Blog Post

YouTube Encourages Users to Let Go of Anonymity

Common topics around the office here are authenticity and anonymity on the web. So I eagerly read the latest Mashable news Can Real Names on YouTube End Nasty Comments? In case you hadn't noticed, the wild west that was once the Internet is a' changing, people. Even YouTube, once known as a place of reckless abandon where everything goes is growing up.

The end of June, YouTube announced that they'd be rolling out a new option to "change how you appear on YouTube, with the option to use your Google+ profile on your YouTube channel." That means when you try to comment, you will be asked if you want to use your name. If you decide not to, you have to check one of the given reasons that you choose not to (your channel is well known, it's for a business, it's for a music artist, you aren't sure and will decide later, etc.) YouTube is also giving users a chance to change history. They get to review all their previous activity and decide if they want it connected publicly with their real names.

So what's the big deal?

Google has been pushing for single-user identity and better search/user experience and this is just another step in encouraging people to meld into the world of Google+. But it's also part of YouTube's attempt to tackle bullying and mean comments on its site. That first reason is why everyone these days says Google does everything -- so they can use us to make more money. I want to tackle that second reason, because I think making people more accountable is a trend we are seeing more and, frankly, a damn good conversation topic.

If you've ever read an online newspaper article or a much-followed blog entry, you most certainly have noticed the comments. While the Internet has given us unprecedented access to information, people have become more casual about their communication online. And the ability to be anonymous online often encourages people to say things they wouldn't otherwise say. Online news and information sources have tried to raise the level of discourse in those comments by requiring them to register or sign in before commenting. And lately, more and more are connecting their comment sections with social media accounts.

Social media platforms have flourished because they allow people to easily connect, share and collaborate. The backbone of this has been authenticity. Social media users can sniff out disingenuous activity (that line has become blurred as more and more businesses and groups and are using social media, but that's an entirely different blog post.) As online news and information sources encourage less anonymity for commenting, they hope to make people more responsible for their comments. Or, at least, maybe think twice before they post something hastily.

A pet peeve of mine is comments that are drastically negative and point fingers, yet lack any constructive criticism. I'm not saying everyone has to like everything; in fact, discourse and debate that ensue through a difference in opinion is extremely important. And the access the Internet and social media give to regular everyday people gives us a tremendous opportunity to affect positive change. But, untethered, people sure can say some crazy, hurtful and off-topic stuff.

Some in the industry feel more responsibility (and less anonymity) like what YouTube is doing as a step in the right direction for improving the content and activity around that content. Others say it is a hopeless cause; people will still find a way to be mean and some don't even care if their names are associated with it. And another camp sees this as another way for Google to corral us all into a pen so they can sell us targeted stuff. I prefer to see this as a sign that the level of discourse is being encouraged to kick it up a notch.