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The #MontanaStandard is Combating #Comment #Trolls by Revealing Their Real Names

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Typically, any newspaper website, online magazine or similar requires you to make a profile in order to be able to comment on articles. Said profiles usually ask you to put your real name in, but it never actually shows up on your profile, instead it just displays whatever ridiculous username you spent half an hour mulling over, and decided was 'hilarious' without ever actually consulting anyone else. Online anonymity is what gave rise to trolling in the first place, since you could trumpet as much horrible rhetoric as you wanted without fear of any personal repercussions, or damage to your reputation.

It's a bit like beating prostitutes to death in the GTA games, it was just a by-product of the game's design, you can do it, but most people have absolutely no interest, and the minority that do end up giving the rest of us a bad name. Well, the Montana Standard has figured out a simple, yet galvanising way of counteracting this - simply make everyone's real names public. From January 1st onward, every single comment will display the user's real name (or at least the one they registered), both going forward and retroactively.

Anyone planning on logging on any time after that and saying something nasty won't have much to fret over, they can just create a profile under a fake name and that'll be that, but anyone who already has is pretty much screwed. As you might expect, a lot of people are distinctly unhappy about this. One very legitimate criticism that's been levied is that as much as this does dole out a dose of comeuppance to trolls, it might actually place some people in genuine danger, since a real name allows others to more easily track them down on other platforms, opening up a whole range of sinister possibilities.

The paper is also actually flouting its own privacy policy by doing this, which means they are actually breaking a promise to their user base. Some would argue that trolling is a small price to pay for equal privacy rights online, and I'm inclined to agree to some extent. This is just another, more extreme skirmish in the ongoing battle between journalistic sites and commenters.

The social media framework that's being applied to almost all websites that come into existence now means that everyone has to figure out a way to account for the possibility of trolling. Some sites simply disable comments altogether, but if they want a presence on Facebook or wherever else, that decision is more or less rendered moot.

Speaking of Facebook, it's worth remembering that they have a very strict (if not altogether effective) real name policy, but that doesn't stop people on there behaving in a deeply unpleasant manner. Anonymity isn't so much the key issue, it's more distance, and the self-contained nature of commenting, meaning that even if someone confronts you, it's far easier to ignore than in public.

I wouldn't be at all surprised if the Standard end up recanting this change before January, certainly the comment thread for the announcement is a sea of bitter, but certainly warranted displeasure. There's plenty of support as well, but other publications, such as the Washington Post, have been decidedly critical. If, a few months from now, we're sitting here looking at a Montana Spectator filled with polite, measured discussion I'll have to concede, but I don't see that as a likely outcome. If nothing else though, it's encouraging to see sites experimenting with options rather than just surrendering to the ever-erupting bilecano (that's a volcano filled with bile, try not to thing too hard about it).



Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop. Follow him @CallumAtSMF


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The #MontanaStandard is Combating #Comment #Trolls by Revealing Their Real Names Reviewed by Callum Davies on Saturday, December 05, 2015 Rating: 5

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