Do real names reduce the need for moderation and introduce civility in online conversation? I used to think so. In fact, I changed all my online names to my real name back in college in part for this reason. I don’t hold on to any of those original “handles/monikers/nicks” I used to have.
But as the user-generated internet has grown, I’ve changed my mind. Facebook is filled with people who have their “real” identity, tied to their “real” family, and their “real” friends but act horribly to one another. They spread misinformation, fight about politics, are nasty, and reveal horrible truths about their personalities constantly. Services like Nextdoor or Citizen are filled with aggressive racism.
Real identities don’t increase shame or perceived risk of acting horribly to one another. Instead, the power of the internet to create connections and grow communities radicalizes us. If our behavior or views are deplorable or deplorable-adjacent, we find a pocket of the world that amplifies and rewards our behavior and disconnect from the world that rejects our behaviors.
Civility comes from having no choice but to find ourselves intertwined with others. Civility is a long game that the internet let’s us opt out of, and it’s destroying us.