Moderating is hard. Community managers have the difficult task of taking anonymous internet mobs and channeling them into groups that are socially worthwhile (and financially remunerative). The great failure of this would be EVE Online, a game with a surprisingly strong community given that structures of both the game and the community have fostered sociopathy to the degree of suggesting or plotting the rapes and deaths of players and their families. Not characters, players. As I recall, online game-related murder has actually happened in South Korea, but I had always presumed that was an isolated incident rather than a reasonable expectation of where the game was headed.
(The outcome of that particular EVE situation? A 30-day in-game ban on the leader of the largest group of organized sociopaths, who can still lead them just fine without logging in. This will be about as effective in curbing the community’s excesses as telling Al Capone that he is not allowed to personally brew beer.)
At root, the glory of consequence-free internet anonymity is also its downfall. One of the most important points in internet law is Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act:
No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.
(See the link for similar laws outside the US.) This has become a building block for the internet: with very few limits, you are not responsible for anything anyone posts on your website, forum, whatever. Even the limits are limited, so if you could reasonably claim not to know about X, you’re clear. This has led to the tendency not to moderate anything: if you take responsibility, you are liable, but if you let it all run wild, you retain plausible deniability. Hence the number of internet cesspools.
Upcoming legislation would make a simple change, and you know the programming power of flipping the sign on a variable. Just cross out that “No” and suddenly anyone setting up an internet forum is responsible for what happens there. That will need some amending, because you need a reasonable chance to respond when someone goes off on a rant while you’re asleep, but ultimately you are responsible for the community you create. If you are running the digital equivalent of a crackhouse or vermin pit, you will no longer get to say that you have no control over your customers. Barring hackers, you have complete control over who can post on your website, so take the legal responsibility along with the moral responsibility.
I want to mourn the death of online anonymity, but I don’t really expect it to happen. There will be international hosts to which something like 4chan or Something Awful can move, and there will be few cases in which it is worth the effort for the US government to impose itself upon another country. But if you can impede the lazy and the stupid, you have solved 90% of the problem.
Hat tip: Popehat. It’s a big hat to tip.
The non-Americans are presumably chuckling about that “US government not imposing itself upon other countries” thing. You cannot imagine how much it frustrates American politicians that they do not control the entire world.
Update: This was a bracing April Fool’s post. Wilhelm in the comments has the appropriate reaction to calling for the death of the anonymous speech under a reasonable-sounding cover. The annual debriefing is live. I think I’ll need to skip next year’s prank, since you have at least basic pattern recognition skills. (Also, sorry Maladorn: I put your comment to pending because I didn’t want the very first one to mention the date. It’s back!)