Could removing online anonymity stop trolls?

Sci-fi author and blogger extraordinaire John Scalzi is releasing a limited edition book of his blog posts from 2008-2012.

The Mallet of Loving Correction not only contains some fine ruminations on literature, feminism, politics and just about everything in between, it is also named after the fictional weapon Scalzi brandishes when dealing with trolls on his site.

The vaguely 1984-ish sounding mallet is utilised often and with glee, Scalzi hammering more trolls on his comments feed than one hits short-sighted animals in a game of Whack-a-Mole.

The age-old problem with the internet, of course, is that people can hide behind pseudonyms and spout as much abuse as they want – as evidenced in forums everywhere and, recently, in the cases of abuse on Twitter of MPs and a journalist following their campaign to have a woman featured on a UK banknote.

What’s good is that Twitter – after much public pressure – has taken action to report abuse, now including a button in the latest version of the site which will gradually be adopted by all mobile versions of the social network too.

But it raises the question of whether people should have to reveal their own identity online? A name is just a name, and people can be identified from whatever moniker they choose to adopt, but if their account is shut down for trolling, they could easily adopt another username and start again.

However, there’s also the point that, what with the knowledge that governments have the potential to track our every movement online, identities should be protected fiercely.

Should we be protecting anonymity or forcing people to identify themselves to cut down on abuse?

It’s certainly an interesting debate and one worth having, though over at CBR I don’t think we need a mallet of our own just yet – we’ll need more comments first…

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