The worst part about Blizzard's recent announced change is that they sincerely believe this will clean up the forums. Perhaps a bit, but at what cost?
The unfortunate reality is that Blizzard is simply arming the "trolls" with real information they can use to make the attacks more hurtful.
The real trolls, the ones who want to cause harm and mischief, just got a brand new way they can make your life miserable. If they don't like what you have to say, they don't need to post the hate, they can just call you on the phone and leave nasty messages.
My Mom started getting hate mail from someone in an internet group with a grudge against her. Real mail. Sent to her house with threats.
There are countless ways that the trolls can now inflict harm upon you if they know your real name. Get all their buddies to harrass you. Sign you up for magazines. Subscribe you to porn lists.
Or the other alternative I love is the “wrong guy” scenario. This is where the unlucky bastard who just happens to have the same name gets harassed in real life by some angry forum trolls. Calling his house. Leaving nasty messages. Sending him photos of his house with death threats.
Because the trolls don’t necessarily stop – they just know who you are now.
Kicking your ass in Real Life (courtesy of RealID)
I grew up in a small-ish town where there wasn’t much to do on the weekend. You either got drunk, got laid, or got into a fight. I’m also not a small guy and when I was in my teens and early twenties, I wasn’t always the best decision maker when it came to throwing a few punches. In one particularly noteworthy situation, I was carried out of a building by four police officers.
I’ve since matured quite a bit and been pretty subdued for the last 10 years. All of this ugliness was inside of a younger, less mature me. Outside of the occasional menacing glare, I haven’t been in a real altercation since the aforementioned police officer incident. The older me has too much to lose to ever behave that way again.
My point? Well, at one time in my life I was THAT guy. You know the guy I’m talking about... The one who snaps online and starts making the physical threats. “Where do you live? I want to kick your ass. Let’s meet somewhere.”
Thing is – I was serious. I really did want to kick their ass and had they been near my city... well, there would have been some vengeance for the online slights. Now I wasn’t always that angry. In all my years of gaming or participating in online activities I can only think of two instances where I would have been angry enough to take action.
But.. therein lies my point. I was angry enough to take action.
Look, in the grand scheme of things I’m not even the most likely person I know who would seek someone out to kick their ass. But I certainly know my younger self would have considered it. And my younger drunken self may have even acted upon it.
But what stopped me?
As frustrated and angry as I might have been, I had no outlet. No way to act upon impulses that could have turned out badly. Impulses that were further inflamed because the source of my anger wasn’t physically present.
You see, the real Internet Dickwad Theory is only partly about Anonymity. Because part of what makes something so much more dick-ish on the Internet is that you don’t have any immediate personal feedback from people. If you are being a dick to someone in real life, even if they don’t know you personally, you can both use body language and vocal queues to keep the conversation from turning from just a civil disagreement to a raging war.
But if you are being a dick on the internet, their imagination supplies the tone. Words intended to be fair and considering can quickly be seen as hurtful and inflammatory. Removing the anonymity while keeping the same inflammatory problems is simply a disaster in the making.
Is the use of Real Names a good idea?
And take that from the perspective of someone who is willingly admitting that they would likely have kicked the shit out of someone in real life had that anonymity not existed. That’s not fear-mongering. That’s just an honest appraisal from someone who knows himself well enough to know that this can only end badly.