Wikipedia:The overuse of anonymity at Wikipedia and a proposal

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Essay on anonymity. Original author: Ben Houston 19:04, 27 July 2006 (UTC)

Lack of individual responsibility[edit]

Most vandalism to Wikipedia is made by anonymous IP editors and pseudonym identities, identities that do nothing to encourage individual responsibility for one's edits and comments on Wikipedia – this lack of accountability, at least with respect to personal reputation, allows many to engage in egregious vandalism and gaming of the system. Many high profile articles are subject to continued abuse such that it becomes the norm rather than the exception. It was a start to restrict editing by new accounts and anonymous IPs but this does not go far enough to deal with gaming of the system (via sockpuppets) and what is normally unacceptable behavior in society (advocating for extremely unbalanced portrayals, bullying, and the making of frivolous accusations against others). I feel strongly that a lot of this behavior, which is going on constantly on a lot of articles, is seated in the fact that many, when they are hiding behind a mask of anonymity/pseudonymity, are not constrained by what others may think of them – they are able to completely insulate their true identity from their potentially anti-social behavior on Wikipedia.

Anonymity isn't bad, but overused[edit]

But while overuse of anonymity/pseudonymity has its pitfalls (as we are witnesses to here at Wikipedia), this isn't to say that selective anonymity is bad. Anonymity is often necessary for the protection of individuals who stand up to a power structures capable of retaliation (such as witnesses against the mob, corporate whistle blowers as two prominent examples.) Thus, even though I propose moving away from anonymity/pseudonymity, I clearly believe that the ability to contribute anonymously/pseudonymously must remain an option.

Amazon's "Real Name" attribution[edit]

I think the solution is to encourage individuals to use their real names. Some already do, but that isn't the norm nor the perception – the recent New Yorker article on Wikipedia states that Wikipedia editors are anonymous. I would go further and say that a verification process, similar to Amazon-style "Real Name" authentication process, should be made available to allow users to get a "Real Name" attribution that is automatically displayed with their user identity (in edit histories, and watchlists) and on their user page. Amazon gives a great explanation of its "Real Name" system and its motivation (to improve quality of user book reviews).[1]

Outsourced identity authentication[edit]

I would arrange the verification to be done by vetted commercial partners who compete against each other on price and reputation. "Outsourcing" the verification is necessary for it should not be the responsibility of the open source community Wikipedia project to ensure security of any credit card information. I figure that a fee in the range of $1 to $4 USD could be enough to cover the costs of a verification by a major online player such as Yahoo, Google, PayPal or Amazon.

Credit card biases[edit]

Many individuals may not have a credit card because they are either too young, not in a developed country, have bad credit or just philosophically against credit cards. In most first world nations, individuals 16 years and older can apply and receive a VISA or MasterCard brand credit card on reasonable terms from a reputable bank. It may be possible to introduce secondary authentication that can be used by parents or guardians or others for those without a credit card. This secondary type of authentication should be made clear along with all the other Wikipedia identities endorsed by secondary authenticator since I can foresee abuse by a sockpuppeteer (mainly to create an army of secondarily authenticated sockpuppet accounts.)

CheckUser vs "Real Name"[edit]

Tech savvy individuals, who comprise a significant portion of the Wikipedia population, can change IP addresses at will (via the use of public proxies, private proxies, logging on at friends, public libraries or school) in order to avoid linking of sockpuppet accounts via a CheckUser request. "Real Name" authentication, since it relies on the well developed security and fraud detection infrastructure of the financial system, provides a more reliable alternative. In order to game the "Real Name" authentication system to create an army of sockpuppets one would have to borrow cards from friends or engage in illegal credit card fraud. Eventually, I can imagine Wikipedia building into the authenitcation system the ability for "Real Name" authentications to be suspended when the associated credit card is cancelled or expires.

Benefits of "Real Name" accounts[edit]

Some contentious articles which are frequently locked from editing could be restricted to allow only editing from "Real Name" accounts – I think that this might almost completely fix the issues those articles are encountering. Also, I suspect that some editors who are banned after very effortful ArbCom or other bureaucratic processes do come back under new IPs and usernames at which point it can be necessary just to restart the process or more problematically, try to confirm, based on MO only, whether the two identities are the same user. The current situation causes frustration, encourages paranoia, and can lead to burnout on the part of administrators. Frustrated, short tempered administrators can affect users, as well as general public perception of Wikipedia. In essence, encouraging (but not requiring) users to contribute using their real names, and encouraging (but not requiring except on a limited number of problematic articles) "Real Name" authentication will substantively improve Wikipedia's quality and reputation.

I honestly think this is the right way to go – movement should be slow, and considerate, but it is the right way to go while still remaining an open system.

See also[edit]