Taking credit

Posted on June 23, 2010


In late 2009, The Federal Trade Commission in the States ruled that bloggers with a clear interest in a product (such as being employed by the company that makes it) should reveal their affiliation online if they are talking about said product in an attempt to reduce the amount of misinformation online.

That started a debate in our office as to whether the democratic nature of web 2.0 would be watered down by forcing those with marginal or controversial views to identify themselves or whether allowing anonymised online presences merely reduces social honesty, allowing people to be malicious without fear of consequence.

My own view is that online anonymity in the main breeds malice but there is a caveat for minority groups.  There is, in fact, evidence that some audiences can get a fairer say online than in face to face communication.  In his seminal work, Bowling Alone, Robert Putnam reveals that women tend to get a fairer hearing in anonymised online chatrooms (or computer mediated conversation as it was called a decade ago!) than in face to face conversations with similar participants – the recent Iranian Tweeters would likely agree that the ability to speak out anonymously should not be taken away.

A discussion of Chatham House Rules on the Futerra blog, raises some interesting questions, bridging on- and offline anonymity in group discussions.  But if the point is that anonymised content is only unambiguously positive when we are trying to remove the potential for other participants to be prejudiced, I can’t help feel that we’re tackling the wrong issue in the first place.