Venture capitalist Marc Andreessen is none too happy these days. As the New York Times reported yesterday in a front-page article, the inventor of the web browser and co-founder of Netscape is miffed at the latest Silicon Valley fad: Anonymous sniping from within the tech industry.

Several new anonymous social commenting apps and startups — with names like Secret and Whisper — are generating lots of buzz. As it turns out, these new social networks have provided “a rare, unvarnished look at the ambitions, disappointments, rivalries, jealousies and obsessions of the engineers and entrepreneurs” of Silicon Valley, the Times reported.

Andreessen’s complaints are valid. Combining the anonymity of comment trolling with social networking creates a greenhouse for sniping snarkiness. Anonymity may work well for whistleblowers, but in a small community of over-worked geeks, it might be creating some problems.

A debate on anonymous postings has long raged on the Internet. continues here

Category: Really, really bad calls, Web/Tech

Please use the comments to demonstrate your own ignorance, unfamiliarity with empirical data and lack of respect for scientific knowledge. Be sure to create straw men and argue against things I have neither said nor implied. If you could repeat previously discredited memes or steer the conversation into irrelevant, off topic discussions, it would be appreciated. Lastly, kindly forgo all civility in your discourse . . . you are, after all, anonymous.

12 Responses to “Secret, Whisper and the Anonymous Troll”

  1. davebarnes says:

    How are these new media tools different from the old ?
    In degree, maybe, but not in kind.

  2. VennData says:

    Sorry Marc, 2nd Amendment.

    Which also lets tabloids like the WSJ to vent Rupert Murdoch’s opinion page spin jobs and Yahoo to have their click generators.

    To get rich don’t go into engineering, law, medicine, become a headline writer, and leave your conscience behind.

  3. ch says:

    Barry – I can see two sides to this argument.

    On one hand, your troll argument makes a ton of sense. I tend to agree.

    On the other hand, the wealthy & powerful have always had free reign of the media to convey whatever message they wish to convey to shape popular opinion, perhaps more so in the past 10-20 years. If used properly, these networks could also represent a democratization of the news flow, and represent a “check” on the powerful. Small wonder people like Andreessen would hate them.

    For example – multiple TBTF banks somehow missed the laundering of billions of dollars for Mexican drug gangs and terrorists for years…but shortly after Elliott Spitzer started looking to investigate abuses on Wall Street, the banks noticed he had cut a $3,000 check to a high-class hooker? If you think that is coincidence, I have a bridge I’d like to sell you…what if the people suddenly had the ability to do this to rich & powerful?

    I fear you are right – this will give trolling and rumor-mongering free reign, which is a horrible idea….but if managed properly, it has the potential of forcing the rich and powerful to “act like their actions could end up on the front page of the paper”, like my parents always said. It could lead to a more civil society.

    And if that happened – would that be bad? Could 2008 have happened if someone was tweeting that “there is wholesale mortgage fraud going on at XXXXX?”

    • When a bunch of jokesters can crash a site because they decide they disagree with it, its not the rich & powerful but a bunch of vandals.

      GYOFB is my new mantra

  4. Stuart Douglas says:

    FYI, One to many http’s in the link to the NYT.

  5. ottnott says:

    The problem is coming up with a cure that isn’t worse than the disease.

    My full name is, as far as google can tell, unique. Any online reference to my name is a reference to me.

    And, thanks to search tools, virtually all online activity I conducted under my own name could be pulled together for perusal.

    This would severely repress my activity, and not because I would have to rein in a lot of bad behavior. I don’t want to be stalked, have my identity stolen for financial fraud, or have my children endangered by a stranger who knows enough about me to sound like a friend. I don’t want to lose a job because somebody doesn’t like the politics I practice at home or the religion I do or don’t practice. I don’t want my house burgled because somebody gathered enough info together from individually innocuous posts (“Hey, anybody know some good lake cabins in Eastern Wyoming — I’ll be there 2nd half of Aug.”).

    • ottnott says:

      The standard for my activity would not be “is this comment civil and (potentially) useful to readers of the blog”, but instead:

      “can this comment, when considered together with all past and future posts I’ve made anywhere on the net end up harming me at the hands of a biased or criminal person?”

      That’s a repressive situation to be in.

  6. jgury says:

    A few things I can point out having worked doing group admin and programming for both BB and Reuters feeds for a few different firms. BB in particular. Messaging is almost always fully secure id for the users with exceptions where games are played on bigger desks. Regardless, that id along with the higher level user community itself is a major factor. Another is the fact that you and your group pay major money for the services and you are responsible. It is a serious relationship. That scales down to the individual level too and it may well be one of those small buy-in effects. Even a small payment for a service gives a big behavior benefit. Similar to small bonus motivation effect. So rather than anonymity that works another direction that is ignored by most, exclusivity and trust. This comes up fairly often in ‘does the web need better ontology?’ questions as a big surprise. Yes it sure does, like a class structure that you can pay for – which seems to be anathema to some of these people. No, not that! In fact how much would you pay to filter all trolls, morons, nutjobs, teens, and more out of your domains? Not an issue with a BB service since they sure can’t put up ~ $1500 a month for a terminal seat.

  7. mpetrosian says:

    If the stats on how few trolls there are out there is true, wouldn’t it be very easy to weed them out? Adopt Facebook login for comments. I just got back from Japan where I was told this sort of thing never happens. By the way, if you lost your wallet on a train in japan with $1,500 cash in it, there’s a very very good chance that someone has returned it to the nearest police station with your money still in it. My point is that this is part of a much larger problem. We don’t treat eachother well in general. Is it kind, is it necessary, is it true? GYOFB is cute and funny, but GYOB will do just fine. We can all sweeten it up a bit.