July 24, 2012, 11:15 AM — One of the dubious "pleasures" of visiting YouTube, the world's third most-popular website, is being exposed to the sexist, racist, obscene and mean-spirited comments left by the anonymous ignoramuses who pollute the site with their hatred and bile.
This experience is especially joyful -- and educational! -- when viewing a video with a small child who can read because it gives you an opportunity to begin a dialogue about the meaning of the words "f**ktard," "n**gger," "a**hole" and similar indicators of sociopathy and double-digit IQs.
To elevate this cesspool into, I don't know, a swamp, Google-owned YouTube has begun trying to coerce commenters as well as video uploaders to use their real names.
Notice I said "coerce," not "force" -- it's entirely voluntary. As YouTube explains it, typically anonymous commenters and uploaders now will be presented with the option of using their Google+ (real) name. Or not...
Maybe people know you by your YouTube username. Perhaps you don’t want your name publicly associated with your channel. To continue using your YouTube username, just click “I don’t want to use my full name” when you see the prompt.
What YouTube doesn't say in its explanatory blog post is that if you decline to use your real name, you will be asked why and presented with the following options:
* My channel is for a show or character
* My channel name is well-known for other reasons
* I'm a hater and prefer to lob idiotic and offensive jerk-bombs from the safety of my cowardly anonymity
OK, I made up that last one, but YouTube really should include that option, if only to collect valuable user data.
Since using your real (Google+) name is voluntary, it's not likely to clean things up much on YouTube. So you have to ask why YouTube doesn't just ban anonymous comments. The answer is obvious: It values the traffic it gets from all users, even the jerks. Scaring them away by shining a light under their rock could cause traffic to drop, maybe even plunge, and YouTube isn't keen on taking that risk.
And the truth is, jerks or no jerks, people should be able to post anonymously on the Internet. Many people have perfectly good reasons to want to protect their real identities. I blogged about politics for many years under a pseudonym because if I had used my real name, I feared it would have gotten me in trouble at my previous job. (In the end I got laid off anyway, so I probably should have just gone for it.)
I think the best solution for YouTube is a tiered system in which comments from people who use their real names are placed at the top of the video thread, with the anonymous comments relegated to steerage.
I'd be curious to see what readers -- anonymous and otherwise -- think.