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EDIT: Before anyone reads this please understand: I AM NOT ADVOCATING THAT EVERYONE'S NAMES BE PLACED ONLINE. I am only putting the problem up there for discussion. It will be up to individual people, communities and societies to come together and decide what the solution is, if any. This is just a discussion about how anonymity often gives people a free pass to be gross to each other, and we should all wonder why that is.
EDIT 2: Updated the title of this thread to make it more in line with my post.
First of all, I want to present an article I read recently about a high profile tech guru who went from advocating, forcibly, concepts such as free information and internet anonymity. Due to the nastiness coming out of humanity online in recent years, he has changed his attitude on these subjects. It's a great read for those of you who have the attention span. He's a bit more active on this subject than I am, but having watched the internet grow over the years, I know exactly what he means.
What Turned Jaron Lanier Against the Web?
We are seeing companies like Google try to nudge their users on YouTube, and all their other services, into using their real names online. One of the (many) reasons for that is that YouTube is a cesspool of disgusting and useless comments from people who hide behind a screen name and see it as license to be grotesque toward fellow humans as often as they can. I understand the problem, and it has become so bad that as a web developer today, I recommend that my clients simply turn commenting off on *all* of their YouTube vids.
Like Jaron Lanier, I used to be a big advocate of blanket anonymity online, as well as freely available information, art, music, etc. However, my views have changed quite a bit, and I think if the internet is going to mature further, the culture is going to have to grow the hell up. Yes, there is a place for privacy and anonymity, but if people cannot be trusted to wield these things in a responsible manner, then I cannot fault businesses and organizations for wanting to end those privileges. In my opinion, Google and others are doing the right thing by trying to clean up the gutter-dwellers of their user base. They have the right to do so, and you have the right to not use their service.
The problem we are seeing on MMORPG.com with the community is happening all over the internet, not just here. As long as people are free to feel like they can hide who they are and say whatever they want, many apparently choose to be disrespectful and hateful. I'm sure many a book will be written on this subject in the future, but for now the evidence speaks for itself. Worse yet, this abhorrent online behavior has seeped into meatspace (the real world), and can be seen, for example, in how hatefully divided the USA is on political matters. So much so, that our country is barely moving forward these days. Mud-slinging has become the norm, and intelligent discourse is buried beneath the growing volume of hate-speech, logical fallacy, straw man arguments, ad hominem attacks, and other useless hot air.
While we cannot clean up the whole internet from here, we can start by adding some nettiquette features both at the forum code level, and as users of the forums. We can also take with us the idea that we are wasting our time and impeding the general development of the human race by not holding ourselves to a higher standard online.
I'm not saying that forcing users to use their real name on THIS website is the correct answer, but I do believe something must be done if the quality of this site is going to rise again. As a daily user, I often find myself not wanting to get involved in conversations these days because they aren't entertaining, interesting or fruitful. I’d like to see this site, and the internet as a whole, grow up and start getting past this mess.
A sure sign that you are in an old, dying paradigm/mindset, is when you are scared of new ideas and new technology. Don't feel bad. The world is moving on without you, and you are welcome to yell "Get Off My Lawn!" all you want while it happens. You cannot, however, stop an idea whose time has come.