There is a theory of internet trolls that goes as follows: they behave worse because they don't have to use their real names. Force them to do that, and they'll behave better.
Google+ tried the theory, but eventually gave up. Facebook still promotes the theory, much to the chagrin of many people booted for having unusual names that someone thought didn't sound 'real'.
Are they right? A team of researchers from the University of Zurich's Institute of Sociology decided to find out.
They gave participants in their research a simple choice: use your real name, or use a pseudonym. From this data they were able to analyze over 500K comments.
So, were the Real Name users better behaved? In a word: no. In two words: dream on.
Users who chose to use their Real Names were more likely to engage in online 'mass attacks' than pseudonymous users, helping put to bed the idea that Real Name Policies can 'fix' trolling.
Interestingly, and relevantly, Google+'s , in explaining their decision to drop the policy, noted that they had similarly failed to find evidence of the policy's effectiveness, noting that if anything such policies tend to exacerbate preexisting power dynamics, as those most vulnerable and marginalized are least able to express themselves freely, while those most privileged are able to behave as they choose.
Trolling is a serious problem on the internet, threatening the power of social networks and other online communities and forums to bring groups and individuals together harmoniously and productively. It is therefore tempting to try to find a simple solution to this complex problem.
If there is one, Real Name Policies aren't it.