Should posters be required to use their real names at message boards?

This article in Slate by Farhad Manjoo advocates the end of the use of anonymous comments on message boards and that people be made to use their real names when posting comments. I could go into more detail on the reasons Manjoo uses to support this but it pretty much boils down to the Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory.

So what’s the consensus here about this position? Are message boards that bar the use of anonymous comments generally better than those that don’t? Would the SDMB be better if it did this and should such a policy be instituted here? Would having to use your real name to post comments affect what you’d write or whether you’d post at all? Let’s discuss.

If it were as simple as that, I’d use my real name. It’s not that big a deal. But with search engines and a world in which information aggregators WILL make it available to everyone, I’d rather not have some of this show up where it will be misused.

I don’t see any real benefit to using real names, while I see a lot of downsides. If everyone knew who everyone else was IRL, then that opens the door to direct harassment when tempers flair. It could open the door to worse things too, I imagine.

And given the medium, I don’t really see it making people automatically more polite either. In direct, face to face debates or interaction people generally, but not always, display more circumspection than they do on a message board because when you are face to face with someone there is the possibility of physical interaction (like getting punched in the nose). But I’ve noticed that people will say much more volatile things when talking on a phone or texting, even if they know that the person on the other end knows who they are. Putting things on a message board, even when true names are used would no noticeably make people automatically more polite. JMHO there.


Anonymity helps a lot in truth speaking. There are a lot of ways you can hurt someone in real life for having the “wrong” opinions or lifestyle. And there is no shortage of people who will do that harm. So people will become much more guarded in what they will say in a public message board. Just think what life might be like for many Dopers if potential employers could do a quick scan of all your posts. Even if you have done nothing illegal or even “off” having the “wrong” political orientation could cost you a shot at a good job if a potential employer has a different political orientation. So … bad idea. Very bad idea.

I am dubious about whether the benefits of such a policy would outweigh the drawbacks.

In one of my major areas of interest (health quackery and antivaccination activism) I am aware of multiple cases in which bloggers and forum posters have been targeted by opponents (i.e. messages sent to their employers attempting to get them fired). Using their real names (or having them widely known) facilitated these attempts at censorship/revenge.

Not that having a pseudonym means you can’t be tracked down, but using your real name certainly facilitates it.

I am concerned that with a real-name-only-policy, people would feel inhibited about expressing themselves on controversial subjects. We might get more civility, at a cost of reduced candor and increased dullness.


*I wish to stress that I am not Mel Gibson in real life, no matter what you may have heard.

For years I’ve assumed that *anything *I post on the Internet will eventually be linked back to the real me. The only pseudonym I use any more is “The Hamster King” and it takes very little digging to connect it to my real name. (Which, for the record, is Brian Upton.) At times this assumption has had a chilling effect on my posting and I like it that way. My attitude is, if I’m not willing to own my opinions fully, I probably shouldn’t be stating them publicly.

I don’t think ALL forums should require people to post under their real names. However, I wouldn’t mind if more of them insisted on it.

I belong to one or two message boards/blogs that require posters or commenters to use their real names. They do it to enforce civility and it works reasonably well. However, I don’t think it’s a good idea everywhere. I would be reluctant to use my real name on the SDMB for example.

I would have no problems using my real name, and I think there are probably enough identifiers out there for me to be found if someone looked closely enough. But I think that is because I am rather wary on what I post, multiple times having deleted entire posts because it runs the risk of being too close to a case I have worked on or am working on. There was an entire frustrating thread about a major antitrust action where people were getting things utterly wrong which I had to bite my tongue repeatedly about, and could not even post in, because the reason I knew they were wrong was that I was working the case.

So pseudonym or not, I am equally wary about what I post. I can see for many people without the ethical restrictions that they prefer to remain at least somewhat anonymous, and I have absolutely no problem with them doing that.

I’ve been a member of a board that requires real names - it didn’t work in that regard, but I think it’s the nature of the type of board (it was Jason Gastridge’s board).

That said, too many downsides. I don’t want potential employers googling up my opinions on things that are not relevant to the job I’m applying for.

Further, my real name is Meatros.

What now?!?! :stuck_out_tongue:

I wouldn’t join the SDMB if it required real names. I need to keep my personal and professional life separate.


Why does it matter if anonymity gives people the courage to be idiots? It’s only words. And it’s only the internet.

I’d be lost if I didn’t have anonymity.
But seriously, fuck that guy. Let him set up his own “real name only” internet venues if it matters that much to him.

For me, the SDMB is like a neighborhood bar. You can walk in and listen to or join in on any number of interesting conversations or debates.

When I walk into a neighborhood bar, I don’t have to announce my name - why should I here?

That’s similar to my view. I try to never get too intensely involved in internet arguments for reasons that are best stated in a very politically incorrect meme referencing the Special Olympics.

I know this sounds paranoid but that’s another reason why I prefer the use of pseudonyms at message boards. You don’t who’s out there and if you have to use your real name, you can never be sure that some busybody, weirdo, or person of authority won’t go after you on the basis of some message board comment you made.

In terms of expectations of privacy, I rank internet message boards somewhere between in-person conversations with people and opinion letters to newspapers and magazines. Requiring the use of real names would push message boards into the same category as newspapers and magazines and I consider that too formal (especially for someplace like the SDMB).

So that when you walk in we can all shout, “Norm!” as you amble over to your favorite stool and have Woody pour you a cold one.

Unless your real name isn’t Norm, that is.

Coach, damn you. Coach!

I grew up in a family where I could never really talk about political or social issues, because no one agreed with me about much of anything. I don’t get into political conversations on Facebook because some of my friends, who are wonderful people, have some shitty, ridiculous ideas about some things, and I’m sure they think the same of me. It’s nice to be able to cut loose sometimes in a context where the people that might think I’m a dipshit aren’t anyone I know or care about. If the only cost is that I have to trudge through some of their dipshittery, it seems a bargain to me.

I think the SDMB works just fine, as a compromise between anonymity and accountability. Everything you say here gets linked to your username, so if you act like a fuckwad, you’ll become known as a fuckwad (and, if necessary, banned).

A system like that rewards the generically named, and punishes folks like me. If you Google my name, everything you get will be about me - I’m the only Gila [lastname] out there, AFAIK. I’m not particularly anonymous here (I’ve posted things that link to my full name and photo), but I’d rather not have thousands of my posts be Googleable by just anybody.

I think that a messageboard should for their own sake require your email or cell number for initial sign up and a real name for their own records, but I wouldn’t make it legally mandatory. Besides which, unless you pay a fortune for security it’s easy enough to give a fake name and I personally have a dozen email addresses probably (4 I use frequently, most of them abandoned but to my knowledge still active) so it would be next to impossible to require that. Even if you required a credit card a prepaid Visa can be had at any grocery store.

I’ve given more than enough info on these boards for somebody to find my real name (not a closely guarded secret anyway) if they want or need it, but I much prefer posting under a screen name for many many many reasons. I’ve got more than 20,000 comments on this board alone: can you imagine how many could be taken out of context? Hell, some of them are pretty damning when quoted directly.:stuck_out_tongue:

My real name is identical (first, middle and last) to a producer of straight-to-video schlock horror movies. It’s also close to the name of a white supremacist who blogs (no relation to me- I’ve even compared genealogies just to see and if we have a common ancestor it was before the 18th century or not in the surname line, thank goodness) and per various websites there are at least 23 people in the nation with my first and last name, so it’s not even that easy to verify which one of us is posting.

OTOH if somebody made threats to kill another Doper and was NonnySnarker3 or whatever, I think there should be a way I could get their real name or at least some actual contact info.