On identity and civility in social media

At the Lunch for Good event last week, the primary topic of conversation was the role of identity in increasing participation in social sites. It was encouraging to see that the discourse seems to have moved well beyond the old, unproductive binary contrast between euphoria about the power of anonymity (on the internet no-one knows you’re a dog) and a world of draconian censorship. There was overall concensus that speaking with one’s personal reputation – whether by use of real names and reference to heavily grounded Facebook/LinkedIn realworld identities – or by use of persistent pseudonyms that accrue community karma – helps increase the level of pro-social behavior.

There were still a lot of nuances up for discussion. How and where to use realworld identities tied to your home address, and when to use pseudonyms (someone from the TOR project reminded us that in many places and circumstances, using one’s real name can be life-threatening). About the need for faceted identity, so it’s possible to express aspects of oneself in a social context without having those things be “too much information” in other contexts, whether or not the information is secret. About the value of social gestures and practices that go beyond mere identity – practices of welcoming, moderation, and facilitation that help in establishing a congenial place.

It is good to see the conversation move beyond simple, binary contrasts to the nuances that can help shape civil and congenial online social spaces.

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