. Is Facebook a community news source? Well, in a way, because people get news and information about their “community” of friends, relatives, colleagues, and acquaintances. And surveys have found that people trust referrals from Facebook more than other sources. Another good reason for anyone “committing acts of journalism” be Transparent, Accountable and Open. The TAO leads to greater trust. No-brainer!
The difference between anonymous responders on news site blogs and objects floating in a toilet bowl is that no one expects me to read objects floating in a toilet bowl. As an elected official, I much prefer Facebook because when people are cutting and critical, even juvenile, at least they’re willing to stand behind their opinion with their name. Anonymous blog posts just encourage nastiness and incivility. They also allow people to make outlandish comments without any understanding of the context.
At a Social Media Club Tacoma event some months back, the News Tribune said Facebook is rapidly growing as a referrer to their web site. People clearly trust their friends’ recommendations about which articles to read. So Facebook, or whatever replaces/supplements it, is a force in news distribution.
I agree that using real names encourages civility, but I also think requiring real names in all circumstances leads to over sanitation. There’s a lot of valuable information out there that can’t be shared without significant risks, if not straight sacrifice on behalf of the messenger. Unfortunately you can’t measure what’s never said, so it’s impossible to gauge how strong of a chilling effect there really is. The benefits of keeping your mouth shut often far outweigh the costs of speaking up and pissing off the wrong people.
I also believe some people have more of a luxury to use their real names in civil debate due to greater financial security and support networks.
That being said, there’s definitely some real filth out there, and no doubt the shadow of the internet enables it. I’ve seen some good debates on Facebook with real names so it’s not a direct trade-off. I applaud Steven Clift’s efforts (founder of e-democracy.org) and hope we can build a more tolerant culture that has a better word to describe it than “tolerant.”
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