A troll looking sadly at a laptop
Sad time for the troll community

The Times tames trolls with the power of naming

The results of The Times’s experiment in enforcing real names in comments look promising, and the EU starts looking warily at TikTok.

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth

A couple of months ago, The Times decided to end anonymous commenting on its site: everything had to be said under your real name. It's an interesting test of the the assumption that many people make: anonymity enables toxic online behaviour.

How's it going?

In the month before the announcement we had an average of 1,348 daily comments flagged by our systems as toxic. In the past month the average was 815, a 40 per cent decrease.

That's with 85% of the commenters now using real names. I'd expect that to drop further if they get to 100% using real names, although that's going to be an on-going moderation and policing challenge. It also means that real names won't eliminate all trolling behaviour.

People are quite capable of being toxic under their own names — sometimes because there are issues that are hot buttons for them emotionally, sometimes because they don't realise that their behaviour is toxic. Indeed, there's research that proves that ending anonymity doesn't eliminate online toxicity.

What's the price of ending online anonymity?

And so, the equation here is “is the decrease in toxic comments worth the things you lose by doing aware with anonymity”? Because you do lose freedom of discussion once you force people to use their real names.

This comment, a quote from a commenter on a piece, gave me the chills:

Leanora Munn added: “To those who have moaned about having to use their real name, this should be an indication of why such practice should be employed by every online media outlet.”

If you completely remove anonymity from the internet, you shut an awful lot of people out. Teens exploring their identities, or LBTQIA+ folks who live in unsupportive households — or societies — for example. You close down discussions for professionals who can only talk about their work anonymously, for confidentiality reasons, and so on.

I suspect we're shifting towards a default position of forcing people to use real names, unless there's a compelling reason for doing otherwise. But I'd strongly resist any strong movement to make everything real names only. That would be a real blow to inclusion.

Our real-names policy is taming the online trolls
The comments readers post on digital versions of this column are almost invariably civil, intelligent, informative and kind. Sadly, it hasn’t always been pos

The TikTok tick tock speeds up

So far, on my One Man crusade to get publishers to approach TikTok more cautiously and mindfully, I've concentrated on the risk of the US authorities banning it. But that caution is spreading to other major international powers. This is worth paying attention to:

Europe’s crackdown on Big Tech omitted TikTok — but now that’s set to change
TikTok is beginning to feel the sting of political and regulatory pressure in Europe, where the Chinese-owned app has evaded the scrutiny it’s faced in the U.S.

This paragraph in particular is of note:

EU Commissioner of the Internal Market Thierry Breton warned TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew in a meeting this month the bloc could ban the app if it didn’t comply with new rules on digital content well ahead of a Sep. 1 deadline.

Oh, and these ones:

A big fear among U.S. intelligence officials — and increasingly lawmakers in Europe, as well — is that Beijing could influence how TikTok targets its users to engage in propaganda or censorship.

“TikTok’s success is the result of a European policy failure,” Moritz Korner, a member of the European Parliament for Germany’s Free Democratic Party, told CNBC via email. “From a geopolitical perspective, the EU’s inactivity towards TikTok has been naive.”

Yes, we're all being naive about the power that China is gaining through TikTok. Let's be a little smarter in how we use the platform, shall we?

Useful Tools

Tweetshelf has stepped into the void left by Nuzzel when it was acquired and shut down by Twitter. It scans the tweets from people you follow, and shows you the most posted links. And it's really handy:

TweetShelf - Recommendations from your Twitter friends
Find Articles, News, Blogs, Books, Podcasts, Videos and Websites shared by your Twitter friends. Learn new things. Discover cool stuff. Free to join.

If you've moved your attention to Mastodon instead Quintessence will do the same thing.


On that last link, Charles Arthur said this:

Certainly it feels to me as though a lot of air has gone out of Twitter quite quickly, just recently. The cutting-off of third-party clients, forcing the use of the (terrible) first-party app, contributes: the rough edges of using that make the desolation feel even more acute.

That's very much my experience, as well. There's plenty of good people left on Twitter, but just enough have left to significantly degrade the experience.

community managementcommentsThe Times

Adam Tinworth Twitter

Adam is a lecturer, trainer and writer. He's been a blogger for over 20 years, and a journalist for more than 30. He lectures on audience strategy and engagement at City, University of London.