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GrahamPlatt
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Anonymous

#420989

Postby GrahamPlatt » June 20th, 2021, 6:13 pm

There’s another site I frequent, where at will, you can elect to post anonymously (just a checkbox associated with the editing field). It’s not to be abused, and there are sanctions for those who do. But it’s very useful at times - to spare embarrassment, or to reveal what would otherwise be identifiable information. Here, that may be pertain to the linking of financial affairs to a username. Of course most people “hide” behind a pseudonym, (either way, they’re trusting the site owners to keep the site secure). But for some it might be appreciated.

Can this be done with the current software, and if so would it be welcome?

BobbyD
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Re: Anonymous

#421050

Postby BobbyD » June 21st, 2021, 1:47 am

GrahamPlatt wrote: Of course most people “hide” behind a pseudonym, (either way, they’re trusting the site owners to keep the site secure).


I'm assuming most people use a pseudonym linked to a disposable email account, a handy firewall for ensuring your personal accounts end up on as few dark web mailing lists as possible.

Gengulphus
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Re: Anonymous

#421268

Postby Gengulphus » June 21st, 2021, 8:27 pm

GrahamPlatt wrote:There’s another site I frequent, where at will, you can elect to post anonymously (just a checkbox associated with the editing field). It’s not to be abused, and there are sanctions for those who do. But it’s very useful at times - to spare embarrassment, or to reveal what would otherwise be identifiable information. Here, that may be pertain to the linking of financial affairs to a username. Of course most people “hide” behind a pseudonym, (either way, they’re trusting the site owners to keep the site secure). But for some it might be appreciated.

Can this be done with the current software, and if so would it be welcome?

I'm not clear exactly what you're suggesting - is it:

* That people should be able to post without revealing their real names or other identity details to other ordinary users of the site? If so, you've answered your own question: they can, and many do.

* That people should be able to post under the name "Anonymous" rather than their usual username, so that their "Anonymous" posts don't get associated with their posts under their usual username. Potential problems with that include (a) that one is likely to get speculation about whether two anonymous posts are by the same poster or not - such discussion isn't all that consistent with the site rule "Stick to the facts and argue the points discussed, rather than criticise the poster."; (b) that it is actually quite hard to consistently disguise one's posting style and general outlook, especially if one wants to post anonymously at all often, so the 'anonymity' it provides may not be all that reliable. (For example, in TMF days, I twice detected such signs that an apparently newly-appeared user was the same person as a user who had clearly been banned from the site: same posting style, same outlook about various issues, ignoring or wilfully misinterpreting the same site rules, became active as a poster at just about the same date as the banned user had abruptly stopped posting, etc. No absolute proof, of course, but the TMF moderators probably found more in logs of IP addresses, etc, because the "newly-appeared users" concerned ended up abruptly disappearing from the site not long after...)

* As a slight variant, that they should be able to register a second name of the form "anonymousNNNNNN" (NNNNNN a different randomly-assigned number for each user), to be used instead of their usual name when they choose to post anonymously. This would eliminate problem (a) above, as the same NNNNNN value would provide certainty that two anonymous posts were by the same poster, and different NNNNNN numbers that they were not, but it would exacerbate problem (b): it's much easier to convincingly establish a marked similarity between the posting styles/etc of a collection of anonymous posts known to be by the same poster and the posts of a known user than it is to do so for a selection from a large collection of anonymous posts, many of which will be by other authors, because any similarity detected for the latter can be argued to be due to how you made the selection rather than the authors being the same person.

There is also the fact that we basically already have this variant: nothing in the site rules prohibits a Lemon registering a second time under a different name, and there is already a registered username of the form "anonNNNNNN" - which might or might not be a second registration by someone (i.e. this isn't any type of accusation against the user concerned, just an indication that such usernames are acceptable). There is the site rule against wilful and disruptive behaviour, of course, and that would presumably be invoked if someone abused the ability to register such usernames - but such abuse could be done with usernames of any form, so there's nothing special about names of the particular form "anonNNNNNN" or any other particular form in that respect.

* Variants of the above possibilities in which the stuff that isn't revealed to ordinary users isn't even revealed to the site admins. I'm fairly certain that sort of hiding of details is technically possible; I'm also fairly certain that it goes quite a way beyond the sort of facility that the phpBB software provides... Even if I'm wrong about that, if I owned a discussion board site, I would regard having that extensive an anonymity feature as a distinct legal risk. The reason why I would regard it that way is that if a user posts libellous or criminal material, I am generally not held legally responsible for it provided I take the material down promptly as soon as I become aware of it. I'm uncertain to what extent there's a further proviso that I should assist the libelled person or the police with identifying the user who is responsible for it. I suspect that there is currently little or no such proviso - but I also think there's a high chance that the requirements in that area will become more stringent in the future, quite possibly to the extent of removing that protection from being held legally responsible for the posted material if I set up the site in such a way that I cannot provide any assistance with identifying the poster.

* Something else I haven't thought of.

For all of the possibilities I've thought of, there is also a potential legal problem about providing a feature that is stated to make the poster anonymous, namely that of dealing with users who make use of it and whose anonymity is broken in some way. I'm sure that suitable disclaimers along "our anonymous posting facility is not guaranteed and we accept no liability if the limited anonymity it provides is broken" lines can be devised. But equally, I'm sure that plenty of people don't bother reading terms & conditions, disclaimers, etc, and that dealing with someone who hasn't done so and complains "You undertook that my post would be anonymous. It turned out that it wasn't, I've been damaged as a result, and I want compensation!" will have a cost. Probably not a major cost, but I strongly suspect that TLF needs to avoid even quite minor unnecessary costs...

So my general view is that many of us already effectively have most of the benefits of anonymous posting, and can if need be get most of the rest by registering another username plus taking care to avoid noticeable similarities of posting style, etc, when using that username. That doesn't quite cover everything - in particular, it doesn't get complete anonymity from the site admins, but even they only need to be given very limited identity information about users (on the registration page, the only thing I can see that has to give any identity information is the email address, and anonymous-in-most-circumstances email addresses are readily available). So above and beyond what users can arrange for themselves, there seems to me to be very little benefit available for the site by providing an anonymous posting facility - and an "if you want anonymity, arrange it for yourself" story would seem to me to be safer against unexpected legal costs than "we provide an anonymous posting facility, but it's subject to the following list of provisos: ...". The risk of such legal costs is almost certainly very small, but so are the benefits from such a facility, and I doubt they're worth even that very small risk...

Gengulphus


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