4chan founder Christopher Poole (also known by his online pseudonym, “moot”) gave an interesting speech at the Web 2.0 Summit today, all about the tension that lies between identity and anonymity on the Internet. The talk was reminiscent of one that Poole gave at TED, in which he questioned whether users are losing the ability to make mistakes online without repercussions. But the crux of the speech was that Facebook and Google+ were mishandling the way they allow users choose to identify themselves, and that users need a choice between the need to authenticate but also to make mistakes.
“Facebook and Google do identity wrong, Twitter does it better,” Poole said. “But I want us to think about what the world would be like if we did it right.”
The goal of these networks, from Poole’s perspective, should not necessarily be to tie a user’s identity to his or her full name, but to give users a choice in how they represent themselves. From Poole’s point of view, the lack of this self-selection generally takes away the freedom that comes with anonymity. “With this persistent consolidated identity… I feel like we’ve lost ability to make fools of ourselves,” Poole said.
On the other hand, Poole’s community 4chan is notorious for an environment where anyone can post more or less anything they want to — and to do so anonymously. That has raised some questions about the legality of such a forum when things like child pornography gets posted.
For what its worth, Poole’s latest community, Canv.as, requires users to authenticate with Facebook Connect. But when they interact, they’re able to decide what their screen names are and even to post anonymously. If they choose, they can later decide to change those anonymous postings to use their screen name at a later time.
That’s a strategy that Poole hopes other networks will also adopt — if only to allow people to make mistakes online without having to worry about those transgression coming back to haunt them.